This movie is corny as hell, but it’s an incredible document of the early days of rock & roll, with great performances and lively dance numbers.
The kind of music Bill Haley and His Comets played is presented in this movie as a totally new sound. It was only “new” in the early 1950s to people whose idea of pop music was still Guy Lombardo. Rhythm & blues fans knew the music of black artists like Wynonie Harris and Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup — the kind of music that Elvis Presley made palatable to white audiences while still retaining some sexiness and danger.
There’s nothing sexy or dangerous about Bill Haley, but he and his band have incredible chops and their music really moves, daddio. This movie also features a few other bands, most notably The Platters, a black doo-wop group who perform two of their timeless classics in this flick — “The Great Pretender” and “Only You.”
A good example of this film’s viewpoint is the sequence in which The Platters sing beautifully while standing nearly still, and are then followed on stage by Bill Haley and his all-white band performing “Rudy’s Rock,” with Al Rex lying down on stage to hump his bass while saxophonist Rudy Pompilli stands on top of Al Rex and humps him. Wild, sexualized performances? That’s for white performers only, dad.
Rock Around the Clock came out right after “Heartbreak Hotel” topped the charts, and right around the same time that Elvis’s first LP hit stores, so it’s quaint on arrival, but like I said, the music is great and the dancing by Lisa Gaye and her male partner Earl Barton is smoking. Lisa Gaye is easily the best thing about this movie — she’s the only actor whose scenes have some sizzle. And her slicked-back short black hairstyle might be the most dangerous, rock & roll thing about this movie.