Friday, April 18, 2014

Movie Review "Go, Johnny Go!"

Here's an old rock 'n' roll movie I just happened to come across on TV last week.

The 1959 movie goes like this. Alan Freed, "The King of Rock 'n' Roll" (at least until the payola scandal) plays himself, a radio DJ, looking for new talent. He announces a contest to discover "Johnny Melody", the next big thing.

Jimmy Clanton played Johnny, a down-and-out rocker who was determined to win the contest. He scrapes up enough money to record a demo of a song he wrote and sends it into the contest. The movie is mostly about missed connections between Johnny and Freed, as Johnny neglected to supply either an address or phone number.  I'll confess that I never heard of Clanton. He was from Louisiana and known as the "swamp pop R&B teenage idol" with several hit songs, the only one which I know was "Venus in Blue Jeans".  Anyway, Clanton wasn't much of an actor although he was quite engaging in this movie, and he sure could sing.

Sandy Stewart played Julie Arnold, a childhood friend of Johnny's. They bump into each other outside Freed's studio and he blows her off in his desire to speak to Freed. Almost another missed connection for Johnny except when Johnny shows up at the recording studio, Julie had just finished recording her entry into the contest. She agrees to provide backup vocals for Johnny's song. After that, she apparently forgets about her song and wholeheartedly supports Johnny. There are a couple of good scenes between Johnny, Julie and her parents. Her parents, instead of being portrayed as typical rock 'n' roll haters of the period, actually were quite hip. And quite accepting of Johnny even though they first meet him when they interrupt him and Julie in an embrace.

Stewart was also an actual singer who had one moderate hit "My Coloring Book". She was really good in this and cute as a button.

The real selling point of this movie is the music. In addition to performances by Clanton and Stewart, Chuck Berry, playing himself, does two songs. Richie Valens makes his only movie appearance in one song. Between making the movie and it's release he died in a plane crash along with Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper (the day the music died). Eddie Cochran does "Teenage Heaven". The Flamingos and The Cadillacs also perform. Their numbers were performed in a comedy fashion that, in today's world, would have probably been done differently. Think white folks in black face.

Spoiler Alert - Johnny wins the contest and appears in Alan Freed's big Christmas show.

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