Follow TV Tropes


Film / Three O'Clock High

Go To

"No matter what you say or what you do, you and me are gonna fight when that bell rings at 3 o'clock."
Buddy Revell

Three O'Clock High is a high school comedy from 1987, directed by Phil Joanou and starring Casey Siemaszko.

A riff on classic westerns like High Noon, the film centers on the geeky Jerry Mitchell, who inadvertantly angers the new bully at school, Buddy Revell, and gets challenged to a fight at the end of the school day. Jerry has until 3 pm to get out of the fight, or face certain destruction.

This film provides examples of:

  • All Is Well That Ends Well: At the end Jerry won the fight but the school store was still ransacked and robbed. The next day, all the kids insist on buying items at super inflated rates (such as a dollar for a piece of paper) out of respect, Jerry gets a huge cut of the pool placed on him the previous afternoon, and Buddy returns the money. The store is implied to not only recover from the theft, but has a huge surplus to boot.
  • Arc Words: “It looks like it’s gonna be one of those days.” These were Jerry’s first words and last words in the movie.
  • Artistic License – Law: Needless to say, if the shenanigans in this movie happened at a real high school, a lot of people would be in very hot water with the local law enforcement, both faculty and student.
  • Barbaric Bully: Buddy Revell is called "a psycho" very early in the film and he spends the rest of the runtime showing he really deserves the label.
  • The Bully: Buddy Revell is a passive example of this - he doesn't bother anybody, unless they press his Berserk Button
  • Bully Brutality: The whole plot revolves around Buddy's threat to beat the everliving hell out of Jerry at the end of the school day and on the road to doing so Buddy brutalizes Craig Mattey (the school's quarterback) when Jerry tries to hire him as a Bully Hunter, Vince (Jerry's best friend) when he tries to help Jerry in the climactic fight and Duke and O'Rouke (the school's security guard and principal) when they try to break up said fight (and touch Buddy). Jerry himself ends up quite black-and-blue by the time he wins the fight.
  • Berserk Button Buddy really Hates Being Touched.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Vince springs on Buddy and attacks him with such vicious abandon that even Buddy is surprised for a moment.
  • Bookends: At the beginning of the movie we are informed about Buddy by a montage of random students gossiping about the New Kid with highly improbable anecdotes. At the end, we have a nearly identical montage of the same students gossiping about Jerry with anecdotes we know are exaggerated.
  • Bully Hunter: Subverted. Local jock Craig Mattey is famous for beating up on a bully, but only because the bully's victim paid him. Jerry buys his services, but doesn't get his money's worth.
  • Can't Get in Trouble for Nuthin': One of Jerry's attempts to avert the fight, on the recommendation of his sister is to get himself suspended for the day. He tries to do this in his English Lit class by volunteering to recite a book report for the whole class, and then generally being boorish, lighting a cigarette, making a pass at the teacher and even dropping ashes into her coffee. This backfires when she becomes romantically aroused by this assertive behavior. At the end of the film she gives him her phone number.
  • Challenging the Bully: Double subverted. Most of the film's plot follows Jerry's increasingly insane attempts to escape the challenge the bully has given him, but on the third act Buddy pisses Jerry off by calling him a coward and he accepts Buddy's challenge for real.
  • Chick Magnet: By the end of the film, Jerry's best friend, his English teacher, and the head cheerleader of his high school are all smitten and horny for him.
  • Closed Circle: Jerry cannot escape the school (and Buddy's challenge) because Buddy sabotaged Jerry's car, when he tries to run away on foot Duke the school's security guard hunts him down and drags him back for trying to play hooky, and when it comes to trying to request help from an authority figure it's either the fear that Buddy will have a bigger excuse to try to kill him or the fact that Adults Are Useless that gets in the way.
  • Comedic Sociopathy: Invoked for laughs at the pep rally. An effigy of the other school's football player appears, and the perky cheerleaders beat him with baseball bats and decapitate him, as the crowd cheers mightily.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: The fight between Buddy and Craig consists of Buddy breaking Craig’s finger and punching him so hard that he knocks over all bookshelves in the library.
  • Dean Bitterman: Played straight with Dolinski but subverted with Principle O’Rourke, who lets Buddy off after he proves he didn’t (need to) cheat and later convinces the detective not to arrest Jerry, even though it was pretty apparent that he robbed the store.
  • Defeat Means Friendship: Buddy returns Jerry's money in the end and even gives him the faintest of smiles, suggesting that Jerry has at least earned his respect for standing up for himself.
  • Dumb Jock/Dumb Muscle: Buddy (a former football player) subverts this trope, upending both Jerry and O’Rourke’s expectation that he was too dumb to answer the math quiz questions correctly.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Invoked hilariously twice. Poor Jerry is constantly reminded of his upcoming slaughter from his class lessons:
  • 11th-Hour Superpower: During the fight with Buddy, Jerry's given the brass knuckles Buddy dropped, and uses it to take him down.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Buddy is so digusted at the lengths that Jerry has gone to in trying to avoid their fight that he finally relents and agrees to let Jerry simply buy him off, seeing Jerry as a "pussy" who isn't even worth fighting. It backfires on him, however, as the insult hits Jerry's Rage Breaking Point, and he finally accepts the fight.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: Not counting the final scene, the entire plot takes place within 8 hours. And counting it - it still wraps within 24.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Initially subverted, but eventually played somewhat straight. Nemeses Jerry and Buddy get caught cheating on a math test. After the ordeal, Jerry tries to invoke the trope, saying that they've been through a lot together and should be friends. Buddy insists that nothing will prevent Jerry's inevitable pummeling. However, after the fight, Buddy shows up to return Jerry's money and gives him the very faintest of smiles, indicating that Jerry has at least earned his respect.
  • A Friend in Need: After an angry split up with Jerry in the middle of the film, Vince returns during the fight just in time to save his friend.
  • Grew a Spine: Jerry's character arc is a stereotypical example of this form of 80's teen Coming of Age Story.
  • Genius Bruiser: Buddy is hinted at having Hidden Depths. When Craig goes looking for him, he finds Buddy quietly reading Of Mice and Men in the library. Later, Buddy tries to cheat on Jerry's math test, but then reveals that he could have easily solved the problems himself. Buddy seems to prefer being a feared bully over being recognized as intelligent.
  • Go Through Me: Franny tries to pull this over Buddy during the actual fight. Predictably, he effortlessly pushs her over.
  • Goth: Franny is a proto-goth.
  • Graceful Loser: After being bested by Jerry, Buddy shows up to return his money and drops further hostility.
  • Groin Attack: Buddy knees Vince in the groin when Vince intervenes in the fight.
  • Hates Being Touched: Buddy. He wants to fight Jerry because he had the audacity to put a hand on his shoulder. When Craig threatens Buddy, it's the fact that Craig pokes him in the chest that causes Buddy to flip out.
  • Hate Sink: Buddy was made to be hated, being a Barbaric Bully who spends most of the film's runtime constantly making clear he wants Jerry dead (or very nearly so) by his hand.
  • Hidden Depths: Hinted at with Buddy due to the way he seems to hide his intelligence. He even does the math problem that is given to him to prove he wasn't cheating with an ease that surprises Jerry and the principal.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Buddy gets knocked out by his own brass knuckles.
  • Hot Teacher/Hot for Student: To avoid the fight, Jerry puts the moves on his English lit teacher (who is dressed like a Hot Librarian) and gives her a kiss in the hopes of getting ejected from class. He immediately loses his nerve and passes out afterwards, only to wake up in the school nurse's office... with the teacher's phone number.
  • In the Style of: Phil Joanou cited Martin Scorsese as a primary influence on his direction of the film, saying that he was specifically aiming for a high school version of After Hours.
  • Ironic Echo: Both Bookend Gossip Evolution scenes have someone calling the person being talked about (Buddy and Jerry, respectively) "a psycho."
  • Ironic Nickname: Buddy is a real jerk.
  • Karma Houdini:
    • A rare hero example: It is strongly suggested that Jerry will not be punished for robbing the school store, particularly after Buddy returns the money.
    • We don't see Buddy receive any punishment for knocking out a principal. He appears in school the next day, though it's unclear whether he's actually allowed to be there or not. It's possible he pretended the fight didn't happen.
  • Mr. Exposition: The entire high school collectively performs this role during the first scene, as they trade rumors about the new transfer student, Buddy Revell.
  • Never Bring a Knife to a Fist Fight: In spite of being twice Jerry's size, as well as a badass, Buddy sees it necessary to bring brass knuckles to the showdown. During the brawl, Jerry gets possession of them and uses them to knock Buddy out.
  • Nobody Calls Me "Chicken"!: Jerry finally agrees to fight Buddy after Buddy calls him a “pussy.”
  • Official Kiss: Subverted following Jerry and Franny’s kiss. Rather than going through with “bonding” with Jerry, Franny decides there must be some other way to help him. At the end he is dating another girl, who chatted him up after the fight while, unnoticed by Jerry, Franny looked on forlornly.
  • Offscreen Teleportation: Buddy disappears after the fight, and even the surrounding crowd doesn't seem to realize he left. Downplayed, though, as no one seems worried about where he is or whether he’ll return.
  • Reckless Sidekick: Vince is largely responsible for everything that happens to Jerry. When Jerry finally calls him out on this, Vince denies it and walks away, but clearly feels guilty.
  • Showdown at High Noon: Jerry and Buddy have a duel scheduled for 3:00. The name of the film is a riff on "high noon" and "high school," as well as a Shout-Out to Twelve O'Clock High.
  • Smile of Approval: Buddy gives Jerry a faint smile before walking off, showing that Jerry gained his respect for standing up to him.
  • Smoking Is Cool: Jerry invokes this trope in his attempt to get detention. His plan backfires.
  • Strong as They Need to Be: Buddy is able to knock out Craig and the Duker with one punch, but has a four-minute fight with the much smaller Jerry, in which Buddy ultimately resorts to (unsuccessfully) using brass knuckles.
  • Teach Him Anger: Buddy's provocation eventually leads Jerry to stand up for himself.
  • The So-Called Coward: Jerry is a wimp, and spends most of the film trying to avoid fighting. Ultimately he has the opportunity to dodge the fight, but changes his mind and stands up for himself. He actually wins the fight and gains a newfound reputation as a badass.
  • Tranquil Fury: Buddy might have huge Berserk Button that is very easy to push, but he remains collected and focused, while extremely pissed off.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: In the third act, Buddy relents and allows Jerry to simply buy his way out of the fight, but he criticizes Jerry for not standing up for himself. Ultimately it's this shame that causes Jerry to choose to fight even though he doesn't need to.
  • When the Clock Strikes Twelve: OK, three o'clock P.M., actually, but the trope still fits. Most of the plot, as a result, is a Race Against the Clock.
  • The Worf Effect: Craig and the school security guard seem to exist in part to show how tough Buddy really is.
  • Wouldn't Hit a Girl: While Buddy has no qualms about attacking adult faculty members and security staff, he simply, if strongly, pushes Franny aside when she tries to stop him from beating Jerry up.
  • Yandere: His best friend Franny who Can't Spit It Out but still has an intense desire to "bond" which got positively creepy at one point.


Video Example(s):


Three O'Clock High

With one punch, Buddy not knocks out Craig and much of the library.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / BookshelfDominoes

Media sources: