In 1956 rock ‘n roll was the new thing and teenagers wanted more of it! They wanted it on their record players, in the jukebox, on television, and, of course, on movie screens. It wasn’t even important to have much of a story…as long as the film featured a bunch of new rock acts, kids went to see it. Today’s film has a simple formula: a paper thin story peppered with a bunch of rock performances introduced by famed disc jockey Alan Freed. Put your dancing shoes on for 1956’s Rock, Rock, Rock!
The film tells the tale of young Dori Graham (Tuesday Weld). She’s a popular girl at school, plus she’s landed the dreamy Tommy (Teddy Randazzo) as her boyfriend. Tommy has quite a singing voice, too, and plans on entering an upcoming talent contest being held by DJ Alan Freed. All is good for Dori, that is until a new girl, Gloria (Jacqueline Kerr), arrives and starts trying to snag Tommy for herself. What’s worse is that Gloria is rich and plans to purchase a fancy new strapless dress for the upcoming prom. Fearing that this will lure Tommy away, Dori determines she must also get such a dress….for the whopping sum of $30.
Unfortunately, Dori’s father (Jack Collins) has cut off Dori’s line of credit at the dress shop to teach her to appreciate money. After a visit to the bank, Dori hits upon a plan to raise money by loaning money to other kids and charging interest. Strangely she ends up loaning the money she has to the villainous Gloria, who takes advantage of Dori’s poor math skills to get her branded a schemer in Tommy’s book. He ends up breaking off their date to the prom as a result. Luckily, Dori has a few tricks up her sleeve to turn the tables on Gloria and win back Tommy.
Throughout the film there are several extended sequences featuring performances from many up-and-coming rock n’ roll acts. Some of the featured acts include Jimmy Cavallo and His House Rockers, The Moonglows, The Flamingos, Lavern Baker, and Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers. Oh yeah, and then there’s some guy named Chuck Berry…maybe you’ve heard of him. The musical moments are all presented in a pretty straight forward fashion. This is long before the high concept music videos of the MTV era. Most of the musical segments are simply the artists standing in front of the camera and singing. Still, the songs are the highlight of the film and have an infectious energy. Chuck Berry’s performance of “You Can’t Catch Me” is the showstopper and features his famous duck walk. This would’ve been after Chuck’s cousin Marvin saw a kid named Calvin Klein do these antics at the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance in Hill Valley, California and then told his cousin all about it. You know, the night of that awful lightning storm! Sorry, I had to get a Back to the Future reference in there. The other artists in the film are no slouches either. Many of them have been inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame and they show why. Some of the characters in our story even sings. Dori’s singing voice is provided by none other than Connie Francis.
As for the story that these rock numbers weave in and out of, it’s trite to say the least. While Tuesday Weld, all of 13 years old at the time of this film’s release, definitely displays a sweetness in this film, the fact that she so quickly becomes caught up in material things, like strapless dresses, makes it a bit hard to really sympathize with her. Though, I did like her complicated and creative way of finally getting one up on mean girl Gloria. It’s a bit of a stretch considering the lack basic math skills she displays earlier in the film, but it still makes for a fun way to sock it to her rival. The highlight of the cast for me, though, was Jack Collins as Dori’s father. I recognized Collins from his role in The Sting. At times he’s the typical 50’s dad, confused with these kids today. He’s also got a soft side…we even see him gradually start to enjoy the music he sees his daughter watching on Alan Freed’s TV show. He even starts bopping along with the music. It’s actually a bit refreshing to see a 50’s parent portrayed as enjoying rock ‘n roll instead of just deriding that devil music the kids are playing all the time.
Rock, Rock, Rock! is not any sort of great cinematic achievement. The story has a few fun moments but ultimately it’s just a bit too silly. However, I do recommend the film for the great moments of classic 50’s rock featuring some of the best acts of the era.