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HTF Review: Rock Around the Clock/Don't Knock the Rock


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#1 of 33 Richard Gallagher

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Posted January 17 2007 - 04:40 AM

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Studio: Sony/Columbia
Year: 1956
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.

The Supplements

These are bare-bones discs with no supplementary materials.

Other Features

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
Rich Gallagher

#2 of 33 Marty M

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Posted January 17 2007 - 05:41 AM

Thanks for the review. I have seen these movies, but only on late night TV channels that were using very old, terrible prints of these movies. It will be nice to really get to see both of these movies.
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#3 of 33 Richard Gallagher

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Posted January 17 2007 - 06:37 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Marty M
Thanks for the review. I have seen these movies, but only on late night TV channels that were using very old, terrible prints of these movies. It will be nice to really get to see both of these movies.

Marty,

You're welcome. It's my first HTF review.

I should have a review of "Twist Around the Clock" and "Don't Knock the Twist" up in a day or two.
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#4 of 33 MarcoBiscotti

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Posted January 17 2007 - 08:33 AM

I'd like to see a release of, "It's Trad, Dad!" next!


Recorded that one off TCM over the holidays. I think they aired together on New Years with a bunch of other early sixties beach movies.

#5 of 33 Richard Gallagher

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Posted January 17 2007 - 10:06 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by MarcoBiscotti
I'd like to see a release of, "It's Trad, Dad!" next!


Recorded that one off TCM over the holidays. I think they aired together on New Years with a bunch of other early sixties beach movies.

TCM will be airing that one again later this month -- on the 29th, I believe it is.
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#6 of 33 Herb Kane

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Posted January 17 2007 - 12:35 PM

Hey Rich,

Very nice job and congrats on your first review. I look forward to reading many more..!!

Herb.
My Top 25 Noirs:

25. 711 Ocean Drive (1950), 24. Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), 23. Desperate (1947), 22. Pushover (1954), 21. The Blue Dahlia (1946), 20. The File on Thelma Jordon (1949), 19. He Ran All the Way (1951), 18. The Asphalt Jungle (1950), 17. The Killing (1956), 16. I Walk Alone (1948),...

#7 of 33 Richard Gallagher

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Posted January 18 2007 - 06:50 AM

Thanks, Herb.

My review of "Twist Around the Clock" and "Don't Knock the Twist" is being posted today.
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#8 of 33 Ira Siegel

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Posted January 18 2007 - 10:16 AM

Thanks for the excellent reviews, Richard.

I'm concerned about the aspect ratio of at least Rock Around the Clock.

According to IMDB.com and to http://www.tcmdb.com....jsp?stid=88497, the theatrical aspect ratio was 1.37:1, and not 1.85:1.

#9 of 33 Richard Gallagher

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Posted January 18 2007 - 11:35 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ira Siegel
Thanks for the excellent reviews, Richard.

I'm concerned about the aspect ratio of at least Rock Around the Clock.

According to IMDB.com and to http://www.tcmdb.com....jsp?stid=88497, the theatrical aspect ratio was 1.37:1, and not 1.85:1.

Ira,

I don't have any inside information on the original aspect ratio, but it looks fine at 1.85:1. I just took another look and there is no evidence of any stretching -- all of the proportions look to be correct. I also took a look at the print which TCM aired last month, and it is letterboxed at about 1.85:1 as well.
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#10 of 33 Jack Theakston

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Posted January 18 2007 - 12:22 PM

By 1956, I'm sure it would have been shown theatrically in the 1.85 ratio.

There's nothing original about TCMdb. It's a clone of the IMDb. And we all know you can't IMDB on aspect ratios - they are often wrong on the mid-fifties titles.
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#11 of 33 GeoffStAndrews

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Posted January 29 2007 - 07:54 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Richard Gallagher
Ira,

I don't have any inside information on the original aspect ratio, but it looks fine at 1.85:1. I just took another look and there is no evidence of any stretching -- all of the proportions look to be correct. I also took a look at the print which TCM aired last month, and it is letterboxed at about 1.85:1 as well.


Having seen the film when it was first released in 1956, I can tell you that the studio has indeed played with the formatting. It is most noticeable when Lisa Gaye and Earl Barton are dancing at the School Graduation. Their feet are clipped at the base.

It always irks me the way studios pay no attention to the original format, either panning and scanning cinemascope or created a false widescreen version as in this case.

Fortunately, I taped this film from television a number of years ago and have since digitzed it in DVD format. So while the quality isn't first rate, at least I get to see the film the way it was originally released.

And I must say that Columbia er, Sony is one of the worst studios at monkeying with original prints.

But at least the film is out. It's unfortunate the studio couldn't put at least the trailers for the films on the DVD.

Cheers!

#12 of 33 JeffMc

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Posted January 30 2007 - 08:07 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by GeoffStAndrews
Having seen the film when it was first released in 1956, I can tell you that the studio has indeed played with the formatting. It is most noticeable when Lisa Gaye and Earl Barton are dancing at the School Graduation. Their feet are clipped at the base.

It always irks me the way studios pay no attention to the original format, either panning and scanning cinemascope or created a false widescreen version as in this case.

Fortunately, I taped this film from television a number of years ago and have since digitzed it in DVD format. So while the quality isn't first rate, at least I get to see the film the way it was originally released.

And I must say that Columbia er, Sony is one of the worst studios at monkeying with original prints.

But at least the film is out. It's unfortunate the studio couldn't put at least the trailers for the films on the DVD.

Cheers!

I hadn't read this thread beforehand, but I just received this DVD set today and threw in ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK and the first thing I noticed during the dancing scenes were the feet being cut off and how tight some other shots were, mostly at the bottom. There is no way the cinematographer intended it to look like this - shooting highly choreographed dance sequences and then cutting off the feet? Uh-uh. I also have no idea if it was projected or not at 1.85:1 when first released, but something definitely looks wrong with the composition on this DVD.

I also still have my open-matte copy that I taped off of Cinemax about 10 years ago. The open-matte version does have a little bit of extra head room, but some of the extra information at the bottom is essential - and that's matted off on the Sony DVD. I'm guessing maybe the cinematographer was going for 1.66:1 or some other ratio at the time, regardless if it ended up showing at 1.85:1 in some theaters.

Big disappointment. I'll be keeping my lesser-quality dubbed copy to watch the film in the future. It may not be perfect, but it IS all about the dancing in this kind of film and at least you can see it.

EDIT:

As I'm watching more of the Sony disc (and it continues to aggravate me), it looks like it was misframed before it was matted, thus having a bit more head room than needed and thus cutting off some of the bottom edge instead. If this is the case, the film could possibly have looked OK in 1.85:1 if it was framed correctly - which it is not. Still, I think 1.66:1 would probably look ideal.

#13 of 33 Joe Karlosi

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Posted January 30 2007 - 10:02 AM

I just bought this today myself and I noticed the same thing, though I gradually got used to it. Once again I have to laugh, because we have two opinions, and both sides saying different things. I agree that there's no way the ideal presentation was intended to chop off the feet in a dancing film! Nobody knows for sure except the director (and he probably cares less than any of us do anyway).

Again, I can see something like 2.35:1 always being carefully presented correctly, but perhaps many films which truly work better in 1.37 were projected at a less than respectable 1.85. when they had to be compromised for theaters. Does this mean all films seen at home should forever be improperly matted too?

#14 of 33 Jack Theakston

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Posted January 30 2007 - 02:29 PM

This thread (and others) are crying out some sort of conspiracy about 1.85, with cinematographers filming full frame and the evil corporations sending the films to the theaters widescreen against the DP's will. This is a ridiculous and unproven concept. If films were being forced into theaters widescreen without the approval of the DP, there would have been a major outcry by the Unions in the '50s and '60s. There is a far simpler explination for this.

A common technical error that both theaters and transfer houses make today is the use of test loops for framing widescreen pictures instead of doing it by eye, which is the proper way to do it. While by all standards, a 1.85 image should be perfectly centered horizontally between four perfs, this is not always the case, sometimes by the choice of the cameraman, partly because of the camera using to shoot the film and partly because of the printer.

It sounds to me like the operator of the telecine during these transfers ran a loop through, figured "ok, this is how it should be" and transferred the film without even keeping an eye on it. I've been to a lot of places where things like this happen, and it happens more often that you'd think.
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#15 of 33 Joe Karlosi

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Posted January 30 2007 - 10:23 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jack Theakston
This thread (and others) are crying out some sort of conspiracy about 1.85, with cinematographers filming full frame and the evil corporations sending the films to the theaters widescreen against the DP's will. This is a ridiculous and unproven concept.

Can anyone prove what every director who ever made a film thought or preferred? I don't think it's at all ridiculous when it comes to home video releases, at any rate, where the studios are more interested in trying to make "widescreen" films out of everything so they'll better accomodate the new wider TV screens. This is almost as bad as panning and scanning widescreen movies to fit on the old conventional square TV screens.

Quote:
A common technical error that both theaters and transfer houses make today is the use of test loops for framing widescreen pictures instead of doing it by eye, which is the proper way to do it. While by all standards, a 1.85 image should be perfectly centered horizontally between four perfs, this is not always the case, sometimes by the choice of the cameraman, partly because of the camera using to shoot the film and partly because of the printer.

But the fact that there can be so many errors and mistakes in itself shows that this is far from any kind of "exact science".

Quote:
It sounds to me like the operator of the telecine during these transfers ran a loop through, figured "ok, this is how it should be" and transferred the film without even keeping an eye on it. I've been to a lot of places where things like this happen, and it happens more often that you'd think.

I'm sure it does. But the thing is, I'll bet if you could go back in a time machine to the days where all these movies were projected in the theaters, they'd all be somewhat different or "off" from movie house to movie house.

#16 of 33 Jack Theakston

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Posted January 31 2007 - 06:00 AM

Quote:
Can anyone prove what every director who ever made a film thought or preferred? I don't think it's at all ridiculous when it comes to home video releases, at any rate, where the studios are more interested in trying to make "widescreen" films out of everything so they'll better accomodate the new wider TV screens. This is almost as bad as panning and scanning widescreen movies to fit on the old conventional square TV screens.

It's quite simple to prove the director's intent by reading studio documentation that the director and photographer themselves fill out as part of the production reports. And, as Columbia is a big studio that has all of their records, I don't doubt that this sort of thing can be well documented.

Actually, I think that the problem is quite the opposite. Despite widescreen televisions becoming the norm, some studios still haven't gotten it into their head that almost every production out of a major studio after 1953 was widescreen. "It's a B picture from the '50s, and we saw it on TV in fullscreen, so it must be that way..." is the attitude. It's refreshing to see Columbia doing this transfer 16x9, as they should, because they probably did some research before doing anything else.

Quote:
But the fact that there can be so many errors and mistakes in itself shows that this is far from any kind of "exact science".

That's why they're skilled cameramen. They know what areas to protect for, even within a 1.85 frame. It's up to the projectionist (or in this case, TC operator) to be just as skilled in knowing composition.

Quote:
I'm sure it does. But the thing is, I'll bet if you could go back in a time machine to the days where all these movies were projected in the theaters, they'd all be somewhat different or "off" from movie house to movie house.

Perhaps... who knows. My guess is not, though. All the old timers I know do framing and focus by eye, not by a test loop.
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#17 of 33 Joe Karlosi

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Posted January 31 2007 - 08:24 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jack Theakston
All the old timers I know do framing and focus by eye, not by a test loop.

If it's by eye, isn't that even more possible that framing will vary from person to person?

#18 of 33 Aaron Silverman

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Posted January 31 2007 - 09:40 AM

Nice review, Richard!

Glad to see you carrying on my Sony legacy. Posted Image

PS Be sure to keep your skin thick when it comes to stuff like director's intent and OAR. You can't win 'em all. . .
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#19 of 33 Jack Theakston

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Posted January 31 2007 - 02:16 PM

Quote:
If it's by eye, isn't that even more possible that framing will vary from person to person?

No, if you center the opening logo or titles, all you have to do is leave it from there... of course, when you get to a reel change, you must again make an adjustment, but if you know two things about composition, it's quite easy to align it. It's not a subjective thing, you just have to know what you're doing.
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#20 of 33 Bob Furmanek

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Posted January 31 2007 - 04:19 PM

That's correct about framing. I've run loads of 35mm prints from the early widescreen era (mid-1953 forward) and - as long as you frame properly on the titles - you'll be fine for the rest of the feature.

These new transfers are going by adjustments made with test loops, and you simply can't do that.

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