Rock and Roll Movies
* Recommended Titles
Includes musicals, concert films, documentaries, biographies and fictional subject matter (where singers and groups appear as musical interludes.)
Many early Rhythm & Blues, Jazz and Swing performers made movie appearances in the late 1940s and early 50s. These include Louis Jordan, Les Paul, Paul Williams, Johnny Otis and The Clovers. Many (including Jordan, Otis and Paul) were elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame under the category Early Influences. The 1947 film Sarge Goes To College features appearances by The Jam Session (with Les Paul on guitar) performing “Blues In B Flat and Old Black Joe.” The movie also features Dusty Fletcher with Jack McVea and His Orchestra singing “Open the Door, Richard.” Les Paul’s first glimpse on film was in the 1945 flick, Sensations of 1945 (starring Eleanor Powell) that also featured Woody Herman and Cab Calloway. Stars On Parade (1944) featured appearances by The Chords, The Ben Carter Choir and The King Cole Trio. Slim Gaillard was another early influence. He originally formed a jazz novelty act with bassist Slam Stewart called Slim & Slam. Their hits included "Flat Foot Floogie (with a Floy Floy)", "Cement Mixer (Put-Ti-Put-Ti)" and "The Groove Juice Special (Opera in Vout)", and performed in the 1941 movie Hellzapoppin’ He later teamed with bassist Bam Brown and can be seen in a 1947 motion picture featurette O'Voutie O'Rooney filmed live at one of their nightclub performances.
Paul Williams was the first (and only) performer in the very first rock concert on the night of March 21, 1952 in Cleveland, Ohio. Legendary DJ Alan Freed’s rock 'n' roll show, "The Moondog Coronation Ball", starred The Dominoes, Veretta Dillard, Tiny Grimes & His Rockin' Highlanders featuring Screamin' Jay Hawkins (a native Clevelander), and Paul "Hucklebuck" Williams. Williams finished his set and Hawkins had just taken the stage when the overflow crowds broke down the doors. When a big riot ensues, the police unplug everything and shut down the show. The concert was held at the Cleveland Arena. Four years later, Elvis Presley would headline a show at the same venue. … In June of 1953, the first major integrated rock 'n' roll show was also held in Cleveland with headlining co-stars The Dominoes and Bill Haley & His Comets. … 10,000 fans attended Alan Freed's first east coast Rock 'n' Roll Show in Newark NJ two years later. Headliners included the Clovers and the Harptones.
Bill Randle, Tommy Edwards, Phil McLean and Carl Reese were popular WERE DJs during the 1950s. Randle helped introduce Johnny Ray, Bill Haley, the Four Lads, Fats Domino, the Crew-Cuts, the Diamonds and many others on WERE. He played Elvis Presley a lot and hosted his first concerts north of the Mason-Dixon Line at Brooklyn (Ohio) High School and St. Michael's Hall in Cleveland. He introduced Presley on his first national TV appearance on CBS' "Stage Show" in 1956. Edwards is also credited with being one of the first DJs to play an Elvis Presley record on Cleveland airwaves. He was also instrumental in bringing Presley to Cleveland for concerts at the Circle Theater.
Disc Jockey (1951)… Tom Drake, Ginny Simms, Jane Nigh, Michael O’Shea, Jerome Cowan, Tommy Dorsey. A radio disc jockey is about to lose his sponsor because they think TV is cutting into the listening audience. He enlists twenty-eight disc jockeys around the country to prove the claims false. Noted for the rare film footage of the Weavers singing five of their songs: "Goodnight, Irene", "Tzena, Tzena, Tzena", "So Long", "Around the World" and "The Roving Kind". The film also features the Western band, Foy Willing and the Riders of the Purple Sage.
Round Up of Rhythm (1954)… Bill Haley and the Comets perform three songs after being introduced by a D.J. and a female guest. Not feature length but still worth mentioning for the first appearance by a rock band on film. Members at the time included Joey Ambrose, Dick Boccelli, Johnny Grande, Marshall Lytle and Billy Williamson. [Bill Haley & The Saddlemen’s "Rock the Joint" (1952) is generally regarded as the first white rock song of note. He also had the first rock hit of note, “Crazy Man Crazy” in 1953. By then his band was known as the Comets. … Haley finally reaches #1 when his song "Rock Around The Clock" is featured in the opening credits of The Blackboard Jungle (1955).]
Other Rhythm & Blues shorts of 1954 include De De Day (featuring the Clovers, Paul Williams Band), Lovey Dovey (Clovers, Paul Williams Band), Miss Fanny (Clovers, Paul Williams Band), Don’t Go, Don’t Go (Willie Bryant, Larry Darnell, Paul Williams Band) and My Own True Love (Willie Bryant, Paul Williams Band). Johnnie Ray appeared in the Marilyn Monroe Vehicle There’s No Business Like Show Business (1954) singing "Alexander's Ragtime Band" and "If You Believe" (both uncredited).
Rhythm and Blues Revue (1955)… Lionel Hampton, Count Basie, Cab Calloway, Big Joe Turner, Sarah Vaughn, Nipsey Russell, Nat King Cole, Faye Adams, the Larks, Bill Bailey, Herb Jeffries, Freddy and Flo, Amos Milburn, Delta Rhythm Boys (“Dem Bones”), Martha Davis, Little Buck, Martan Moreland, Ruth Brown. Turner sings “Shake Rattle and Roll” later made famous by Bill Haley. Rock 'n' Roll Revue (1955) and Basin Street Revue (1956), with essentially the same group of performers, are two other popular films of this genre. [Louis Jordan was the pioneer of this type of music in the late '40s, which led to the music anointed rock and roll by legendary DJ Allan Freed. Freed started playing this music on his radio show in Cleveland in 1952 after he heard about white kids groovin' to these songs at a local record store.]
Rock ‘n’ Roll Revue (1955)… Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton, Nat 'King' Cole, Ruth Brown, Joe Turner, Dinah Washington, Willie Bryant (MC), Larry Darnell, Martha Davis, Little Buck, Leonard Reed. Also features comics Nipsey Russell and Mantan Moreland. Tagline: “Rhythm-Packed and Star-Studded!”
Rockin' the Blues (1955)… F.E. Miller, Connie Carroll, the Wanderers, the Harptones, the Hurricanes, the Five Miller Sisters, Pearl Woods, Linda Hopkins, Hal Jackson. The Hurricanes are the highlight of this rhythm and blues show. Also features comic Mantan Moreland. Tag line: "Rock 'n' Roll at its tingling, exciting best!"
Pied Piper of Cleveland (1955)… Documentary on the career of Cleveland disc jockey Bill Randle, who was almost as famous as Alan Freed. Pat Boone (the headliner), Bill Haley and Elvis Presley appear along with members of Haley’s Comets – Franny Beecher, Johnny Grande, Rudy Pompilli, Al Rex and Billy Williamson. Randle sold the rights to the concert footage in 1992 to the London-based Merlin Group. Polygram International later bought the film, which has yet to be released. This was Elvis’ first film. He sang "That's All Right," "Blue Moon of Kentucky," "Good Rockin' Tonight," "Mystery Train" and "I Forgot to Remember to Forget," accompanied by Scotty Moore on guitar and Bill Black on bass. They appeared at Brooklyn (Ohio) High School in the afternoon of October 20, 1955, and also for an evening concert at St. Michael's Hall in Cleveland where the footage was likely shot. One fan remembers, “We were there to see Pat Boone. We had no ideas who Elvis was. Nobody did.” Haley performed “Rock Around the Clock", "Shake, Rattle and Roll" and "Dim, Dim the Lights." The Four Lads and Priscilla Wright were also on the bill.
Another local DJ, Tommy Edwards, booked Presley for a concert at Cleveland's Circle Theater the night before. Headliners were Roy Acuff and Kitty Wells along with Johnnie & Jack. He played two shows there again the following month. [Presley's first concert north of the Mason-Dixon Line was in February, 26 1955 for two shows at the Circle Theatre billed by Edwards as a Hillbilly Jamboree. He also headlined a concert at the Cleveland Arena a year later.]
Pat Boone remembers: "Well, I first met Elvis in Cleveland, Ohio. He was not very known really, nationally not at all. It was before Heartbreak Hotel, before Hound Dog, he had two or three country records, sort of 'rockabilly' we called them. And I'd seen his name on some jukeboxes in Texas, and made note of the name. But he couldn't be a pop artist, not in those days. But Bill Randall, who was the nation's number one disc jockey brought me in for an old fashioned sock hop, to the big thing in the fifties, where a DJ would bring teenagers and school kids in by the hundreds or thousands to a big gymnasium, they'd play records, and sometimes if the DJ was powerful enough, he would bring in a recording artist to surprise the kids. So I was his big surprise that night. And he also brought an unknown fellow up from Louisiana, way out in the country, named Elvis Presley. Now, when I heard that Bill was bringing this country singer whose records I'd seen on the jukebox in Texas, I thought he was a little bit crazy, because a country artist was not going to be exciting to these teenagers who wanted rock and roll. My record at the time was ‘Ain't That a Shame -- 'You made me cry when you said good-bye'.”
Pat Boone continues: “Now, here comes Elvis, his collar's turned up, this is backstage, lots of hair hanging down in his face. We shook hands, I said, 'Hello, Elvis. Bill Randall says you're going to be a big star'. 'Well, thank you very much'. He just mumbled and looked up at me like this, stayed back against the wall, and I thought, 'This guy is hopelessly shy. How can he possibly perform? This is going to be a disaster'. Well, Bill Randall introduced him as an up and coming star; he was saving me for last. Elvis went out there and swiveled around the stage, and sang, 'That's all right, mama. That's all right with me'. And the kids -- 'Whoo, who is this, what is this?' And even though he seemed very country, very raw, they liked him. And I had to follow him. Thank God I had two hit records then, and I was the star that night. Of course I never followed Elvis again in any show. We never appeared together after that."
* Rock Around the Clock (1956)… Alan Freed, Lisa Gaye, Alex Tilton, Johnny Johnston, John Archer, Henry Slate, Alix Talton. Performers include Bill Haley and the Comets, the Platters, Tony Martinez and His Band, Freddie Bell and the Bellboys. Haley's band comes to New York City and rises to fame. Haley ("the hillbilly with a beat") sings the title tune and two others to steal the show. Produced by cut-rate movie man Sam Katzman who was also responsible for “Don't Knock the Rock”, “Teenage Crime” Wave and some of Elvis' later junky stuff among others. [Freed was indicted on payola charges in 1960 and died of a heart attack in 1965 … Title track was the first rock song featured in a movie when “Blackboard Jungle” premiered a year earlier. Another of his hits, “Razzle Dazzle”, was featured later that same year in Universal International's low budget teen flick; “Running Wild” … Martinez, who played five instruments, was later Pepino Garcia from the Real McCoys TV show. … FYI, the first time the term Rock and Roll was used was by the Boswell Sisters in 1934 in their song, “Rock and Roll” featured in the film Transatlantic Merry-Go-Round. They were describing the movement of a ship on the ocean. … In 1942, Billboard magazine columnist Maurie Orodenker started to use the term "rock-and-roll" to describe recordings such as "Rock Me" by Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Freed likely borrowed it from him when referring to his Rhythm and Blues records in 1952.]
* Rock, Rock, Rock! (1956)… Tuesday Weld, Teddy Randazzo, Jacqueline Kerr, Alan Freed. Performers include Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, the Moonglows, Chuck Berry, the Flamingos, Bo Diddley, Johnny Burnette Trio, LaVern Baker, Cirino and the Bowties, the Three Chuckles, Jimmy Cavallo and His House Rockers. As in most of the early rockers, forget the plot of a girl and her prom dress and watch the performers in this ultra-low budget cheapie. [This is Weld's film debut but Connie Francis dubbed her songs ... Burnette's only film appearance... Lymon's “I'm Not a Juvenile Delinquent” was written especially for the film to send a squeaky clean message to Rock music's early detractors... Berry's first film introduces his famous duck walk … Randazzo was a successful songwriter – “I'm On The Outside Looking In", "Goin' Out Of My Head" and "Hurt So Bad" by Little Anthony & The Imperials and "It's Gonna Take A Miracle" by The Royalettes … Look fast for Valerie Harper in the audience at the prom.]
* Don't Knock the Rock (1956)… Alan Dale, Alan Freed, Patricia Hardy, Jana Lund, Bill Haley and His Comets, Little Richard, The Treniers, Patricia Hardy, Dave Appell and His Applejacks. Mature rock star (Dale in his only movie appearance) is scorned by the adults when he returns home but local teenagers save the day. Good dance film with lots of rockin' tunes. The sequel to Rock Around the Clock. Tagline: The Real Story Behind The World-Wide Rock 'N Roll Headlines! [Dale was one of the best singers of the 1950s and starred in three TV shows but health issues and blacklisting problems held him back … The Treniers were an underrated gem of a group (they performed on the Las Vegas strip for years) as were the Comets. The Treniers' hand-clappin, jivin’ performance of "Rockin' On Saturday Night" and "Out of the Bushes" stole the show.]
Love Me Tender (1956)… Richard Egan, Debra Pagent, Elvis Presley. Average Civil War story noted for the King's film debut, the only movie where he didn't have first billing. The title tune was actually based on the Civil War song, Aura Lee. [Elvis' acting talent never really came to fruition and part of the problem was the poor roles offered to him. However, several good scripts came his way but were turned down by himself or his manager Colonel Parker for various reasons. Some of them included lead roles in West Side Story, Thunder Road, Sweet Bird of Youth, Your Cheatin' Heart (the Hank Williams biography), A Star is Born and Midnight Cowboy.]
Note: The only Presley movies listed after this will be the ones strictly pertaining to the characters he portrays in the music business. All of the Elvis films on this list are worth checking out.
Shake, Rattle and Rock (1956)… Mike Connors, Lisa Gaye, Sterling Holloway, Fats Domino, Joe Turner, Tommy Charles, Margaret Dumont, Douglas Dumbrille, Raymond Hatton, Rosie & Carlos, Annitta Ray, Choker Campbell and His Band. Typical story of adults trying to stamp out rock music was another early AIP quickie. Connors is the host of a TV dance show who is arrested for violence at a teen dance. Holloway’s the jive-talking hipster. [American International Pictures was the exploitation company famous for low budget teen, horror and science fiction films. They did most of the top-grossing beach pictures in the 60's too.] Tagline: Rock 'n' Roll vs. the Squares.
Rock Pretty Baby (1956)… Sal Mineo, John Saxson, Luanna Patten, Edward C. Platt, Fay Wray, Rod McKuen, Shelly Fabares, George Winslow. Forgettable movie about a high school rock group that enters a music contest. Follwed by the sequel, “Summer Love”. [McKuen, who plays the singer/bass player, became a successful poet/songwriter in the mid-60's.]
Atlantic City Holiday (1956)… a TV special featuring Bill Haley and His Comets. Also appearing are Eddie Fisher, Jayne Mansfield, Debbie Reynolds, Pat Boone, Jack Carter, Polly Bergen, Rocky Graziano and Jonathon Winters.
Basin Street Review (1956)… Musical variety show filmed at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem, NYC. Cab Calloway, Count Basie, Nat King Cole, Dinah Washington, The Clovers, Sarah Vaughn, Lionel Hampton, Paul Williams, Amos Milburn, Faye Adams, Martha Davis, Herb Jeffries, Willie Bryant (MC), Jimmy Brown (Williams’ vocalist). Also features comics Nipsey Russell and Mantan Moreland.
Rockin’ the Blues (1956)… Features many R&B acts, including the first Girl Group on film, The Miller Sisters. Also featured are The Harptones, The Hurricanes, The Wanderers, Linda Hopkins, Pearl Woods, Mantan Moreland among others. Hal Jackson is the MC. (From a 16mm print)
* Loving You (1957)… Elvis Presley, Lizabeth Scott, Wendell Corey, Dolores Hart, James Gleason. Truckdriver guy Deke Rivers makes it big as a rock singer. There's nothing like the King in his prime singing “Teddy Bear”, “Loving You”, “Gotta Lotta Livin' To Do” and “Mean Woman Blues” to understand the magic. [Title tune required 40 takes before Elvis was satisfied. Elvis' mother Gladys can be spotted in the audience during the “Gotta Lotta Livin' to Do” number.]
* Jailhouse Rock (1957)… Elvis Presley, Judy Tyler, Vaughn Taylor, Dean Jones, Jennifer Holden, Mickey Shaughnessy. Elvis (Vince Everett) goes from ignorant jailbird to big-time rock star. An Elvis classic, he was very proud of the dance number, which he choreographed, for the final staging of the title tune. “Treat Me Nice” and “Baby I Don't Care” are other highlights. "That ain't tactics baby, it's just the beast in me," Elvis says. Mike Stoller (who with Jerry Leiber wrote some of Elvis’ songs, appears uncredited as the pianist. [Tyler died tragically in a car wreck four days after the film was completed.]
* Mr. Rock and Roll (1957)… Alan Freed, Little Richard, Clyde McPhatter, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, Teddy Randazzo, Chuck Berry, Rocky Graziano, Lois O'Brien, Lionel Hampton, Ferlin Husky, the Moonglows, Brook Benton, LaVern Baker, Shaye Cogan. The story of DJ Alan Freed and the start of rock and roll reveal little about Freed himself. It is mostly a showcase for the acts with a stupid love story between Randazzo and an attractive newspaper writer woven in. Tag line - "The big story of the musical sensation that's swept the world… told by the king of rock 'n' roll himself!" [Freed got his start in Cleveland at WJW but soon moved to WINS in New York. But is was at WJW in 1952 when Freed started playing Rhythm and Blues records and coined the phrase rock and roll. A year after this picture was made, he was arrested at one of his rock and roll shows for inciting a riot. Two years later he was the main target in the payola scandal and drummed out of the business. He then died five years after that.]
* The Girl Can't Help It (1957)… Tom Ewell, Jayne Mansfield, Edmond O'Brien, Julie London, John Emery. The story of a media guy trying to promote gangster's girlfriend as a singing star is enhanced by the beautiful and funny Mansfield. Performers include Fats Domino, The Platters, Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps, Eddie Cochrane, Nino Tempo, the Treniers and Little Richard who sings the title tune. Musical highlights include Cochrane's “Twenty Flight Rock”, Vincent's “Be Bop A Lula” and the Treniers' “Rockin' Is Our Business.” It sure is. “Rockin' Is Our Business” was for years their set opener and the highlight of this movie.
* Untamed Youth (1957)… Mamie Van Doren, Lori Nelson, John Russell, Don Burnett, Eddie Cochran, Lurene Tuttle, Yvonne Lime. Two sisters are charged with hitchhiking, and sentenced to work on a cotton farm whose owners are crooked politicians. One of those legendary films that's garnered a cult following over the years. This one starred the young Van Doren, a Monroe-Mansfield wannabe and "the girl built like a platinum powerhouse." The Madonna of her day really rocks out here in two gyrating dance numbers "that are guaranteed to keep any red-blooded American boy awake." Early rocker Cochrane adds additional energy. The Hollywood Rock and Rollers also perform.
Jamboree! (1957)… Kay Medford, Robert Pastine, Paul Carr, Freda Holloway, Slim Whitman, Jodie Sands, Frankie Avalon (his debut), Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Lewis Lymon and the Teen Chords, Buddy Knox, Charlie Gracie, Count Basie, the Four Coins, Joe Williams. Two rock and roll singers fall in love and are exploited by their agents. Dick Clark (in his debut) plays himself as the Telethon's M.C. Other famous radio DJ's also have cameos. Lymon is Frankie’s brother and sings "Your Last Chance". Connie Francis dubbed Holloway's singing. Lewis belts out “Great Balls of Fire”. Also known as Disc Jockey Jamboree.
The Big Beat (1957)… William Campbell, Gogi Grant, William Reynolds, Andra Martin, Jeffrey Stone, Rose Marie, Hans Conreid. Forgettable story of corruption in the music business with an odd mix of rock and jazz artists. Performances by the Del Vikings, Fats Domino, the Diamonds, the Four Aces, Count Basie, Harry James and the Mills Brothers are also blah save for “Little Darlin” (Diamonds) and “I'm Walkin” (Domino).
Calypso Heat Wave (1957)… Johnny Desmond, Merry Anders, Paul Langton, Michael Granger, Meg Myles, Joel Grey, The Treniers, The Tarriers, The Hi-Lo's, Maya Angelou, Darla Hood. Calypso was a short-lived trend that Hollywood tried to exploit with a few forgettable movies this year. (“Calypso Joe” was another.) This one features a once-in-a-lifetime cast including song and dance man Grey, Angelou (later a famous poet), Hood of Little Rascals fame (in a duet with Desmond) and the fabulous Treniers. Alan Arkin was a member of the Tarriers at the time.
Rock Around the World (1957)… Tommy Steele, Patrick Westwood, Dennis Price, Tom Littlewood. The first real British rock-n-roll musical tells the story of singer Tommy Steele's rise to fame during the skiffle craze. Nancy Whiskey and The Chas McDevitt Skiffle Group sing their classic "Freight Train." Also known as “The Tommy Steele Story”.
Rock Baby, Rock It (1957)… Johnny Carroll and His Hot Rocks, Don Coats and the Bon-Aires, Kay Wheeler, Roscoe Gordon and the Red Tops, the Five Stars, the Belew Twins, Preacher Smith and the Deacons, the Cell Block Seven. Low budgeter shot in Dallas featuring several regional rock acts. Better than average for the genre. [Wheeler was the self-proclaimed "Queen of Rock and Roll" and founder of the very first Elvis Fan Club. She also performs her famous "Rock n Bop" dance.]
Bop Girl Goes Calypso (1957)… Judy Tyler, Bobby Troup, Margo Wood, Lucien Littlefield, Mary Kaye Trio, Nino Tempo, Lord Flea, The Goofers, The Titans. Boring story of rock singer forced to perform calypso. [Tyler's pre-“Jailhouse Rock” role. Lord flea was a popular Jamaican singer and one of the early Reggae influences until his premature death in 1959. The Goofers were a one-of-a-kind Vegas-type acrobatic rhythm and swing band.]
Bernadine (1957)… Pat Boone, Terry Moore, Dick Sargent, Janet Gaynor, Dean Jagger, James Drury. Early vehicle to cash in on Pat Boone’s popularity of his hits like “Love Letters in the Sand” and the title song. Plot revolves around high school students entering a fictional woman's name (Bernadine Mudd) in a contest.
Rock All Night (1957)… Dick Miller, Russell Johnson, Abby Dalton, Jonathon Haze, the Platters, Robin Morse, the Blockbusters. Another AIP/Roger Corman quickie about a pair of hoodlums holding some bar patrons hostage. [The script (written in one day!) was originally intended for obscure hipster songwriter Lord Buckley but he was not available at the time. Buckley was said to have influenced Bob Dylan and Tom Waits among others.]
Carnival Rock (1957)… Susan Cabot, Brian G. Hutton, David J. Stewart, Dick Miller, Iris Adrian, the Platters, Bob Luman and The Shadows, David Houston, The Blockbusters. "Chrisy" Christakos, an owner of a small time carnival, falls in love with a young girl singer. Guitarist James Burton also appears.
Six-Five Special (1957)… The Six-Five special was a popular British teenage TV show. They decided to do this film about a train full of rock and rhythm acts that includes Lonnie Donegan, Petula Clark, John Barry Seven, the King Brothers, Russ Hamilton, Jimmy Lloyd, Don Lang, the Ken-Tones. Jim Dale’s version of "Train Kept A-Rolling" is the highlight.
Rock You Sinners (1957)… British DJ wants to put on a show. Art Baxter & His Rockin' Sinners and Tony Crombie & His Rockets are the best acts (Bill Haley-like). The rest are truly forgettable. Jackie Collins, the writer, has a part.
Rockin’ the Blues (1957)… The Harptones, The Wanderers, The Hurricanes, Five Miller Sisters, Linda Hopkins, Afro-Cuban Dancers, Mantan Mooreland, F.E. Miller, Hal Jackson (Master of Ceremonies).
Rockabilly Baby (1957)… Virginia Field, Douglas Kennedy, Irene Ryan, Ellen Corby. A woman with a mysterious past tries to organize a town youth center. Luis Amando and Les Brown and His Band of Reknown are the performers.
* King Creole (1958)… Elvis Presley, Carolyn Jones, Dolores Hart, Dean Jagger, Walter Matthau, Vic Morrow, Paul Stewart. Danny Fisher, a young nightclub singer in New Orleans, unwillingly becomes involved with criminals. Adapted from the Harold Robbins novel, A Stone for Danny Fisher. One of Elvis' best acting efforts with lots of good songs, and loaded with future TV stars. Michael Curtiz' outstanding direction helps. That’s Elvis’ real band backing him – Scotty Moore on guitar and the Jordanaires as the backup singers. Partly filmed on location in New Orleans. [The part of Danny Fisher was originally intended for James Dean.]
* High School Confidential! (1958)… Russ Tamblyn, Jan Sterling, John Drew Barrymore, Mamie Van Doren, Diane Jergens, Ray Anthony, Jerry Lee Lewis, Jackie Coogan, Charles Chaplin Jr., Lyle Talbot, William Wellman Jr., Michael Landon. One of the best of the "so-bad-it's-good" movie fare. This one's about a student who exposes a marijuana drug ring with lots of promiscuity, delinquent activity and jive talk as fillers. The once-in-a-lifetime cast reads like a who's who of B-movies with Van Doren the undisputed Queen B and loving it. Coogan (sweet old Uncle Fester) is the big drug pusher. Don't miss Lewis singing the title tune on the back of a flatbed truck. Produced by exploitation expert Albert Zugsmith (“The Beat Generation”, “Girls Town”, “College Confidential”, “Platinum High School” and “Sex Kittens go to College”).
Sing, Boy, Sing (1958)… Tommy Sands, Lili Gentle, Edmond O'Brien, John McIntyre, Nick Adams. Rock drama designed as a vehicle for pop star Sands playing a character not unlike Elvis Presley. Pretty good performance by Sands and Adams. [Elvis and his manager, Colonel Tom Parker were reportedly not very happy with this film which was originally conceived for Elvis. Adams was one of Elvis’ closest Hollywood buddies. Sands, who had just scored big with his hit songs, “Teen-Age Crush” and “Goin' Steady”, later married Nancy Sinatra. He concentrated on his acting career after that and made movies into the late 60's.]
Hot Rod Gang (1958)… John Ashley, Jody Fair, Gene Vincent, Russ Bender, Steve Drexel, Henry McCann, Maureen Arthur. American International quickie about a hot-rodder who wants Vincent's band to earn money to race his car. Vincent's four good numbers with his Blue Caps band save the picture. Eddie Cochran also makes a cameo appearance. Followed by the unintentionally hilarious sequel, “Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow.” [Vincent is the rocker of “Be-Bop-A-Lula” fame who was seriously injured in the same 1960 car crash that killed Cochrane. Jerry Capehart, Cochrane's co-writer and Lou Kimzey, editor of the hip teen magazine, Dig, also had a hand in this one.]
The Big Beat (1958)… William Reynolds, Andra Martin, Gogi Grant, Jeffrey Stone, Rose Marie, Hans Conried, Fats Domino, Harry James, Buddy Bregman, the Mills Brothers, The Del Vikings, The Diamonds, The Four Aces. Recent college graduate tries to persuade his father, who owns a record company, to sign up rock stars.
Summer Love (1958)… John Saxon, Molly Bee, Rod McKuen, Judi Meredith, Jill St. John, George Winslow, Fay Wray, Edward Platt, Shelly Fabares, Troy Donohue. Family-oriented sequel to Rock, Pretty Baby.
Let's Rock! (1958)… Julius LaRosa, Phyllis Newman, Conrad Janis, Wink Martindale, Joy Harmon, Paul Anka, Della Reese, the Royal Teens, Danny and the Juniors, Roy Hamilton, the Tyrones. LaRosa plays a mainstream crooner refusing to sing rock and roll. Not much here except for the Juniors’ rocking the house with “At the Hop” and the Royal Teens playing their hit song “Short Shorts.” Newman is entertaining as the singer’s girlfriend who convinces him to change his mind.
Dragstrip Riot (1958)… Yvonne Lime, Gary Clarke, Fay Wray, Connie Stevens, Bob Turnbull. Low-budget AIP quickie about motorcycles, hot rods and rock and rollers. Lime was a teen exploitation star in the late 50's and Wray is the girl King Kong fell for in 1933. The very young Stevens sings a few songs. The Rip Chords were also seen but they never got credit because they were non-union. As soon as the movie was finished they changed their name to the 4 Champs. .
Carnival Rock (1958)… Susan Cabot, Brian Hutton, David J. Stewart, Dick Miller, David Houston, Ed Nelson. Low-budget Roger Corman quickie about nightclubs, gangsters and teen romance. Performers include the Platters, and several rockabilly acts like Bob Luman and his Shadows and David Houston and the Blockbusters. Tag line - "Hold on to your seat. It's got a heat beat." No thank you. The Platters made one last movie appearance in 1959's “Girls Town” before calling it quits in the movies. Also noted for an appearance by the future Elvis and Ricky Nelson guitarist James Burton (uncredited guitar player in the rockabilly band).
The Golden Disc (1958)… British formula rocker about teens opening up a club features the Les Hobeaux Skiffle Group singing "Dynamo," as well as the only performance footage of the Elvis-like Terry Dene, whose career was interrupted by National Service. He then suffered a nervous breakdown and never made it back. Also performing are Phil Seamon and His Jazz Group, Sonny Stewart and His Skiffle Kings and Terry Kennedy and His Group.
Senior Prom (1958)… Jill Corey, Paul Hampton, Tom Laughlin, Barbara Bostock, James Komack, Frieda Inescort. Forgettable musical noted for the appearances of Louis Prima, Keely Smith, Mitch Miller, Ed Sullivan, Connee Boswell, Bob Crosby, Les Elgart, Freddy Martin. Probably the last big band teen flick. [Corey, who married Pittsburgh Pirates 3B Don Hoak, had numerous hit singles in the 50s, the biggest of which was “Love Me to Pieces”. … Hampton became a successful song writer. ]
* Go, Johnny, Go! (1959)… Jimmy Clanton, Alan Freed, Sandy Stewart, Chuck Berry, Jo-Ann Campbell, Herb Vigran, the Cadillacs, Ritchie Valens, Eddie Cochran, Harvey Fuqua, the Flamingos, Jackie Wilson, Jimmy Cavallo and the Houserockers. Clanton gets kicked out of a choir and becomes a singing star. Berry has a considerable acting role (and does a very good job) but movie is basically worth viewing only for the artists. [Clanton had a hit record at the time called “Just a Dream” and recorded six more songs that hit the charts culminating with “Venus in Blue Jeans” in 1962. He later starred in “Teenage Millionaire”. … This was Ritchie Valens only screen appearance. He was killed in a plane crash prior to the movie’s release. Eddie Cochran died in a car crash in England a year later.]
* The Gene Krupa Story (1959)… Sal Mineo, Susan Kohner, James Darren, Susan Oliver, Yvonne Craig, Lawrence Dobkin, Red Nichols, Buddy Lester. Story of the great jazz drummer played to the hilt by Mineo. [Cast is loaded with young veterans of teenage-type musicals but this one is not technically rock and roll. In fact, Krupa reportedly rolled his eyes when Elvis made his first guest appearance on the Dorsey brothers TV show.]
Hound-Dog Man (1959)… Fabian, Carol Lynley, Stuart Whitman, Arthur O'Connell, Dodie Stevens, Betty Field, Royal Dano, Margo Moore, Claude Akins, Edgar Buchanan, Jane Darwell. Film debut for rock star Fabian (capitalizing on current hit song of the same name) who plays a drifter who romances a country girl. Better than expected with many veteran faces dotting the cast. [Fabian was literally pulled off the street and made into a rock 'n roll star. This movie followed the story line of “Love Me Tender”. The 13-year-old Stevens was hot off her hit single, “Pink Shoe Laces”.]
Juke Box Rhythm (1959)… Jo Morrow, Jack Jones, Brian Donlevy, George Jessel, Hans Conried, Karin Booth, Marjorie Reynolds, Fritz Feld, Johnny Otis, the Treniers, the Earl Grant Trio, The Nitwits Act. Princess Ann helps the son of a struggling producer put on a show. So-so movie only worth seeing for the performances of the Earl Grant Trio (“12th Street Rag”, “I Feel Right Here”, “Last Night”), Otis (“Willie and the Hand Jive”) and, of course, the fabulous Treniers (“Get Out of the Car”).
Girls Town (1959)… Mamie Van Doren, Mel Torme, Paul Anka, Ray Anthony, Maggie Hayes, Cathy Crosby, Gigi Perreau, Gloria Talbot, Jim Mitchum, Elinor Donahue, Sheilah Graham, Harold Lloyd Jr., Charles Chaplin Jr. Mamie struts her stuff in a correctional institute run by nuns. This has turned into a camp classic with many famous movie star siblings in supporting roles. Anka sings three songs including his big hit, “Lonely Boy”. Van Doren and the Platters each do a number as well. Originally known as “The Innocent and the Damned.”
Sweet Beat (1959)… Julie Amber, Sheldon Lawrence, Irv Bauer. Girl singer is betrayed by agent. The Five Satins, The Mello Kings. British film.
Rock ‘n’ Roll (1959)… Australian Lee Robinson directed the first feature length rock and roll concert at the Sydney Stadium with five cameras for concert producer Lee Gordon. Performers included Fabian, Johnny O'Keefe, the Delltones, Johnny Devlin, Col Joye, Warren Williams, Lonnie Lee and Johnny Rebb. The Elvis-like O'Keefe was the undisputed King of Australian rock and roll. Billed as “Lee Gordon's 1959 Rock and Roll Spectacular.”
Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow (1959)… Jody Fair, Martin Braddock, Russ Bender, Leon Tyler, Elaine DuPont, Henry McCann, Sanita Pelkey, Dorothy Neumann, Tommy Ivo. Sequel to Hot Rod Gang. Music by The Renegades (featuring Bruce Johnston and Sandy Nelson) among others.
Hey Boy! Hey Girl! (1959)… Louis Prima, Keely Smith, James Gregory, Henry Slate, Kim Charney, Barbara Heller, Asa Maynor, Sam Butera and the Witnesses. So-so musical about Keely joining Prima’s band. Prima and Keely were a hot singing team in the late 50s, early 60s. The film features some good music with Prima and Smith backed by Sam Butera and Witnesses. Songs include: "Oh Marie", "Autumn Leaves", "Hey Boy, Hey Girl", "Lazy River", "When the Saints Go Marching In", "Fever", "Nitey Night", "A Banana Split for My Baby", "You Are My Love." Rather than rent the movie, buy a CD: "Capitol Collectors Series: Louis Prima."
Daddy-O (1959)… Dick Contino, Sandra Giles, Bruno Ve Sota, Gloria Victor, Ron McNeil, Jack McClure. Truck driver is forced to drive the getaway car in a robbery. Contino sings “Rock Candy Baby” and “Angel Act.” Not very good.
Idle on Parade (1959)… Anthony Newley, Anne Aubrey, William Bendix, Sidney James, Lionel Jefferies, David Lodge. Ridiculous attempts to make Newley into a rock star. The songs are bad too.