Rock Around the Clock (1956)

In this movie, a lifeless and somewhat ridiculous plot acts as a frame story to showcase some rock-and-roll bands when that kind of music was becoming popular in the 1950s. Young people in their rebellious stage like to shock their elders, so naturally we have a scene in which Bill Haley and the Comets perform at a prestigious and very proper girls’ school, which scandalizes the matronly chaperones. The Comets wear suits and are clean-cut, singing songs without suggestive lyrics, but no matter, because the beat alone is indecent. So the movie has it both ways, allowing teenagers to enjoy the fantasy of shocking their elders, while the real elders watching the movie in the theaters would be reassured that rock and roll was quite harmless.

Part of the plot of this movie is that dancing is on its way out, by which is meant ballroom dancing. But the dancing done by teenagers to rock and roll is alive and well. It is basically jitterbug (also known as swing, boogie-woogie, and the bop). In a sense, however, this died too. Once the twist became popular in the early 1960s, partner dancing, in which couples make contact with each other, pretty much came to an end, to be replaced by various forms of free style, in which couples never touch each other. To see partner dancing any more, you either have to go to a country-western nightclub or to a dance studio where ballroom dancing still lingers on.

Partner dancing in the movies is one of two kinds: either the dancers are professionals, or they are just barely able to shuffle around the dance floor. The reality would be somewhere in between, with amateurs doing a fairly decent job of cutting a rug. In this movie, the brother and sister who dance together are obviously professionals. They become part of the act with the Comets, the idea being that they will show teenagers at the performances how to dance to rock and roll, to break the ice and get others on the dance floor. Of course, all those supposedly novice teenagers who venture onto the dance floor are professional dancers themselves. In fact, having that brother-and-sister team dance like that in real life would intimidate ordinary would-be dancers, making it less likely for them to get out on the floor.

Unfortunately, most of the songs performed in this movie are not that good, and in several cases, no one dances at all, usually because the beat is too fast, even for professionals. There are a couple of good numbers from the Comets and a couple from the Platters. The rest are mediocre, which, when combined with the boring plot, makes the movie a disappointment.

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