Bop Girl Goes Calypso

Music trends change so often. I mean look at how many times Madonna has changed her style! If I could predict what would be the “next big thing” in the music world, I’d be a rich man. In 1957, though, there were some folks that had it all figured out. You see, rock ‘n’ roll was on its way out. And the next big thing, of course, was…calypso! You remember that, right? You know, the big calypso craze of 1957?!?! Well, maybe today’s movie will help refresh your memory…1957’s “Bop Girl goes Calypso.”

The film opens at the Club Downbeat where their band is rockin’ the joint. People are drinkin’, people are dancin’…business is good! The club’s owner, Barney (George O’Hanlon) couldn’t be happier, and his lady vocalist Jo Thomas (Judy Tyler) is one of the most popular singers around. But, the future doesn’t look so bright, at least to two scientists.

Professor Winthrop (Lucien Littlefield) is a big fan of rock ‘n’ roll, but he warns Barney that the tide is about to change. Winthrop’s assistant Bob Hilton (Bobby Troup) has been working on a study titled “Mass Hysteria and the Popular Singer.” Using a strange device, Bob measures audience reactions in the local clubs. His research shows that reactions to rock are going down, while the reactions to calypso at the Club Saville across town are going through the roof. They try to convince Barney, but he’s not listening. Jo, however, starts to wonder if Bob might be right and begins spending time with him to learn about calypso.

Without Barney’s knowledge, Jo tries some calypso-ish music while working with a group of kids at a local community center. Jo is also starting to fall for Bob, problem is Bob is somewhat attached. A fellow researcher, Margo (Marion Hendricks) has informed Bob that they will be married within the next few weeks. She is working on a thesis of her own and aims to create an uber-smart child using herself and a fellow genius as the parents.

Jo decides she’s going to try out a calypso number at the club, so she slips one into the act without telling Barney. He is not pleased and ends up beating up Bob. But then, the professor convinces Barney and the others to go to the Club Seville. Upon seeing the reaction to the house band, Lord Flea, Barney has a change of heart. Next thing we know, the Club Downbeat is being turned into a calypso wonderland.

There really isn’t a whole lot of a story in this film. It only serves to string together the numerous songs. The songs are kind of a mixed batch. The rock ‘n’ roll numbers are great! They aren’t done by iconic artists but they are a good representation of why this music was such a big deal. Likewise, the calypso numbers performed by Lord Flea are a lot of fun. But the attempts at mixing the two genres just don’t work. They feel forced and end up being a bit silly.  I mean, c’mon…”Calypso Boogie.”

One of the highlights of the film is also one of the film’s strangest moments. It involves a performance by a group calling themselves The Goofers. These guys sing and dance around with huge energy. Then, they start playing their trumpets, trombones and such while dancing around. It’s hard to imagine that they would actually be able wiggle around as they do and still have enough breath to blow their horns. I played trombone in high school…I know! But then, in case it isn’t already strange enough for you, a trapeze lowers down above the dance floor and these guys play their instruments, with the skill of a virtuoso, while hanging from their ankles and swinging back and forth!  This includes playing the upright bass while hanging upside down!  It’s a ridiculous sequence, but dang if it ain’t fun! They then follow this number up with another strange song, “I’m Gonna Rock ‘N’ Roll ‘till I Die,” which the boys sing while wearing zombie makeup and lying in caskets.

The music really is the main reason to check out this film. The actors do a decent job, but there’s no real standout performances. Judy Tyler is likeable enough, but Bobby Troup is a bit flat for a leading man. Of course, their performances take on an unintentionally comedic aspect today since the calypso prophecy the film doesn’t back away from never really came to pass. But it’s only been 55 years since this film made that prediction…these things take time, you know.

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