Rating: Not Rated
Film Length: 83 minutes (Twist Around the Clock) 86 minutes (Don’t Knock the Twist)
Aspect Ratio: 16X9 Enhanced Widescreen (1.85:1)
Subtitles: Twist Around the Clock : English, French & Portuguese
Don’t Knock the Twist: English, French, Portuguese & Japanese
The Program: ***/*****
Producer Sam Katzman made a career out of spotting hot trends and making films based on those trends. One of the trends that he kept a close eye on was popular music. After producing Rock Around the Clock and Twist Around the Clock in 1956, Katzman followed up with similar films such as Cha-Cha-Cha-Boom, Calypso Heat Wave, and Juke Box Rhythm.
In 1958, R&B singer Hank Ballard wrote and recorded a song called “The Twist.” The song, as originally written and recorded, was replete with sexual overtones and Ballard’s record company refused to release it. A year later Ballard’s recording of “The Twist” was finally released, but as the “B” side of a ballad called “Teardrops on Your Letter.” Although “Teardrops on Your Letter” was a mild hit, “The Twist” was little-noticed. However, it did come to the attention of Dick Clark, whose wife had suggested to a young singer named Ernest Evans that he perform as “Chubby Checker” because he resembled a young Fats Domino. Chubby Checker then recorded a cover version of “The Twist,” and it became a #1 hit in the summer of 1960. Thus a dance craze was started which was to last for several years. “The Twist” was so popular that the record was re-released a year later and again climbed to #1 on the Billboard charts.
Sam Katzman took notice of the popularity of “The Twist” and the other new dances it had spawned. He decided to re-make Rock Around the Clock as Twist Around the Clock (Twist Around the Clock was not the first film to feature the Twist, however – that honor apparently goes to a 1961 film called Teenage Millionaire, which also featured Chubby Checker). Except for the music and the performers, Twist Around the Clock is in fact virtually a scene-for-scene remake of Rock Around the Clock. Mitch Mason, the manager of a rock ‘n’ roll band, decides that rock music is dying and he sets out for New York City in search of greener pastures. Along the way he stops at a motel in a small town, where he observes that the local teenagers are all busy applying sandpaper to their shoes. He learns that they are getting their shoes ready for a big Saturday night dance. Intrigued, Mitch attends the dance and for the first time sees teens enthusiastically dancing the Twist. The music for the dance is provided by Clay Cole, and Mitch is so impressed that he offers to become the manager for Clay and his group (in real life Clay Cole never had much success as a recording artist, but for ten years he hosted a local New York City rock ‘n’ roll television program called The Clay Cole Show). Mitch decides to try to get a contract for his new clients with New York agent Joe Marshall, who is said to be the biggest and most important agent in the music business. There is a problem, however – Mitch had previously spurned the affections of Marshall’s daughter, Debbie.
Joe Marshall and his daughter decide to give Mitch some payback by booking Clay Cole’s group at a Ladies’ Auxiliary Charity Bazaar in Boston, and the usual complications ensue. As with all of the rock ‘n’ roll films of that era, the plot of Twist Around the Clock is merely an excuse to showcase the musical acts. In addition to Clay Cole and Chubby Checker, the film features performances by Dion (who sings two of his biggest hits, “Runaround Sue” and “The Wanderer”) and The Marcels (they had a huge hit with “Blue Moon” in 1961) who sing, believe it or not, a song called “Merry Twistmas.” Chubby Checker also does some vigorous twisting, and it is amusing to see some middle-aged adults try out the latest dance craze. A trivia note: when Twist Around the Clock opened in New York City, it was half of a double bill with The Three Stooges Meet Hercules.
Less than four months after Twist Around the Clock was released, Don’t Knock the Twist opened in theaters. This time Chubby Checker has the lead role, and he acquits himself fairly well. The plot, such as it is, involves Ted Haver (played by Lang Jeffries), a television producer whose boss gives him four weeks to put together a Twist TV special. Along the way he enlists the aid of Checker (who sings the title song and several other Twist numbers), The Dovells (“The Bristol Stomp” and “Do the New Continental”, Gene Chandler (“Duke of Earl”), and others. Vic Dana, who would go on to have a big hit with “Red Roses For a Blue Lady” a few years later, sings a strange ballad called “Little Altar Boy” which seems totally out of place in this film. Also on hand are The Carroll Brothers and Linda Scott.
There is a sub-plot involving Ted’s wooing of dress designer Dulcie Corbin (played by the voluptuous Mari Blanchard). It seems that Dulcie is more interested in making money than in making love. While spending a weekend at Dulcie’s house in the country, they attend a Saturday night dance and discover a hot dancer, Madge Albright (played by Georgine Darcy, who was “Miss Torso” in Hitchcock’s Rear Window). They sign Madge to model Dulcie’s fashions and to dance at the upcoming televised Twist extravaganza.
Don’t Knock the Twist has enough enjoyable music and spirited dancing to overcome the trite plot, even though the musical performances aren’t quite as good as those seen in Twist Around the Clock. The scene of Mari Blanchard doing the Twist is quite memorable, however.
The Video ****/*****
This double-feature set comes on two discs, each with its own slimcase. The opening credits of Twist Around the Clock appear to be a bit soft and slightly jumpy, but otherwise 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 enhancement and other artifacts. All in all, these films probably look as good on DVD as they did when they were released in theaters 45 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. As I have said before, I prefer to hear material such as this in the original mono than in re-channeled stereo, so Sony is to be commended for maintaining the integrity of the music.
Both films have English soundtracks only.
These are bare-bones discs with no supplementary materials. It would be nice if Sony/Columbia had at least provided some information about the cast, particularly since some of the performers are not well-known today.
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: ***1/2/*****
The Twist started a relatively short-lived craze which led to other dances such as The Popeye, The Hully Gully, The Mashed Potato, The Bristol Stomp, and others. Most of the singers in these films saw their careers begin to slide when the British Invasion started. Still, Twist Around the Clock and Don’t Knock the Twist are interesting and sometimes amusing artifacts of the early sixties. At a street price of about $15 for both discs, it’s a worthwhile investment for viewers who enjoy this genre.
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