US / 63 minutes / bw / Sparta, Filmgroup Dir & Scr: Joel M. Rapp Pr: Stanley Bickman Cine: John Nickolaus Jr. Cast: Tom Pittman, Virginia Aldridge, Howard Veit, Malcolm Atterbury, Stanley Adams, Louis Quinn, Peter Leeds.
Highschool femme fatale Betty Alexander (Aldridge) latches onto class swot Marv Grant (Pittman), beguiling him with false promises into writing her Eng. Lit. essay for her; when teacher Mr. Carter (Leeds) instantly spots the imposture—failing Betty and retracting the college scholarship recommendation he’d promised Marv—Betty dumps Marv posthaste in favor of school jock Vince Rumbo (Veit).
Marv, whose ethics and academic aspirations plummet in the aftermath, has overheard, in the shipping warehouse where he works to support himself and his boozy, wastrel father (Atterbury), that next Saturday night there’ll be $1 million in Syndicate cash in the safe to pay for an incoming heroin shipment; he enlists the aid of ex-racketeer liquor-store owner Sam Tallman (Quinn) and Sam’s safecracker brother Harry March (Adams) to snaffle the dough. But Marv makes the mistake of telling Betty of his plans, in hopes the prospect of riches will lure her back to him; she, seeing the opportunity to have both the money and her knuckleheaded stud, persuades Vince and his pals to stick up Marv’s crew immediately after they’ve lifted the cash . . .
By movie’s end, Betty, Marv and Sam lie dead on the dock, Marv’s pop has hanged himself, and the rest are in police custody—with Vince doubtless headed for the chair for the three murders. The million bucks is floating in the harbor.
This was—with T-Bird Gang (1959)—the first release of Roger and Gene Corman’s Filmgroup company; Roger Corman was its Executive Producer. It was originally called Blood Money, the title being changed before release presumably to ensure Filmgroup’s target drive-in audience appreciated how full of teen appeal the movie was. In 1994 the movie was the subject of an episode of the derisive TV series Mystery Science Theater 3000 (1988–99); as with too many others in that series, it’s in fact not that bad—certainly not nearly bad enough to merit the adolescent ridicule. The plot’s second half has various quite strong similarities to Stanley Kubrick’s The KILLING (1956), to the extent that High School Big Shot has been described as an unauthorized remake; it’s not, but it’s hard to believe writer/director Rapp wasn’t “influenced” by the earlier movie.
Pittman, of whom great things were expected, was dead before the movie was released; aged just 26, he died in 1958 in a car accident after a Halloween party. Adams played countless support roles on TV, including—most famously—Cyrano Jones in the Star Trek episode “The Trouble with Tribbles” (1967); he committed suicide in 1977 at age 62. This movie represented more or less the high point of Aldridge’s career as an actress; in the 1970s and 1980s she wrote for TV, including four episodes of Beauty and the Beast (1987–90).