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  Six-Five Special Playing The Tracks
Year: 1958
Director: Alfred Shaughnessy
Stars: Diane Todd, Avril Leslie, Finlay Currie, Josephine Douglas, Pete Murray, Freddie Mills, Lonnie Donegan, Dickie Valentine, Jim Dale, Petula Clark, Russ Hamilton, Joan Regan, Johnny Dankworth, Cleo Laine, John Barry, Mike Winters, Bernie Winters
Genre: MusicBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Anne (Diane Todd) is what she would term a "bathroom soprano", that is a singer who really only has confidence to belt out the tunes in the bath, as she is doing tonight in full view of her flatmate and best friend Judy (Avril Leslie) who sits reading about the exciting new television pop music programme The Six-Five Special in the newspaper. According to the article, it has been responsible for many an overnight success, which sets the cogs and gears in her mind working and she hits on an idea: how about she turns manager and brings her pal to stardom? All they need to do is hop on the 6.5 train to London and she's sure Ann's talent will see them good - but Ann needs persuading.

The origins of this piece of ephemera was a BBC television programme of the same name, produced by the incredible Jack Good, a man who almost singlehandedly defined how pop and rock music would be presented on the small screen, both in Britain and the United States. By the time this film was released, he was moving to the Beeb's rivals ITV to create the similarly groundbreaking Oh Boy! - he eventually retired from the media scene to become a monk, after a spell as an on camera presenter in America. Alas, he had nothing to do with the movie version, that being handled by some veterans in the industry who clearly wanted to make a quick profit and cash in on the title.

Needless to say, almost every performer here has been almost completely forgotten aside from the few really big stars the producers managed to secure, but there were plenty of also-rans whose fame would not last even past the end of the fifties. Among the bigger names Ann and Judy encounter on the train were Petula Clark, who trills a lightweight confection in her carriage to find out what the two girls think of it, Jim Dale, attempting a singing career before acting took over who offers up a rockabilly tune and encourages the reticent Ann, and Johnny Dankworth and Cleo Laine, two of the most respected jazz musicians of their day who deliver a couple of songs in the luggage carriage, though nothing approaching their most memorable efforts.

In fact, there are not many songs here you'll be recalling within five minutes of the film being over, possibly thanks to the sheer avalanche of music with a fresh ditty rolled out one after the other as if they were desperate to keep the audience's attention and could not afford a lull. Though there were a few bits of dialogue, such as a comedy sketch with Mike and Bernie Winters and a dog (not Schnorbitz, he arrived later, perhaps on a different train) that isn't funny exactly, but does give the impression of variety, yet in the main what drama there was rested on Ann's stage fright and Judy trying to build up her confidence. Cue a part where veteran actor Finlay Currie for some bizarre reason shows up to offer sage advice to the budding starlet and briefly reminisce about his career.

Although soundtrack enthusiasts may be interested to see John Barry with his band, the cod-rock 'n' roll they deliver is not becoming to them, and he didn't quite have the voice to carry it off. He's a shade more acceptable than the woodwind stylings of Desmond Lane, who sets about the penny whistle like Jimi Hendrix did with his guitar, or the alarming sight of tartan trews-sporting teenager Jackie Dennis, who yells his way through the sort of thing that passed for pop music in the late fifties, but is interesting in his way as an example of the in sound. However, the biggest name here, and the jewel in the booker's crown, was Lonnie Donegan, the man whose endorsement of skiffle inspired countless, important and groundbreaking British musicians, like a little band called The Beatles. He provided the grand finale with a couple of storming melodies, including Jack of Diamonds, one of his bigger hits, which alone proved the worth of the enterprise. And Ann? She gets her big break - singing one line as backing to Dickie Valentine. It's OK, she'll be back next week, avers presenter Pete Murray.

[Network's Blu-ray has as an extra a shorter, international edit of the film. Print quality very satisfying.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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