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  Go, Johnny, Go! Rock Rock RockBuy this film here.
Year: 1959
Director: Paul Landres
Stars: Alan Freed, Jimmy Clanton, Sandy Stewart, Chuck Berry, Jackie Wilson, Richie Valens, The Cadillacs, Jo-Ann Campbell, The Flamingos, Harvey Fuqua, Eddie Cochran, Jimmy Cavallo, Herb Vigran, Frank Wilcox, Barbara Woodell, Milton Frome
Genre: Musical
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Singer and heartthrob Johnny Melody (Jimmy Clanton) is performing onstage for an audience of screaming and cheering teenage girls while his mentor, Alan Freed (as himself) stands in the wings approvingly looking on. Next to Freed is Chuck Berry (also as himself) who badgers him to tell all about the night that Freed discovered Johnny, but he is reluctant to get into all that as Johnny unbuttons his jacket, takes off his tie and flings it into the audience where it is caught by a delighted Julie (Sandy Stewart). Johnny then heads off to change his outfit as Freed relents and tells Chuck all...

This was the last of Freed's movies before his major fall from grace as the victim of a unfair campaign to make him the scapegoat for the payola scandal, where radio presenters were accused of accepting gifts - or bribes - to play certain songs on their shows. It was also notable for featuring musical acts who would be no more in a few years, as Eddie Cochran died the year after this was released, and it marked the only film appearance of Ritchie Valens, who would die in the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper. For that reason what was a throwaway item not intended to have any lasting power still retains its interest.

It's nice to see that what could have been strictly ephemeral has been preserved many decades after its initial appearance, as with many works of its type what was intended to be strictly disposable endured, but that's not due to the quality of the acting, that's for sure. Clanton, a teen idol at the time, is a better singer than he is a thespian, and the same applies to most of the cast, with Freed serviceable but thankfully not bursting out into song as he did in one of his previous movies; he does play the drums for Chuck Berry, however, or at least mimes playing the drums, though he's really there as an ambassador for rock 'n' roll.

At a time where this music was still creating a stir in conservative society, it's only Johnny who veers off the straight and narrow, and he's a fictional character. This is put down to him being an orphan, and Freed becomes a surrogate father to the boy, or he does eventually as there's a ridiculously dragged out plot about him looking for the next big singing sensation, whereupon Johnny submits a recording but decides not to put his real name or address on it, not even a phone number for contacting him. The only reason he does this is because the scriptwriters needed the story, such as it was, to last the full seventy-five minutes, and it doesn't half become tiresome.

Fortunately, nobody was really wanting to see this for the story, as it was those music acts that were the true draw. Cochran dances with his guitar, Valens does a surprisingly raucous number considering how polite he looks, and The Flamingos, best known for their harmonising ballads, cut a rug on their energetic song which shows them to have some killer dance moves when they got to let their hair down. It's notable that apart from Chuck Berry, none of the acts really do their hits, mainly because this film was shot just before those best-known records came out, but that's not to say that musically this is a letdown, as apart from the novelty value of seeing them if you only know their songs, the material here is generally pretty good, even great. Berry, incidentally, makes for a genial sidekick, a little sarcastic, but doesn't embarrass himself, which only adds to the appeal of a time capsule that has lasted better than some of its contemporaries.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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