Rock, Rock, Rock ‘n’ Roll High School
What is Rock ‘n’ Roll High School?
Rock ‘n’ Roll High School is the story of exuberant Riff Randell (P.J. Soles), a self-titled “rock and roller.” She is also a massive fan of the punk rock band the Ramones. She shows her fervor and enthusiasm at Vince Lombardi High by blasting music as much as possible. Although a hit with the students, it’s not with the new principal, Miss Togar (Mary Woronov). Togar sees Riff and her music as a hindrance to her new strict regime (she proves the danger of Rock ‘n’ Roll by blowing up mice with Ramones songs).
Riff skips school for three days to get her and her fellow students tickets to see the Ramones. Riff has also written a song that she wants to give to her favorite Ramone, Joey. Her nerdy best friend, Kate Rambeau (Dey Young) assists by delivering a series of contrived absentee notes to Togar. Togar is furious, and she takes the tickets away from the two girls. A battle of wills begins between the teen rebel and the authority figure.
The movie has a simple storyline. There are subplots and supporting characters. The glasses-wearing Kate is infatuated with the virginal, socially inept captain of the football team (Vincent Van Patten). There’s the Beethoven-loving music teacher, Mr. McGree (Paul Bartel) who is willing to give the Ramones music a chance. However, my favorite supporting character is Eaglebaur, played by the underappreciated actor, Clint Howard. The Machiavellian-like Eaglebaur runs a business out of an office hidden inside bathroom stalls. He sells hall passes, rigs football games and plays love matchmaker. Kate pays him to set her up with Tom Roberts, the goofy football captain, and then Tom pays him to fix him up with the coolest girl in school, Riff.
The battle against authority and the subplots begin to culminate on the night of the big Ramones concert. Riff needs to get to the show to give her new song, “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School,” to the band. That night Miss Togar calls parents to arrange an album burning of the Ramones music. Who will win and at what cost?
The movie released the same year as Grease and seems to be an anti-Grease film (not likely by design). The movie doesn’t center around the coolest bad boy meeting the prettiest good girl. Riff isn’t infatuated with the cutest boy. Her infatuation is with the anti-teen dream Joey Ramone. Joey is tall, thin and strangely lanky. His face, well, let’s say only his mom could love it. I love the Ramones but as the sheriff (Dick Miller) in the film says,”They’re ugly, ugly, ugly people.” They are not teen idols or Hollywood heartthrobs,
Where Grease is romantic-comedy within a musical with the cast singing catchy fifties pop songs, Rock ‘n’ Roll High School is something less produced. There are no slow, sad pining love songs. Riff sings a single song. The rest of the score is the Ramones performing their own music live or music from a prominent soundtrack, including, in addition to the Ramones, Paul McCarthy, Alice Cooper, Devo and Tom Rundgren among others. The majority of the music is punk, not catchy show tunes, but authentic punk music. Riff isn’t Sandra Dee (Oliva Newton-John), she never changes for a boy. She is a strong, confident, artist (songwriter). She is what Sandra Dee wants to be. She is a riot grrl before there were riot grrls. Her song to Joey is not a song of adoration but is a rally against the establishment. In the end, no boy is required to save her.
Do your parents know that you are Ramones? – Ms. Togar.
Should You Watch?
If you like upbeat rock or punk, the answer is easy: yes. If you love the Ramones and want to see them perform onstage, then hell yes. However, I need to point out that the Ramones can’t act (shocking). The sophomoric comedy of the film can be outdated, but there are still good moments. The bedroom scene where Riff smokes a joint as she imagines the Ramones playing and the Eaglebaur scene where he teaches Tom how to “make out ” with a girl has some humor. If you are a Clint Howard fan, it is worth the watch. Also if you want to have some goofy fun, grab some slurpy pizza, turn the volume up and enjoy great music from the late seventies (and it’s not Disco).
Did You Know?
- Dee Dee Ramone was such a bad actor that his lines were cut from seven down to two, in the dressing room after the concert: “Hey, pizza!” and “Hey, pizza! It’s great! Let’s dig in!”
- P.J. Soles (Riff Randell) was married to Dennis Quaid.
- Initially, after moving away from the Disco theme, Todd Rundgren, Cheap Trick, Devo and Van Halen were considered for the Ramones role in the film.
- Mary Woronov (Ms. Togar) is primarily known as a “cult star” because of her work with Andy Warhol (a Warhol Superstar) and her roles in several Roger Corman’s cult films.
- The original working titles for the film were Girls Gym and then Disco High. Thankfully producer Roger Corman was convinced otherwise.
- The Ramones were paid a total of $25,000 for appearing in the film and had to play shows in southern California to help with their hotel bills. During the 21-day shoot, Dee Dee Ramone got arrested for fighting with a roadie, overdosed in jail, and wound up in Cedars Sinai Hospital with a $3,000 medical bill.
- P.J. Soles had never heard Ramones before being cast in the film. She was given their music to listen to, but she admits that she did not like it initially. But after working with them, she became a fan of them and their music.
- Mary Woronov is a fan of punk rock, appearing in two Suicidal Tendencies’ videos.
- Mary Woronov and Paul Bartel appeared as Husband and Wife in the film Eating Raoul and did a cameo together as the same characters in the horror flick Chopping Mall.
- P.J. Soles was known as a scream queen for starring in Carrie, Halloween, Bloodbath and the Possessed before Rock ‘n’ Roll High School.
- Vincent Van Patten, besides being an actor was a tennis pro who beat three top ten players (including John McEnroe) to win the Seiko World Super Tennis tournament in Tokyo. His highest ranking was 27th in the world.
- Although referenced as brothers in the film, the Ramones are not.
- The Paul McCartney Song heard during the film was written for the movie Heaven Can Wait, but Warren Beatty rejected it. He allows the director Allan Arkuush to use the song for $500 and one condition. That Paul’s name does NOT appear in the credits.
- The legendary producer Roger Corman is known to be very cheap with film budgets and you can hear the chant of “Cheap, Cheap, Cheap during the credits.
- Joey Ramone couldn’t remember the character name Mr. McCree, so he kept calling him Mr. McCroo. They just gave up and left it that way.
- No mice were injured during the filming of Rock ‘n’ Roll Highschool.
 “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (1979) Trivia, IMDB