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September 22, 2005

Rock and Roll Double Feature

Rock, Rock, Rock
Will Price - 1956
Stardust Records DVD

Roy Lockwood - 1957
Warner Brothers Region 1 DVD

When reading about the nominees for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I have to wonder how meaningful any of the musicians are for a younger generation. The reason I ask is because I like to see the movies made of rock musicians from the Fifties, for an audience that was born about ten years before me. Even though the narrative framework is silly, and the production values are often sloppy, I like these films as documentation of certain performers, particularly those who have maintained some vitality almost fifty years since the films were made.

The two films I saw were produced by Milton Subotsky and Max Rosenberg. The men eventually formed a company called Amicus which attempted to compete with Hammer in the realm of horror films through the mid-Seventies. In terms of film making, Rock, Rock, Rock and Jamboree are not memorable, and neither director is noteworthy for anything else. Subotsky and Rosenberg seemed to have gotten things right in their last rock performance film, It's Trad, Dad!, the debut feature by Richard Lester.

Rock, Rock, Rock is notable also for being the first starring film for thirteen year old Tuesday Weld. Even if her performance is not indicative of a future Academy Award nominee, she's better than the rest of the cast. Will she go to the prom with Tommy? Will she get the strapless gown she covets? Will anyone care? At the other end of the scale is Alan Freed who somehow believed his talents as a disk jockey would translate to screen stardom. While I can tolerate his introducing the performers, Freed also demonstrates his lack of any musical talent by standing in front of a big band, arrythmically clapping while croaking, "Rock and Roll Boogie". At least Tuesday Weld's singing is dubbed by Connie Francis.

The musical highlights in this film include Chuck Berry doing "You Can't Catch Me" while doing a pidgeon-toed dance, followed by his famous duck walk, rockabilly singer Johnny Burnette doing "Lonesome Train", and Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers performing "I'm not a Juvenile Delinquent". Who knew that fifty years later, the Frankie Lymons of the current generation would instead record songs boasting about their criminal activities? The fast forward button was used for Jimmy Cavallo, a musical stand-in for Bill Haley. Co-star Teddy Randazzo's songs were slow, sincere, and syruppy sweet. The film was done on the cheap, with some of the performances done on empty stages. Not helping is that the DVD seems to have been made from a worn video tape.

Jamboree is a very good transfer of a film made with a bit more money. Some of the performances were done on artfully designed sets. In some ways this film is even harder to watch because there are too few good musical numbers and too much of another lame story. Paul Carr and Freda Holloway play two young people who find their greatest success as a duo, and unhappiness as solo performers. Life seemed to imitate art as Carr has had a long career as a character actor, while Holloway seems to have retired from acting in 1964.

Instead of Alan Freed hogging the spotlight, Jamboree features a slew of now forgotten disk jockeys from the U.S., Canada, England and Germany (!) introducing the performers. The one disk jockey who went on to much bigger and better things was a young guy from Philadelphia, Dick Clark. Carr, who's character is doing a big solo tour of Europe, shown in obvious stock footage, is seen in front of an audience of senior citizens. Maybe the show was on a school night.

In between the treacly songs of Carr and Holloway are some performances worth savoring. Carl Perkins is solid. Jerry Lee Lewis is good, if restrained here. He is seen to better effect in the opening of High School Confidential singing the title song while jumping all over the piano. Seeing Fats Domino, knowing that he barely escaped from Hurricane Katrina, was a wistful moment. For fans of Mars Attacks! there is the opportunity to see future world saver Slim Whitman yodel. Even a very young Frankie Avalon makes his debut here, setting the stage for a career in which charisma won over dubious material.

Of interesting coincidence is that Tuesday Weld and Paul Carr previously were uncredited actors in the same film, Alfred Hitchcock's The Wrong Man. Of course Hitchcock would plead innocent to having anything to do even remotely with rock and roll.

Posted by peter at September 22, 2005 03:18 PM