Monday, July 11, 2011

It's Trad, Dad!

TCM is showing a bunch of those silly movies from the beginning of the rock-and-roll era when Hollywood fuddy-duddies tried to bring in musical acts that they thought were all the rage among the young, in an attempt to get teens to come to the movie theater. (I can only imagine what Justin Bieber would be like as an actor. Truly frightening.) Some of the musical numbers that appear in such movies were actually relatively famous, and have stood the test of time: the Platters, for example, performed in Rock Around the Clock, while Chubby Checker showed up in the remake, Twist Around the Clock. The British made a similar movie in the early 1960s, called It's Trad, Dad!, and that movie is airing tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM on TCM.

The "Trad" of the title is short for "traditional jazz", although the musical style really combines elements of Dixieland with some more rock-like stuff, and the British genre of skiffle music. This is the sort of music that was apparently popular in the UK in the era just before the Beatles and the rest of the "British Invasion" bands would become popular, the movie having been released in 1962. As for the plot, it involves two friends (Helen Shapiro and Craig Douglas) from a British hinterlands town who are horrified by the fact that their town fathers want to ban the trad music the kids so love on the grounds that it's noise pollution and a horrible influence. So they go to London and try to convince a bunch of bands and music-show presenters to come to their town and put on a concert, in part to show that trad doesn't deserve its bad reputation, and in part to tick off the town fathers.

It's Trad, Dad! is worth watching for two reasons. One is the performances. Some Americans had made their way to the UK for whatever reason, and American viewers will recognize those names: Gene Vincent, and the aforementioned Chubby Checker show up. (This even though Checker's music has nothing to do with trad.) Seeing those British acts who were apparently relatively prominent in the UK but never made it in the US (ever heard of "The Temperance Seven"?); their presence alone makes this quite the curiosity at least on the American side of the Atlantic. The other reason, though, is that the movie is quite different from the American teen rock movies in that it doesn't take itself seriously at all. The director, Richard Lester (who would later go on to make A Hard Day's Night with the Beatles) seems to realize that the teens of the day probably didn't care all that much for movies like this, so he injected a lot of self-referential humor. There's one scene where the two leads need a change of wardrobe, so they cut from a shot of the teens in their old clothes to one of them in the better duds, at which point the two go on their way. The off-screen narrator responds, "The least they could have done is thank us". Or, a scene when the town fathers are destroying the evil trad records, and find a non-trad record has slipped in. And the finale, when the town officials try to block the music acts from getting to town, is quite a treat.

It's Trad, Dad! isn't great by any means, but is a blast from the past that deserves one viewing at least. It doesn't seem to be available on DVD, at least not in the States, so you'll have to catch the rare TCM showing. Note that when the movie was released in the US, it was given the title "Ring-a-Ding Rhythm", so when you see the odd title card, don't think TCM has made a mistake.

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