Rock Around the Clock (1956): First Official Hollywood Movie About Bill Haley Iconic Song

Produced by Sam Katzman, Rock Around the Clock is a B-level movie in every respect, but music, which is still glorious and irresistible.  Though poorly directed by Fred F. Sears, the movie features about 20 (by now classic) songs from the likes of Bill Haley and the Comets, along with Alan Freed (playing himself), The Platters, Tony Martinez, and Freddie Bell and His Bellboys.

I am grateful to Robert Osborne and TCM for showing this movie on Sunday, July 19, 2015.

Shot on a small budget, over a short period of time in January 1956, the movie aimed to capitalize on the popularity of his best-selling record, “Rock Around the Clock.”  The iconic song had already debuted in Richard Brooks controversial Blackboard Jungle, a 1955 juvenile delinquence feature, starring Glenn Ford and the young Sidney Poitier as a high-schooler.

More important musically and sociologically than cinematically, this movie is historically considered to be the first major Hollywood rock and roll musical film.

The simplistic narrative tells a fictionalized version of how rock and roll was presumably “discovered” and “spread around.”  Band manager Steve Hollis (Johnny Johnston), realizing that that band music is failing to draw audiences, comes across a new, revolutionary sound

Traveling through a small farm town, he attends the local teenage dance, where he is introduced to rock and roll music via local band Bill Haley and His Comets.

Convinced that rock and roll is the next big thing, Hollis strikes a deal to manage the group. Meanwhile he begins a romance with dancer Lisa Johns (LIsa Gaye).

Relatively speaking, the film’s most interesting figure is Corinne Talbot (Alix Talton), who handles bookings for the venues in which Hollis wants the band to play. A smart cookie, Corinne is also interested in Hollis personally–she wants him to work directly for her agency.

She books the band in some conservative venue, expecting them to reject the brash music, but instead, the dancers get excited by it. She then blacklists Hollis and his acts from her venues, but the latter manipulates her via disc jockey Alan Freed (playing himself).

Booking in Freed’s venue gains the Comets the exposure needed, despite Corinne’s efforts.  Corinne then agrees to sign the group to a contract, contingent that Johns agree not to marry. Johns consents and Corinne launches their career with a national tour.  After the tour begins, however, Hollis reveals that he and Johns married quickly during the time it took to draw up the contract.

The dialogue is functional (borderline pedestrian) is promoting the understandably slender plot, which strings the 20 songs together, from one point to another.  The acting is rather poor, too, though Alix Talton looks right as the tough manager. Johnny Johnston and Lisa Gaye are effectively bland (and blandly effective).

End Note:

Producer Sam Katzman made some Elvis Presley musical films in the 1960s. none too good.

Cast

Alan Freed as Himself

Johnny Johnson as Steve Hollis

Alix Talton as Corinne Talbot

Lisa Gaye as Lisa Johns

John Archer as Mike Dodd

Henry Slate as Corny LaSalle