2 October 2004 | django-1
Sam Katzman-produced 60's-folkie rewrite on "Don't Knock The Twist"
This plot goes back AT LEAST to the big-band era. A promoter or reporter or minor producer who is under pressure at his radio network/TV network/record label/newspaper/etc.to come up with a blockbuster new concept or show discovers a new trend in music, helps some deserving up-and-coming performers get a break, and often finds (or rekindles) romance. In Don't Knock The Twist, Lang Jeffries played the promoter--here it's Peter Breck. In some of the Ron Ormond-produced "Jubilee" pictures it was Don Barry or Jimmy Ellison. In Good to Go it was Art Garfunkel. Like the Bill Haley rock'n'roll movies of the mid-50s or the Chubby Checker twist movies of the early-60s, this is a Sam Katzman production, meaning it will be shot on a few cheap sets and will feature a number of semi-talented unknowns along with the better artists, but also it will have a number of excellent supporting actors to carry the "plot" elements. Here we have Peter Breck, Ruta Lee, Joby Baker, and Bobo Lewis as the female comic relief. Not surprisingly, this film and Don't Knock The Twist AND the Bill Haley vehicle Rock Around The Clock were all written by Robert E. Kent, but he's working from a template that was old at the time. So how's the music? Well, the title song by Sheb Wooley (in its full version, heard later in the film) as a fine rockin' number, Johnny Cash's version of Frankie and Johnny is solid, Judy Henske does an intense version of Wade In The Water with the support of avant-garde male dancers, the black gospel-folk duo Joe and Eddie do a fantastic anthemic number, and George Hamilton IV does his hit Abilene. The "humorous" clean-cut folk of the Brothers Four doesn't really work for me, and some of the lesser acts have not dated well and seem to have somewhat shallow roots. Don't expect to see Dave Van Ronk, Phil Ochs, Ramblin' Jack Elliott or Dylan here--there's a line of dialogue about how the show they are producing will not include any of those coffeehouse, beatnik types!! Gene Nelson, an actor and dancer before becoming a director, has helmed a number of excellent films, but he must have been given few resources and a very limited number of days' shooting time here as the mismatched close-ups and casual framing of shots are not what one expects in an MGM release, even a bottom-of-the-bill drive-in release such as this one. Overall, a historical artifact of interest to Johnny Cash completists and popular culture fanatics who would actually want to see a "Rock Around the Clock"-type movie about the 1960s pop-folk revival scene (recently depicted nostalgically in A MIGHTY WIND). I'm glad I saw this once, but I don't think I'll be putting it on again unless I live to be 150!