Musical Monday: Go, Johnny, Go! (1959)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
Go, Johnny, Go! (1959) – Musical #564

Hal Roach Studios

Paul Landres

Jimmy Clanton, Sandy Stewart
Themselves: Chuck Berry, Alan Freed, Ritchie Valens, Jackie Wilson, Jo Ann Campbell, The Cadillacs, The Flamingos, Harvey Fuqua, Eddie Cochran, Jimmy Cavalio and the House Rockers

Talent scout and producer Alan Freed (himself) is hunting for a new singing star that he will name Johnny Melody. Johnny (Clanton) is an orphan with hopes of becoming a rock star. When he reconnects with fellow former orphan Julie (Stewart), she encourages him to cut a record and send it to Alan Freed. The plot is dispersed with performances of rock-n-roll performances from singers popular in 1959.

-Was filmed in five days
-This is the only film appearance of Ritchie Valens, who died this same year
-Final film of Alan Freed, who also starred in films like “Rock Around the Clock” and “Don’t Knock Rock”

-Seeing Chuck Berry perform and doing his famous duck walk

Chuck Berry in “Go, Johnny, Go”

Notable Songs:
-“Don’t Be Afraid To Love” performed by Harvey
-“Playmates” performed by Sandy Stewart
-“Memphis Tennessee” performed by Chuck Berry
-“Jay Walker” performed The Cadillacs
-“You Better Know It” performed Jackie Wilson
-“Little Queenie” performed by Chuck Berry
-“Ship on a Stormy Sea” performed by Jimmy Clanton

My review:
In the early-1950s, rock n’ roll was a new music form and rapidly gaining popularity. And teenage films were made throughout the 1950s and early 1960s to capitalize off of this.

Similar to films like “Rock Around the Clock,” “Rock Rock Rock!” or “Don’t Knock Rock,” there is a thin plot that is threaded together with 17 musical performances from popular acts of 1959. That’s 17 numbers in only a 75 minute span.

The film is a retrospective story, starting with Jimmy Clanton as Johnny Melody singing for screaming teenagers. In the wings are Alan Freed and Chuck Berry (as themselves) talking about how wonderful he is and remembering his struggles. Alan Freed begins to tell Johnny’s story of an orphan that wanted to be a singer. We see how Johnny was kicked out of a church choir for singing rock n’ roll during a break and then fired as a theater usher for dancing to the music rather than escorting. Rock n’ roll seems to be his downfall until it becomes his saving grace: allowing him to make money and find fame.

“Go, Johnny, Go” has more plot than some of the other teen rock films, but the acting is thin.

While these musicals may seem like fluff now, the were important for shaping the image of rock n’ roll to teenage movie fans, according to American Film Cycles by Amanda Ann Klein. They also serve as an interesting time capsule to see who the top performers were during that time.

Jimmy Clanton and Sandy Stewart in “Go, Johnny, Go”

In the few films he acted in, music producer Alan Freed often served as the adult who liked rock n’ roll, understood teenagers and could help ease their parent’s concern about this new type of music.

I wasn’t familiar with Jimmy Clanton or his music prior to this film. While the two lead performers are bland, the true highlight of this film is getting to see the late Chuck Berry in a film. His “Memphis Tennessee” performance makes the film. I also really loved the performances by Jackie Wilson and Harvey Fuqua -after Chuck Berry, they were my favorites. Sadly, Ritchie Valens who appears in this film died the same year.

While this isn’t the best movie, it is a must see for music lovers.

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Musical Monday: “Rock Rock Rock!” (1956)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

rock rock rockThis week’s musical:

“Rock Rock Rock!” –Musical #384

Vanguard Productions

Will Price

Tuesday Weld, Fran Manfred, Teddy Randazzo, Jaqueline Kerr, Ivy Shulman, David Winters
Themselves: Alan Freed and his Rock n’ Roll Band, the Moonglows, Chuck Berry, the Flaningos, Jimmy Cavallo and His House Rockers, Johnny Burnette Trio, LaVern Baker, Cirino and the Bowties, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers,

Dori (Weld) is in love with Tommy (Randazzo) and is worried new girl Gloria (Kerr) will try to steal her boyfriend. When she learns Gloria is wearing a blue (Tommy’s favorite color) strapless evening gown, Dori wants one too, but her dad won’t buy her one. Dori has to earn the money and decides to start a bank and make loans to her classmates to earn the money- which works about as well as you can image.
Sprinkled around the thin plot are 21 performances by early, popular rock n’ roll singers and groups.

-Connie Francis dubbed Tuesday Weld and even gets billing in the credits at the beginning with her picture.
-Actress Tuesday Weld’s first film, who was 13 when this was made.
-Actress Valerie Harper has an uncredited role as a girl at the prom.

Notable Songs:
-“Tra la la” by LaVern Baker
-“You Can’t Catch Me” by Chuck Berry
-“Lonesome Train” by The Johnny Burnette Trio
-“I Just Want to Rock” by Ivy Shulman and the Bowties (notable because she’s 7 years old and I thought it was dreadful)

My Review:
If you are looking for a movie with excellent acting and a strong plot, “Rock Rock Rock!” isn’t for you.
But if love mid-1950s music and early rock n’ roll, you will enjoy “Rock Rock Rock!”
The film wasn’t so much about the plot but showcasing big name performers of the day. This wasn’t a rarity either. Around this time, similar films included “Rock Around the Clock” (1956), “Shake, Rattle and Rock” (1956) or “Don’t Knock Rock” (1956). Later, this could be compared to Elvis, Beatles or Herman’s Hermits films. Those films usually had more of a plot but were made to capitalize off the popularity of the performers and their music.
I think the most interesting thing to me about this movie is Connie Francis dubbing Tuesday Weld. Dubbing was a common practice in movie musicals since the dawn of time. If an actress couldn’t sing (Rita Hayworth, Virginia Mayo, Cyd Charisse, Vera-Ellen, Lucille Ball, etc.) someone else would do the singing and the actress generally would get the credit.
What’s interesting about “Rock Rock Rock!” is the film lets us know in the credits that Connie Francis is doing Tuesday Weld’s singing. I’m sure it was to capitalize off of Francis’s popularity but Francis’s singing voice doesn’t blend well with Weld’s appearance. The dubbed performances are awkward and mildly painful.
Also, as a huge “West Side Story” (1961) fan, a big highlight for me was David Winters in a bit role- who played Arab in “West Side Story” and later choreographed films.
Though most of the songs are enjoyable, the worst was “I Just Want to Rock” by Ivy Shulman who is maybe 6 or 7 years old and singing about how she wants to rock. I’m sure it was supposed to be adorable, I just found it it annoying.
My favorite of all the performances was LaVern Baker.
Though I personally did not enjoy the movie and thought some of the acting was pretty bad (it was Weld’s first film and she was only 13, so I’m refraining from being harsh), “Rock Rock Rock!” is an interesting little time capsule into music history.

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