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Rock 'n roll movies have rarely been more true to the spirit of the music than these two from the mid-'50s. That's not to say that Don't Knock the Rock and Rock Around the Clock, both of which were directed (in black & white) by Fred Sears and released in 1956, are anyone's idea of classic cinema. On the contrary, this is assembly-line stuff: the stories are flimsy and predictable; the dialogue is often risible, and much of the acting is on a high school drama club level. But these movies are all about the music (featuring multiple performances by Bill Haley and the Comets, Little Richard, the Treniers, the Platters, and others), with a lesser but still heavy emphasis on dancing, and on those levels they are an unexpected but unqualified delight. In Rock Around the Clock, agent Steve Hollis (Johnny Johnston) and his bass playing pal Corny (Henry Slate) quit their big band gigs and hit the road, where they happen upon Haley and his band in a Podunk farming town. Although they don't quite know what to make of the Comets' music ("It isn't boogie, it isn't jive, it isn't swing… it's kinda all of 'em!"), they know a hot prospect when they find one and promise to secure them a legitimate shot at the big time (with the help of Alan Freed, the pioneering Ohio disc jockey, who plays himself, albeit in a different capacity). Complications ensue, including romantic ones, but, well, who really cares? Haley and his band are on fire; they're lip-syncing, but the recordings of "See You Later Alligator," the title tune (which had made its debut a year earlier in Blackboard Jungle), and others are filled with snap and crackle, the musicians are great (especially jazz-influenced guitarist Franny Beecher), the stage show is a riot, and the dancing siblings played by Lisa Gaye and Earl Barton are simply amazing. It's more of the same in Don't Knock the Rock, in which reluctant star Arnie Haines (Alan Dale, a crooner who's not entirely convincing as a rocker), weary of life on the road, packs it in and heads home to sleepy Mellondale, wherever that is. The kids love him, but the adults, led by the odious old mayor, ban his "outrageous, depraved" music; Arnie then sets out to show them that "rock 'n' roll is a safe and sane dance for all young people." Once again, the plot is about as subtle as a Slayer concert, but Haley, Little Richard, and especially the hip and hilarious vocal trio the Treniers more than make up for that, as do several dynamic, beautifully choreographed dance numbers.

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CO14010 Rock Around the Clock/Don't Knock the Rock DVD (1956/Bill Haley) $14.99 $13.49