Rock Around the Clock is a fictitious tale of the origins of rock and roll and the 1956 musical is now available on Blu-ray.
While the film has been mastered in high definition, it’s presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio rather than the 1.37:1 ratio in which it was released. The 77-minute film still features a mono soundtrack.
What surprises me the most about the film is that it was shot over a brief period of time in January 1956. Not only this but it was quickly turned around and released in theaters. It tells you just how much the studio wanted to take advantage of rock and roll and Bill Haley’s popularity. It was only a year earlier that “Rock Around the Clock” opened up Blackboard Jungle, a film that just happened to feature Sidney Poitier in a breakout performance. The song opens up this film and would later open up George Lucas’s American Graffiti.
The short of it is that a big band promoter, Steve Hollis (Johnny Johnston), and a musician, Corny LaSalle (Henry Slate) are traveling through Strawberry Springs on their way to the Big Apple. It’s there that they discover a new sound, which they later learn is rock and roll. Hollis is a big band promoter but big band music is not what it used to be. Next thing you know, Hollis is managing the group while starting a romance with one of Haley’s dancers, Lisa Johns (Lisa Gaye). Hollis works with agent Corinne Talbot (Alix Talton) in booking the band across various venues–including conservative ones where the band is a hit–but Talbot has a romantic interest in Hollis. She later blacklists all of Hollis’s acts from being booked any her venues. This leads Hollis to call in a favor from Alan Freed and the rest is certainly history.
Talbot eventually succeeds in signing the band to a deal but it is not without a catch. Much to her surprise, both Hollis and Johns end up getting married. The contract specifically forbid Johns from entering into marriage. In any event, the film is with TV concert airing from coast to coast.
Let’s be honest, none of us are watching the film for the weak story penned by Robert E. Kent and James B. Gordon. No, we’re all here for the dynamite soundtrack featuring no shortage of musical talents. I mean, you’ve got Bill Haley and His Comet, The Platters, and more! Much like Alan Freed’s concerts in real life, the film was no different when it came to integrating the stage. We have white, Black, and Hispanic musicians all sharing the stage. Mind you, this was also early 1956. Where Taylor Swift fans are hitting up theaters in large numbers today, a film like this was scandalous nearly 70 years ago!
Regarding the music, some songs are live while others are lip-synching to the recording. Bill Haley and His Comments also had a lineup change in the months preceding the film. Interestingly, there was also not a soundtrack album released in connection with the film. That being said, Bill Haley and His Comets did release a December 1955 album of the same name with six songs that were featured in the film. Other films with a rock and roll focus would soon find their way into theaters. Among the titles are The Girl Can’t Help It and Jailhouse Rock. A sequel would also follow later in 1956 but it would not have the same success. Producer Sam Katzman would remake the film with Chubby Checker with a focus on the Twist.
If anything, Rock Around the Clock will introduce a new generation to the origins of rock and roll music.
Bill Haley and His Comets
- “Rock Around the Clock”
- “See You Later Alligator”
- “Rock-A-Beatin’ Boogie”
- “A.B.C. Boogie” (first verse only, off-screen)
- “Happy Baby” (first verse and chorus only)
- “Mambo Rock”
- “Rudy’s Rock”
Tony Martinez and His Band
- “Cuero (Skins)”
- “Mambo Capri”
- “Solo Y Triste (Sad And Lonely)”
- “Bacalao Con Papa (Codfish And Potatoes)”
Freddie Bell and the Bellboys
- “Teach You to Rock”
- “Giddy Up a Ding Dong”
- “Only You (And You Alone)”
- “The Great Pretender”
- Audio Commentary with Writer/Journalist Barry Forshaw and Novelist/Critic Newman
DIRECTOR: Fred F. Sears
SCREENWRITERS: Robert E. Kent and James B. Gordon
CAST: Bill Haley and His Comets, The Platters, Ernie Freeman Combo, Tony Martinez and His Band, Freddie Bell and His Bellboys, Alan Freed, Johnny Johnston, Alix Talton, Lisa Gaye, Jon Archer, Henry Slate, Earl Barton