Three O'Clock High is a 1987 American high-school comedy film, directed by Phil Joanou, written by Richard Christian Matheson and Thomas Szollosi, and produced by Aaron Spelling. It was filmed at Ogden High School in Ogden, Utah (the school attended by Joanou). Though it did not do very well at the box office, the film is a minor cult classic among high school films; showing high school as most people remember it, with mundane days punctuated by occasional thrills.
The term "three o'clock high" is a play on words, a wartime aviation term for an enemy that is above and to the right, and a High Noon confrontation that takes place at 3:00 p.m. (in a western high school). Like Gary Cooper in High Noon, Casey Siemaszko is powerless to keep the march of time from bringing an appointment with a frightening enemy. As Jerry Mitchell, Siemaszko runs through a typical high school day: working at the student store, the school paper class, a science film, a pep rally, World History, English lit, Algebra, getting sent to the office, and facing a bully. But the film also is like the daydream world of a frustrated high school senior, punctuated with increasingly fantastic events as he goes through his day. Siemaszko, and the rest of the cast, are plain looking actors portraying ordinary students and teachers. Unusual photography, camera angles, zooms and closeups characterize the film, along with slow motion sequences.
Jerry's first class is for the school newspaper. Unfortunately, his best friend Vincent is the editor and has the idea of doing an article about Buddy-- and assigning Jerry to do the interview. Jerry is sick over the assignment, and goes to the restroom. While there, he runs into Buddy Revell. Buddy is clearly angry about talking to a school paper reporter, and Jerry says, "Let's forget the whole thing, okay?" and pats Buddy on the shoulder. Bad move. Buddy roughs Jerry up a bit, slamming him into a mirror, and announcing that he has to "work off" his anger with a fight, in the parking lot, after school, at 3 o'clock.
With a little more than six hours until the encounter, Jerry tries different strategies to avoid the fight. Talking to the bully doesn't work. Vincent decides it would be a good idea to plant a switchblade in Buddy's locker to get him kicked out of school. When Jerry points out the stupidity of the plan, Vincent forgets the locker combination, and can't get the weapon back out before the bell rings. Jerry's sister advises him to simply skip school, but when Jerry tries to drive away, he finds the switchblade is in the steering wheel, and that the car ignition wires have been cut. Trying to run, Jerry is caught by an overzealous school security guard known as "the Duker" (Mitch Pileggi), who finds the switchblade and takes Jerry to the office of Mr. Dolinski, the Dean of Discipline. Mr. Dolinski will be keeping his eye on Jerry from now on.
Jerry's next idea is to ask an acquaintance from the football team to beat up Buddy, and asks Vince to set off a fire alarm so that Craig Mattey can be talked to outside. Craig will do it, but he wants $450. Jerry knows of only one place to get the money, robs the cash register in the student store, and pays the fee. Back at history class, Jerry is interrupted by Mr. Rice... someone has vandalized the store and taken the week's earnings. Whoever it was, says Mr. Rice, should be plucked from the school "like a burgeoning cancerous growth from deep inside the colon."
As Jerry and Vincent watch, Craig finds Buddy Revell in the library, quietly reading a book. While he's trying to intimidate Buddy, Craig makes the mistake of touching Buddy. Buddy then breaks Craig's finger and punches him in the face, sending all of the bookshelves toppling like dominoes, revealing Jerry and Vince. (As the punchline, Buddy says "Shhh.") The sight of Craig's broken nose and teeth sends Jerry to vomiting in the bathroom. Vincent brings back $350, having given Craig $100 "for his trouble", and the two friends end up arguing.
Jerry's sister Brei suggests a fifth idea for avoiding the fight: cause trouble during literature class, get detention, and he will have an excuse not to meet Buddy after school. To do this, Jerry gives a book report on a raunchy paperback, "Honey Goes to Hollywood", and seduces his teacher, the prim Miss Farmer (Caitlin O'Heaney). To a musical score from Tangerine Dream (which also did the score for Risky Business and Legend), Jerry has a romantic encounter with the transfixed Miss Farmer (complete with a sexual metaphor of his burning cigarette dropping into her hot cup of coffee!). He kisses her, then faints from hypoglycemia. Waking up in the school infirmary, he finds that he didn't get detention; but Miss Farmer gave him her phone number and asked him to call, as it was the best book report she had ever heard!
Jerry goes back to the student supply store to compose his thoughts alone. Franny is there, however, and she wants to "bond" on a table. After a kiss, though, Franny has second thoughts and leaves. Moments later, Mr. Rice is back, along with a detective investigating the store robbery. Jerry is the prime suspect in what appears to be an inside job.
Now in trouble with a bully, with the disciplinarian, and with law enforcement, Jerry is one hour away from doom as he goes to Algebra class. Buddy is in the next chair as a pop quiz is given, and signals to be allowed to copy off Jerry. Both of them are sent to the office of Mr. O'Roark, the vice principal. The principal concludes that Jerry cheated off Buddy, and Jerry's in further trouble. Leaving the office, Jerry makes a final try at avoiding a fight, asking if they can be friends. No go. So Jerry offers Buddy his remaining $350 to call off the fight. Bribery works -- but as Buddy accepts the money, he scornfully calls Jerry is the "biggest pussy I ever met in my life."
After a bout of self-loathing on the roof of the school, the frightened, undersized, and hypoglycemic protagonist finds the courage to confront Buddy Revell. Jerry demands his money back, stands up to Buddy, and tells him the fight is back on. At 3:00, the 'David vs Goliath' showdown begins in the parking lot, with all the school's students watching. The principal steps in to break up the fight, and Buddy knocks him out cold.
Jerry's first punch misses, and he's knocked down, but manages to knock Buddy off balance and then to jump on his back. As Jerry is thrown down, others step in to delay Buddy. Jerry manages a surprise punch and Buddy hits back, hard. Mr. Dolinski and the Duker then arrive, only to have Duker make the mistake of laying his hands on Buddy. The Duker is quickly laid out as well and Dolinski backs off.
As Buddy puts on his brass knuckles to deliver the coup de grace, Vincent knocks the weapon down before he's dropped by a gut punch. Brei hands the knuckles to Jerry, and soon the crowd is cheering Jerry on to win. Even the Principal cheers him on - "Don't fuck this up, Mitchell!"
To his surprise, Jerry knocks his nemesis out cold. He's won the fight he dreaded. The police arrive and prepare to take Jerry in, but the principal intervenes. Everything indicates that Jerry will still be arrested the following morning.
The next day, the students begin buying from the school store in an ingenious scheme to make up the lost cash. Buddy Revell shows up, begrudgingly respecting his nemesis, and returns the $350. Jerry is the new 'talk of the school' the way Buddy was at the beginning, with all of the rumors being slightly skewed at best. Jerry also has a decision to make - as three women arrive to court him in the end - the new age Franny, the popular Karen Clarke, and the now sultry vixen of a teacher, Miss Farmer.