Here we go again. YET ANOTHER cheap-packaged, cheap-priced and cheaply produced title by the big "WB"......although, the presentation of this AWESOME Morgan Freeman drama on DVD is MUCH better than other Warner titles such as Executive Decision, but then again, I keep using that title as a target because it just sucked, video and audio wise.....

It was actually difficult for me to track down this title --- which is often considered Morgan Freeman's best work of his career, and I agree --- even though it has been out awhile and is in no way a special edition of any kind; this is bare bones in the uttmost sense of the word, only coming in full frame aspect, in fact.

For those of you who never saw this highly quotable and unforgettable motion picture, Lean On Me tells the true story of Joe Lewis Clark, dubbed "Crazy Joe" in the media during the time, an African American man hired to become the principal of one of the worst schools in America at that time ---- East Side High in Patterson, New Jersey. Of course, since the time of Lean On Me, many spinoff films have either been made or compared to it dealing with the story of either a principal or teacher taking over a bad school --- a classic example would be James Belushi in The Principal (which came out before Lean On Me), and other copycats like The Substitute with Tom Berringer which went on to spawn an entire franchise of films all of which Berenger never appeared in again.

Freeman plays Clark with such raw energy and enthusiasm, it really is his best performance in my opinion of his entire career; the film begins in the 1960s, where Freeman is sporting a huge afro and bell bottoms, teaching at East Side......something goes wrong with the school board, and he is voted out of the staff, and transfers to another school. Years later, East Side High becomes over populated with drugs, gangs, violence and rape since Clark left, and someone needs to come in and help get the kids to pass the Basic Skills Test unless New Jersey State will take control of the facility. Robert Guillaume plays the superintendent of schools who talks Freeman back into returning to East Side as its new principal and to clean it up and turn it around --- and his methods are stunning on screen as were Joe Clark's REAL methods in the real story.

Director John G. Avildsen (Rocky) portrays this real life drama perfectly, and Lean On Me has become an overnight underground classic to many fans; I know I used to rattle lines from the film off with friends from college all the time. The real Joe Clark received the moniker "Crazy Joe" after he chained and locked the doors on the school, preventing drug dealers from getting in, but also violating the fire code which got him arrested, as depicted in the film. He would wield a baseball bat around at any authority figure trying to get into the school --- especially ones he suspected were trying to push drugs in the building --- and by any means necessary he received the title "Crazy Joe" Clark. Freeman portrays Clark PERFECTLY, whipping out orders to the staff, threatening teachers that they will be fired if his policies are not followed, throwing out all the drug dealers and users in the school, and cleaning up the building completely and like no one had ever done before. East Side High School was a sense of pride for Clark being that he teached there in the 60s and was fired; his rampage he goes on once becoming principal is a result of that pent-up rage and desperation to turn this school around. And he does in an amazing fashion.

Armed with a bullhorn and baseball bat, Clark (Freeman) retakes the hallways from dangerous thugs and dope pushers (much like Belushi did in The Principal) with assistance from a new security team he puts together. A certain focus in the film deals with one of the kids he throws out in the beginning, where all the known drug dealers and drug users in the school are asked to go up on stage in the aditorium, and he expells all of them permanently. One of the kids returns the next morning to confront Freeman and begs him to take him back; Freeman reads his record and learns that he is a crack smoker and drags him to the top of the roof of the school and tells him to jump off because its the same thing as smoking crack. When the crying teen realizes he doesnt want to kill himself, Freeman agrees to let him back into the school, but he is on his ass EVERY minute of every day, making sure he tows the line, stays off drugs and goes to class. Its a big focus in the film.

There are some moments in the film that will be a bit tear jerking for you as well; perhaps that is the wrong choice of words, but some of the inspiration Freeman's character portrays towards certain kids he is trying to help really make Lean On Me such a memorable drama, including how he tries to help a pregnant student or when he has a dicussion with "Kid-Ray," a known drug dealer in the school who decides to drop out and comes to say goodbye to Freeman; its a touching moment in the film when Freeman says to him "Dropping out on me son, huh?" and Kid Ray says "I'm not droppin' out, Im moving on....." and Freeman cuts him off and says, looking right at him, "You'll be dead in a you hear what Im saying? You'll be DEAD in a year......." It's a very stirring moment in the picture.

There are also some classic Freeman battles between him and the staff in the school because he feels they are just not following his policies, and great standoff argument sequences between Freeman and Guillaume, where the two of them are just SHOUTING their heads off at each other, and these are some of the best moments of Lean On Me. The end sequence, when Freeman is arrested for chaining the doors up, and all the students from East Side come to stage a revolt at the prison, is rallying yet dissapointing because we are left wondering what happened to the real Joe Clark after his kids end up passing the Basic Skills Test; we arent told on the screen how much longer Clark stayed in command of East Side High, or how he was ever released from jail, and a couple of other question marks regarding the story that are floating around, mainly a character, Mrs. Barrett, who, through the whole film, is trying to get Freeman kicked out of East Side and is OBSESSED with doing it ---- even going to the Mayor and threatening him and the fire chief of Patterson, New Jersey that they BETTER do something so she and the school board can vote Freeman (Clark) out. WHY this woman is so obsessed with kicking Freeman out of the school, or IF THIS ACTUALLY was a real piece of the Joe Clark story, is never revealed to us or made clear.

Lean On Me comes in ---- guess what ---- a Warner Brothers snapper case package, like all the rest of their budget titles (this thing cost me around six or seven bucks and for this I had to pick it up), with a completely red cover and the title of the film in white, with a shadow of Clark pointing to a student and repremanding him; at the bottom of the front cover we have the words "A TRUE STORY ABOUT A REAL HERO FROM THE DIRECTOR OF THE KARATE KID AND ROCKY."


ONLY available in full frame, Warner's transfer of Lean On Me, suprisingly, was decent. I was going in expecting the worst, given their back-catalog quality history, and the fact that this was a Pan and Scan hack job of the film, but aside from a slightly dirty opening sequence, Lean On Me looks good in full frame, with good colors and no grain to speak of, believe it or not, throughout its running length. The only "abnormality" I was able to detect was a very, very slight softness to the image and colors, but overall, Lean On Me never looked better to my eyes.


Here we go again......the complaints about Warner Brothers products from me, your resident Audio Review DVD reviewer; the audio track on Lean On Me was just all over the place, and I dont really know where to begin; lets start with the fact that given this was a Dolby Surround track, not a dedicated Dolby Digital mix, the overall VOLUME POWER of the mix was extremely weak, requiring a raising of master volume levels WAY beyond what you'd normally listen at. There were also big problems with dialogue ---- problems in the way that sometimes voices were crystal clear to hear, such as when Freeman is belting out his orders through his bullhorn, but then suddenly, sometimes in the same scene, his voice got muffled and congested, and sometimes distorted.....and this went back and forth through the whole feature.

Surround usage? There was actually some nice examples of surround usage on Lean On Me's Dolby Surround mix, but they were rare and perhaps used only twice or so, such as when the crowd roars filled East Side High's auidtorium ---- you could easily hear the students wrap around you through the surrounds as Freeman tries to calm them down during an assembly. Another noteworthy surround sequence is at the end, when Freeman's students are rallying outside of his jail cell --- their yells and chants spread right to the surround channels as if this were a 5.1 mix, which it wasnt, and this was a nice touch on a Dolby Surround track. Otherwise, most of Lean On Me remains in the center channel because this is, after all, a drama. Music plays a big part in this motion picture, and the results are a mixed bag; the opening sequence where Guns and Roses' "Welcome To the Jungle" is playing, sounds "weird" on this Dolby mix, as if we dont really know WHERE the audio is coming from --- it doesnt quite sound steered into the stereo channels, and yet it doesnt sound like its coming from the surrounds, either....and there is a "muffled" quality to the song during these opening cast sequences, where it seems as if a blanket needs to be lifted off the audio quality of Welcome to the Jungle. Other music, however, sounds rich throughout the DVD on this Dolby Surround mix, such as when any rendition of the song "Lean on Me" comes blaring out of your speakers.

The main ***** about Lean On Me's Dolby Surround track is the overall power of the mix --- it's low, people, and you're gonna need a lot of amp power to get this one going. And like I said, sometimes dialogue goes in and out in terms of quality, where one minute Freeman's voice sounds clean and booming and then suddenly turns muffled and indistinguishable; there definitely could have been some refinements and more attention given to Lean On Me's audio mix.

This would be another vote from me for a Special Edition of some kind from Warner Brothers down the road because there IS a fascinating real story behind the Joe Clark case. Perhaps Warner could gather some interviews with the real Clark, or real news clippings of his heroism at East Side High School; if Waner dropped a remixed video transfer and a new 5.1 mix on a Special Edition, I would double dip in a second.

But for now, I cannot recommend against picking up this classic, unforgettable Morgan Freeman performance on this bare bones disc if you can find it for the bargain basement price I did.