In this low-budget, 77-minute movie, disc jockey Alan Freed discovers a rock band in a village in the faraway hills and promotes them in New York.
And that would be that, except for the fact that the band is Bill Haley and His Comets, and this little film is now history for the effect they produced on teen audiences worldwide and on the music business.
In the States the film was a smash. It took $1,000,000 at the box office in the first months of its release in 1956, and went on to break attendance records around the world.
In Britain it was given a ‘U’ certificate and then proceeded to cause more trouble than any ‘X’ certificate film had ever done. The screenings were forever being halted as the audience – “many of them in Edwardian clothes,” as the newspapers put it – left their seats to jive in the aisles.
The result was that the film made the front pages of newspapers around the world, and in big bold type the Establishment formally acknowledged its fear and ignorance.
In Britain’s then popular Daily Sketch, a solemn warning was delivered to parents: “Don’t just say ‘tut tut’ and ‘disgraceful’ and turn away. This affects YOU. It could easily be your son or daughter or niece, or the nice boy next door who gets caught up in the maelstrom of this type of jazz (sic)”.
The plot, about as thin as any plot could be, went something like this:
Two fellows, Steve (Johnny Johnston) and Corny (Henry Slate,) have quit their unpopular dance band and stumble into Strawberry Springs looking for a place to crash for the night. The town is really hopping, for it is Saturday night and the teenagers are all heading for the town hall to hear Haley and His Comets.
Following the crowd inside, the two are amazed to hear a “new type of music with a different beat”, and are even more impressed with the dancing of brother/sister team Jimmy (Earl Barton) and Lisa (Lisa Gaye).
“I like your sound,” says Steve. “Thanks,” says Haley. In no time at all Steve also discovers he likes Lisa, and sealing the deal with a kiss, agrees to manage the band and the dance duo.
Heading for New York, he tries to get the band some gigs through the booking agency of ex-girlfriend Corinne Talbot (Alix Talton), who is still carrying a torch for him and the trouble begins.
Jealous of little Lisa, Corinne books the group for the graduation prom at an exclusive girl’s school in Hartford, figuring that Haley and Co will be a bit raunchy for the upper crust of Connecticut. Such is not the case, for the band blows many minds and before the night is over Lisa and Jimmy have everyone out on the dance floor.
Hell hath no fury etc. and Corinne flatly refuses to book the act after the pagan display.
Things look pretty grim for Steve, Haley and the Comets, and of course the entire future of rock and roll. Only one man could save the day, and sure enough, deus ex machina, Alan Freed appears on the scene.
Freed (who at the time was the top DJ on WINS, or anywhere else for that matter) books the crew into his own club and they immediately become the talk of all New York.
From here on the film follows their meteoric rise to fame, with Corinne still trying unsuccessfully to lay waste to Lisa and Steve.
The finale is in (where else) Hollywood, with an extravaganza show featuring Haley, The Platters, and The Bellhops. Steve marries Lisa, Corinne falls for some lackey who’s been after her all along, and the curtain falls.
By September 1956, Rock Around The Clock had been banned in several British and American cities: the Queen had ordered a copy to be sent to Balmoral Castle where she was on holiday with members of the Royal Family, and – amidst ‘riots’ and police barricades – rock & roll was here to stay.
Fred F Sears