Wednesday, August 18, 2010
GO, JOHNNY, GO!
This movie is like many that came before it and many that would come after it: existing primarily to showcase a group of rock and roll performances, that are surrounded by a plot to hold things together. The best part of Go, Johnny, Go! is that Chuck Berry not only gets to perform but also gets to act. The film never makes it clear, but as far as we can tell, he is either Alan Freed's best friend or partner, since they are always hanging out together. Another plus is the lead actor, Jimmy Clanton, who can actually sing (not always the case in these movies); however his acting ability and character's attitude is on par with Elvis' in "Wild In The Country". Jimmy was from Louisiana and you can hear the influence of his home state in a couple of his songs in the movie, while his other songs in the movie are done in a typical teen ballad style.
The opening credits roll as Chuck Berry plays "Johnny B. Goode" in the background. Go, Johnny, Go! opens with Alan Freed having a stage show going on and we see The Flamingos singing a scorching version of "Jump Children". Johnny (Jimmy Clanton) is hanging out backstage with Alan Freed and Chuck Berry and when Johnny goes on stage to sing "Angel Face", Chuck gets Freed to tell him the story of how Johnny almost landed in jail instead of becoming a big star.
Go, Johnny, Go! then flashes back to when Johnny had got out of the orphanage to perform in a gospel group (did Clyde Edgerton watch this movie and get an idea for Killer Diller?). When the choir director leaves the room, Johnny sings "Ship On A Stormy Sea" and you can hear some of his swamp pop roots even in this song. The choir director returns and says he'll have to send Johnny back to the orphanage (Man! they don't cut you any slack at this church). Johnny instead sets out on his own and gets a job as an usher.
We see Johnny doing some ushering, but mostly rocking along to the acts on stage and this winds up getting him fired from his job. They do let Johnny stay on and see the rest of the show and even give him his own seat. During this segment of the movie we have performances by Harvey (Fuqua of The Moonglows) doing "Don't Be Afraid To Love Me", Jo-Ann Campbell singing "Momma Can I Go Out" and Eddie Cochran doing "Teenage Heaven". Freed tells the crowd he's looking for a new star who he will name Johnny Melody. Johnny, thinking this will be his big break, waits for Freed out back of the theater where he meets Julie (Sandy Stewart) who was in the same orphanage as him. He brushes her off telling her he has just enough money for a demo and no time for dating. When Freed finally comes out, Johnny gets the brush off as Freed tells him that the whole thing is just a publicity stunt.
The movie switches to Julie, who is also an aspiring singer, and she's in the recording studio singing "Playmates". Johnny arrives at the same studio and barely has enough to pay for studio time and desperately needs a backup female singer which, of course, Julie agrees to be. Johnny/Jimmy Clanton then sings " My Love Is Strong" (this song would fit great on any Swamp Pop collection). Johnny gets his song to Freed's office, but the only information he includes with his recording is that he is the future Johnny Melody. Chuck pushes for Freed to find out who Johnny really is but Freed is tired of fooling with the whole thing and goes off with Chuck to watch him perform on a TV show and we get to see Chuck doing "Memphis, Tennessee".
Johnny is hanging out with Julie at her adopted parents house watching Chuck on TV. Julie is trying to assure Johnny that he has plenty of time to make it by pointing out that Chuck probably didn't make it until he was 27 or 28 and Johnny delivers one of my favorite lines in the movie "Who wants to wait until they're middle-aged". Johnny explains to Julie that he's barely been making a living by playing his trumpet and this leads to Johnny playing his horn while Julie plays the piano. Her adoptive parents come home and we find out they're "hip" squares as the foursome take off for the "The Krazy Koffee Kup" to catch some late night tunes.
Alan and Chuck are already at the club and we get to see The Cadillacs do two staged performances "Jay Walker" and "Please Mr. Johnson" and Jackie Wilson do "You Better Know It". Chuck is still pushing for Freed to find Johnny and as luck (or a convenient plot twist) would have it, when Julie finally convinces Johnny to go talk to Freed, he has just left.
Freed goes back to the radio station and plays Johnny's song every 15 minutes waiting for him to call in and identify himself. Unfortunately, Johnny is so mad at Freed that he refuses to listen to Freed's show and doesn't hear the announcement. Johnny wants to know what Julie wants for Christmas and she tells him that she wants him to have a hit record, but he pushes for a real present and she tells him about a pin she saw at a jewelry store. Johnny tries to pawn his horn but has no luck and decides to smash in the jewelry store window and steal the pin (conveniently there are a pile of bricks nearby).
Julie, alone in her room, is thinking about Johnny and sings "Heavenly Father", after which she turns on the radio and hears Johnny's song and that Freed is looking for him. She rushes to the studio, but Freed has left and gone to an "after hours" jam session at Henry's Hideaway. Here we get to see Freed on drums backing up Chuck singing "Little Queenie". After Freed gets off stage, Ritchie Valens (in his only film appearance) sings "Ooh My Head". Julie finds Freed and tells him about Johnny and they both go on a search for him. Freed convinces the police that he is drunk and is the one who broke the window. Instead of going to jail, Johnny goes on to become a big star and the movie returns us to the present where we also find that Johnny will be marrying Julie in the near future.