Rating: Not Rated
Film Length: 77 minutes (Rock Around the Clock), 85 minutes (Don’t Knock the Rock)
Aspect Ratio: 16X9 Enhanced Widescreen (1.85:1)
Subtitles: Rock Around the Clock : English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Thai, & Japanese
Don’t Knock the Rock: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, & Japanese
The Program: ****/*****
Rock Around the Clock was the first rock ‘n’ roll movie. It wasn’t the first movie to incorporate rock ‘n’ roll music (the song “Rock Around the Clock” had been used in Blackboard Jungle a year earlier), but it was the first movie to be about rock ‘n’ roll.
Sam Katzman, a long-time producer of “B” films, saw that youth riots had broken out at rock concerts and figured that money could be made by bringing the energy of rock ‘n’ roll to the screen. He signed up Bill Haley & the Comets, then the hottest rock ‘n’ roll band in the United States, and constructed a fictitious story about the group’s rise from obscurity.
The plots of rock ‘n’ roll movies are secondary to the music, but they all follow a familiar formula. In each case rock ‘n’ roll musicians trying to make it big in show business run into opposition, generally from disapproving adults. But, as we know, it is always rock ‘n’ roll which wins out in the end.
In Rock Around the Clock we are introduced to Steve Hollis (played by Johnnie Johnston, who was himself a fairly successful singer in the forties), the manager of a big band orchestra which is playing before near-empty houses in hotels and night clubs. Steve is convinced that the big band era is over and that nobody wants to go dancing anymore. He then embarks on an auto trip and stops in a small town on a Saturday night. He discovers that teenagers are flocking to the local dance hall. Intrigued by this, he visits the dance hall and is blown away by the sight of teens jitterbugging to the sounds of Bill Haley & the Comets.
Convinced that he has found the answer to his problems, Steve travels to New York to see Corinne Talbot (played by Alix Talton), the top show business manager in the country. Corinne wants Steve to marry her, but he has not reciprocated. Corinne figures that if she can break Steve financially, she’ll also be able to break down his resistance to her charms. She agrees to sign a contract with Bill Haley & the Comets, but she immediately tries to sabotage Steve by booking the band at a staid finishing school in Connecticut.
So much for the plot, which is merely an excuse to show off the musical acts. Bill Haley & the Comets perform the title song, as well as “See You Later, Alligator” “Razzle Dazzle,” and other songs. The Platters show up to sing “The Great Pretender” and “Only You.” Also on hand are Frankie Bell and the Bellboys, a group which briefly enjoyed some success in the fifties, and a decidedly non-rock ’n’ roll act, Tony Martinez and his band (Martinez played mambo music and later went on to do the role of Sancho Panza in more than 2,000 performances of The Man of La Mancha on Broadway). Others in the cast include famed disc jockey Alan Freed and Lisa Gaye (the younger sister of Debra Paget).
Rock Around the Clock is a fun film which breezes right along and features some great music and very energetic dancing.
Encouraged by the success of Rock Around the Clock, Katzman followed it up a few months later with Don’t Knock the Rock. This film also features Bill Haley & the Comets, albeit in a secondary role. For some reason Katzman decided that the plot would revolve around singer Alan Dale, who wasn’t even really associated with rock ‘n’ roll. Dale, a baritone, had enjoyed some success on radio and television and charted with two mainstream Top 40 singles in 1955, so perhaps Katzman thought that he could be turned into a rock ‘n’ roll star. However, by the time the film was released Dale was 30 years old and it was clear that his career was in decline. In any event, Dale plays Arnie Haines, a rock ‘n’ roller who decides to put on a show in his hometown. However, to his dismay he discovers that the town has outlawed rock ‘n’ roll and the locals appear to be fully supportive of the ban.
Needless to say, Arnie has to figure out a way to change the minds of his former neighbors. Along the way we once again get to see Alan Freed, and there are several numbers performed by Bill Haley & The Comets, including “Rip it Up” and “Hook, Line and Sinker.” The real show-stopper in this film is Little Richard, who rocks the screen with renditions of “Tutti Frutti” and “Long Tall Sally.” Also on hand are The Treniers, who were popular R&B performers in the late forties and early fifties, and Dave Appell and the Applejacks, who recorded a couple of modest hits in the late fifties. Keep an eye out for a fairly hot dance by Jana Lund, who plays the daughter of the mayor of a neighboring town. Jana Lund later dated Elvis and retired from show business after marrying a prominent Hollywood divorce attorney in 1962.
Don’t Knock the Rock isn’t as fresh and interesting as Rock Around the Clock, but it has enough going for it to be recommended for fans of the genre.
The Video ****/*****
This double-feature set comes on two discs, each with its own slimcase. The black & white transfers are first-rate. The remastered images are sharp, with good contrast throughout. The enhanced 1.85:1 aspect ratio appears to accurately reproduce the way the films were projected in theaters. A minimal amount of grain can be seen in some scenes, but it is not enough to be distracting. The transfers are free of edge enchancement and other artifacts. All in all, these films probably look as good on DVD as they did when they were released in theaters more than 50 years ago.
The Audio ***/*****
Both of these films were recorded in mono, and that is how they are presented on DVD. There is nothing spectacular about the Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtracks, but there is nothing objectionable, either. The dialog is clear and intelligible. The musical numbers sound fine, without noticeable hiss or any hint of distortion. In other words, the audio is probably as good as it can be. From a personal standpoint, I would rather hear material such as this in the original mono than in re-channeled stereo, so kudos to Sony for maintaining the integrity of the music.
The packaging for Don’t Knock the Rock says that it offers English, Japanese and Portuguese audio tracks, but the audio menu on the DVD offers only English and Portuguese. Rock Around the Clock has only the English soundtrack.
These are bare-bones discs with no supplementary materials.
There are none, really. Both films have chapter stops, but the only way they can be utilized is through the chapter advance button on your remote. There are no menus for chapters or scene selection.
The Final Analysis: ****/*****
If you have an interest in fifties rock ‘n’ roll, you will not be disappointed by this double-feature set. These films are hokey, to be sure, but they are also a great deal of fun.
Equipment used for this review:
Cambridge Audio Azur 540D DVD player
Sharp LC-42D62U LCD display
Yamaha HTR-5890 THX Surround Receiver
BIC Acoustech speakers
Interconnects: Monster Cable
Release Date: January 23, 2007