Thursday, July 29, 2010

Rock Around the Clock

TCM is concluding its retrospective of teen movies tonight in prime time with a bunch of movies featuring the music that appealed to the teens of the day: rock and roll. One of these is the thoroughly silly Rock Around the Clock, airing at 9:30 PM ET.

There's not much of a plot here. A promoter (Johnny Johnston) who realizes that the music he's been promoting is becoming passé heads back for New York. Along the way, he stops in some hokey small town, where he finds all the hip young kids dancing away to a completely new style of music: we know it as rock and roll, but surely the adults of the day would find it frightening and confusing. Well, not exactly; even in this hokey town, all of the adults are speaking the rock lingo, man. Our promoter realizes he's got a big thing on his hands, and convinces the brother/sister dance team Lisa and Jimmy (Lisa Gaye and Earl Barton) to come with him to New York, where he'll help them put over the new music.

There's a small problem, though. Johnny's boss Corinne (Alix Talton) loves him (nowadays, it would be sexual harassment, but they didn't think about such things back then), while he's beginning to have eyes for Lisa, which only makes Connie more jealous. Still, Corinne begins to realize that this new music will sweep the country, and that she could make a bunch of money off it. So she comes up with a devious plan: she'll promote the music, and specifically the two dancers, only if Lisa will sign a multi-year contract that will prevent her from getting married while she's under contract. The final concert goes off without a hitch, and Johnny and Lisa figure out a way to get around the contract and presumably live happily ever after, while leaving that bitch Corinne out in the cold.

If you read carefully, you'll probably realize that none of the names of the actors are household names. That's because Rock Around the Clock is the sort of movie that wasn't about the story. A whole bunch of cheapo movies were made in the second half of the 1950s and the early 1960s that were meant to capitalize on the newest popular music fad of the day. They range from formulaic movies like this one, its sister Don't Knock the Rock and its near-exact remake Twist Around the Clock; to fun movies that know not to take themselves seriously, such as the British It's Trad, Dad; to serious movies where the pop singers were secondary, such as Dick Clark's Because They're Young; to the thoroughly bizarre Bop Girl Goes Calypso. The point of all these movies was to showcase the music. Here, we get Bill Haley and the Comets as the main performers, but also the Platters (talented, but not exactly rock and roll) and a few bands that faded into obscurity. Preserving the music of Bill Halel, as well as that of the Platters, is worth it. That, and laughing at how thoroughly bad the "plot", such as it is, is.

Rock Around the Clock got a DVD release as part of a boxset with Don't Knock the Rock.

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