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

Studio:
Hal Roach Studios

Director:
Paul Landres

Starring:
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

Plot:
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.

Trivia:
-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”

Highlights:
-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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