Buddy Revel, the seemingly unstoppable juggernaut of a bully in Three O’Clock High (1987), isn’t actually a bully. Bullying is a tool used to establish or enforce social dominance. And Buddy isn’t the slightest bit interested in the social dynamic at Weaver High School. As he clearly states to Jerry Mitchell (Casey Siemaszko) when the hapless young journalist attempts to engage him while they stand in front of a row of urinals, Buddy doesn’t want anybody to know anything about him. The enigmatic and elusive science fiction writer John Steakley wrote “Bullies don’t want to fight you. They don’t want to fight at all. They just want to beat you up.” And the exact opposite is true of Buddy Revel. He has countless chances to beat Jerry up. But he’s not interested in beating Jerry up. All he wants to do is fight him.

As it turns out, Buddy is more like the monster in a horror movie.  He seemingly has the ability to be everywhere at once.  Traditional authority figures are incapable of stopping him.  And except for a moment of greed at the very end of the film, he seems to be motivated by nothing more than pure malice.  He’s more of a caricature of a bully than an actual bully, which is absolutely necessary for the story to unfold as it does.

The Film: Three O’Clock High

The Song: “Something to Remember Me By”

The Artist: Jim Walker

Roger Ebert wrote a scathing review of Three O’Clock High because he felt that the movie failed to contain the worthwhile lesson that brains trump brawn (as is the case in the similarly-themed 1980 film My Bodyguard).  It’s true that director Phil Joanou never makes an effort to explore why Buddy is a “touch freak” or what motivates his single-minded determination to fight Jerry in the parking lot at three o’clock.  And it’s true that all of Jerry’s various efforts to avoid, outwit, or otherwise defuse his antagonist are completely thwarted.  But one of the final scenes underscores an important point, a sad fact of life that Ebert might be in denial of, but happens to be true nonetheless.

In eighth period, Jerry discovers himself sitting next to Buddy for an algebra quiz.  After gazing dully at his exam paper for the first half of the period, Buddy stares down Jerry and intimidates him into letting him copy Jerry’s answers.  The pair are caught, and sent to Principal O’Rourke (John P. Ryan) for punishment.  Jerry attempts to shoulder the blame, claiming to be the one who was cheating, but the principal is skeptical, and says he’ll believe them if Buddy can correctly solve a pair of problems.  Buddy promptly succeeds, and it’s clear to Jerry (and the audience) that Buddy knew the answers all along – he just held Jerry in such low regard that he decided to torment him even further.  In other words, he didn’t need the answers – he just wanted to take them.  And the central point of this exchange, which Ebert willfully ignored, is that some people are just assholes.  They can’t be reasoned with, or made friends with, or understood.  They’re just fucking assholes, and the only way to confront them is to take them on head on.  It might not bring victory, but at least it will bring respect.

Conservative Republicans understood this lesson in the wake of September 11th.  They were fully willing to recognize that there existed, within the world at large, a number of organizations whose sole purpose was the destruction of the United States of America.  And many of these actors had, if any, only very dim visions of a future beyond that immediate objective.  Fortunately, enemies like this are rare.  But a great failure of American hawks was that they were so enthusiastic about a scorched-earth response, they ended up dehumanizing their enemies with too broad of a brush.  Eventually everyone who disagreed with them – even their liberal countrymen – were viewed as dangerous and completely incapable of reason.  Anyone who expressed – or was even willing to concede the reasonable existence of – an opposing viewpoint was guilty of hating America.

Ebert’s attitude – of avoiding confrontation under any circumstances whatsoever – reminds me a lot of the spineless Harry Reid and the Democratic majority from 2006 to 2008.  On bill after bill, the Democrats were reported as “caving” to the demands of President Bush and the Republican minority.  It’s a bit simplistic to explain that it’s because they were just plain soft, but I guarantee that Republican Senators saw them that way.   They cynically trotted out the same tired memes about supporting the troops, and letting the terrorists win, and on decision after decision, Democrats were cowed.  Not once did Reid force Senate Republicans to engage in a real filibuster – making them speak until their legs gave out and their vocal chords bled.  All the Republicans ever had to do was threaten. Bush administration officials callously ignored Congressional subpoenas, because they knew that the Democrats weren’t willing to go to the mat to enforce them.  If Democrats had threatened to impeach President Bush if he commuted Scooter Libby’s sentence, would he have done it anyways?  Of course he would have, because he would have known damn well that they wouldn’t have followed through.  I could go on and on, but one of the most poignant examples of Ebert’s “avoid confrontation at all costs” mentality was when Democratic leadership let Joe Lieberman retain his committee chairmanships even after he gleefully bitch-slapped them throughout election season.

Three O’Clock high is a pretty fun movie, in my opinion, when viewed with an understanding that it’s a simple, surreal tale that’s meant to end happily.  The cinematography – done by Barry Sonnenfeld – is simply brilliant.  Yeardley Smith, Jeffrey Tambor, Mitch Pileggi, and Philip Baker Hall all turn up in minor roles (which is amusing because none of the principals in the film have had memorable careers).  I’m not entirely sure I’d advice you to actually listen to Jim Walker’s song “Something to Remember Me By,” which frames both the beginning and the end of the film (it’s been infuriatingly stuck in my head since I watched the movie last week).  However, the sound production (including harmonized vocals, treble-heavy drumming, and a guitar solo that sounds like it’s been stolen from the 90210 theme), would fit perfectly into a time capsule of the most ridiculous trends of the eighties along with ripped jeans and feathered hair.