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Rock You Sinners (1957)

Courtesy of Renown Pictures

Main image of Rock You Sinners (1957)
35mm, 59 min, black & white
DirectorDenis Kavanagh
Production CompanySmall Film Distributors
In association withJeffrey S. Kruger
ProducerB.C. Fancey
ScreenplayBeatrice Scott
CinematographyHal Morey
Incidental MusicJackie Brown

Cast: Philip Gilbert (Johnny Laurence); Colin Croft (Pete); Adrienne Scott (Carol Carter); Jackie Collins (Jackie); Michael Duffield (Paul Selway); Beckett Bould (McIver)

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A radio DJ stages a live rock 'n' roll show in order to persuade a television producer to commission a series, but during the preparations his girlfriend feels he is neglecting her.

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Rock'n'roll first appeared in British films in 1957. That June saw the release of both The Tommy Steele Story and this lively, often overlooked 'B' film, which captured the birth pangs of British rock in dance halls at a time when it was still outside the mainstream. Energetic dancers strut their stuff as tenor saxes honk to a rim shot off-beat. The 16mm location filming here is guerrilla filmmaking, cinema vérité style, capturing the moment. In 1957, this was cutting edge stuff.

The film's instigator was Jeffrey Kruger (a music agent and owner of The Flamingo be-bop jazz club). He caught a preview of Rock Around the Clock (US, 1956) in New York and resolved to bring this 'new music' to the UK. Enthusiastic jazz drummer Tony Crombie was told to form an ad hoc group which in 1956 headlined theatre bills and became the first UK act to perform rock'n'roll to large audiences. As a composer and arranger, Crombie soon returned to jazz (his incidental music here suggests Duke Ellington as an inspiration) and jazz-tinged film scores.

Only a 'poverty row' outfit such as E.J. Fancey Productions could rush a film like this into production and record the immediacy of what was happening, and the limited budget actually works to the film's advantage. Simple extempore sets (music store, coffee bar) were erected in whatever halls were available, while real interiors used included Fancey's own office. And the period details are of interest - this is the West End of the Free Cinema documentary Nice Time (d. Claude Goretta/Alain Tanner, 1957), with its ballrooms, coffee bars, rehearsal rooms and the Cinerama theatre showing Cinerama Holiday.

US 'B' movies such as Rock, Rock, Rock (1956) were pretty dumb, with a moronic script and feeble acting. Rock You Sinners has similar flaws, but Colin Croft's shameless mugging indicates that it doesn't take itself too seriously. The only concession to youth is teenager 'Curly' Pat Barry. Jazzers Tony Crombie (looking like Curly's dad) and Art Baxter deliver good rock'n'roll, but a vocal by jazz drummer Don Solash plumbs new depths of mediocrity.

The links between modern jazz and the development British of rock'n'roll deserve further exploration. Shamefully, the 2008 BBC4 documentary series Pop Britannia failed to reference this film, although it is a key work of 1950s pop culture. Rock You Sinners has been described as 'monumentally inept', but this is no excuse for critics to ignore it.

Roger Philip Mellor

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Video Clips
1. Stop It (I Like It) (2:18)
2. Dixieland Rock (2:21)
3. Heartbreak Hotel (1:24)
4. The lovers' quarrel (2:28)
Expresso Bongo (1959)
Nice Time (1957)
Tommy Steele Story, The (1957)