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Edward L. Cahn
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Edward L. Cahn
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A group of concerned adults try to ban rock and roll music in their town because they think that the music promotes juvenile delinquency. It's now up to a disc jockey and a hipster to defend the music in a televised trial. The movie also features several rock and roll performances, most notably from Fats Domino. Written by
Good even when Fats Domino and Joe Turner aren't on screen!
The early omens on this one weren't good; American International generally made lousy movies aimed mostly at the drive-in audience (and this was only their third year in operation), the director was Edward L. Cahn and the writer was Lou Rusoff, who was usually associated with American International's rather silly horror movies. Surprise! "Shake, Rattle and Rock" turned out to be a little gem, with two of the all-time greats of rhythm and blues, singer Joe Turner and singer-pianist-composer Antoine "Fats" Domino, and a plot that was genuinely entertaining in and of itself and wasn't just a way to mark time between the musical numbers. While other 1950's rock movies occasionally touched on the controversies over rock and the determination of some moralists to shut it down, Lou Rusoff decided to make the controversies the focal point of his film. It opens in the studio of a local TV station, where Garry Nelson (Touch Conners, the young, personable actor who later became a surprisingly credible private detective on the long-running CBS-TV series Mannix) is hosting a rock 'n' roll TV show with a group of teenage kids he's been able to pull off the streets and away from a life of crime by harnessing the righteous power of this music to lure them into wholesome recreation. Right now in the (unnamed) city where the film takes place he's built 78 rock 'n' roll clubs and got the young people in them interested in raising money for "safe" social causes. His latest project is to take over an abandoned building and turn it into a teen center.
But he's run afoul of self-appointed moralists Eustace Fentwick III (Douglass Dumbrille) and Georgianna Fitzdingle (the marvelous Margaret Dumont so two supporting players in this film have Marx Brothers connections!), who organize a group with a tongue-twisting name to fight back against rock 'n' roll by organizing petitions and letter-writing campaigns to get the TV station to take Nelson's show off the air. He's also run afoul of gangsters Bugsy Smith (Paul Duboy, proving that they didn't break the mold after they made Sheldon Leonard) and his comic-relief sidekick Nick (Eddie Kafafian), who are upset that Nelson's rock 'n' roll clubs have turned potential hoodlums towards more constructive pursuits and thereby deprived Bugsy's gang of its biggest pool of young talent. Of course, Nelson has his own comic-relief sidekick, Albert "Axe" McAllister (Sterling Holloway, whom writer Rusoff and director Cahn try to pass off as a teenager even though he was already making movies in the early 1930's, before any authentic teenager alive in 1956 was even born!).
Fats Domino does two of his biggest hits, "Ain't That a Shame" and "I'm in Love Again," as well as "Honey Chile" (a song I've always liked that didn't get the attention it deserved because it was the flip side of an even greater Domino record, "Blueberry Hill"), and Turner sings "Feelin' Happy" a rock adaptation of the 1930's Kansas City blues standard "Do You Wanna Jump, Children?" twice, once over the opening credits and once on screen. He also does "Lipstick, Powder and Paint," "The Choker" and "Rock, Rock, Rock." The one white rock performer we see, Tommy Charles (doing a song by Wayne Walker called "Sweet Love on My Mind"), is O.K. but quite obviously not anywhere in the same league as Domino and Turner. "Shake, Rattle and Rock" turned out to be a minor gem, a genuinely entertaining movie even when Fats Domino and/or Joe Turner weren't on screen!
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