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DVD SAVANT

Jamboree


Jamboree
Warner DVD
1957 / B&W / 1:37 flat full frame/ 86 min. / Disc Jockey Jamboree / Street Date August 16, 2005 / 19.97
Starring Kay Medford, Bob Pastine, Paul Carr, Freda Holloway, Connie Francis (voice)
Cinematography Jack Etra
Art Direction Paul Barnes
Film Editor Robert Broekman
Original Music Neal Hefti
Written by Leonard Kantor, Milton Subotsky
Produced by Max Rosenberg, Milton Subotsky
Directed by Roy Lockwood

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

In the second half of the 1950s teenagers were discovered (invented? concocted?) and waves of exploitation films began to cater to their perceived interests - hot rods, juvenile delinquency, science fiction and Rock'n Roll. The Blackboard Jungle launched dozens of so-called teen musicals, usually from A.I.P. or the Sam Katzman unit at Columbia. Some invented mixed-up teen crooners in the hopes of discovering a new Elvis, while others simply strung a series of performances together with a minimal plotline.

Jamboree sees the ambitious producing team of Max Rosenberg and Milton Subotsky toss together a decidedly sub-par collection of songs and artists for Warner Bros. The story is embarrassingly thin and the musical attitudes decidedly non-hip, serving as a good sampling of the music industry's desperate attempts to somehow tame Rock'n Roll and keep it family-friendly. The main appeal for this title is going to be strictly nostalgia-curiosity.

Synopsis:

Divorced, competitive theatrical managers Grace Shaw and Lew Arthur (Kay Medford and Bob Pastine) can't find jobs for their respective crooning clients Pete Porter and Honey Wynn (Paul Carr and Freda Holloway) until they team them up to become America's 'singing sweethearts.' But Grace isn't satisfied and schemes to split up the act so that Pete can go off on his own. After a European tour Pete tries to re-connect with Honey again, but more mismanagement gets in the way.

The story of Jamboree as synopsized above takes place in six or seven cheap sets and is simply a pretext for the film's twenty-one musical numbers. All of the songs are introduced by well-known disc jockeys, suggesting that producers Rosenberg and Subotsky (who would later form the Amicus horror label in England) got them for close to nothing. The odd choice of musical talent (rock, balladeers, harmonizers, rockabilly, faux-western) also leads us to think that the producers might have done a one-stop shopping deal with one record label or major agency ... what's the connection between Frankie Avalon and Slim Whitman?

The only name actor in the show is Kay Medford. She's defeated by a slack script but shows plenty of personality just the same. Medford played Andy Griffith's first wife in A Face in the Crowd, was Dick Van Dyke's mother in the Broadway version of Bye Bye Birdie and did especially well as Barbra Streisand's mother in both stage and movie versions of Funny Girl. Of the other three leads, only Paul Carr had a film career, at least according to the IMDB. Cute-looking Freda Holloway seemingly went nowhere, something that could have been predicted as soon as people realized that her singing voice was dubbed by Connie Francis.

Jamboree wants us to believe that Pete and Honey are sensational young hit stars, but we never have feelings in that direction. They sing forgettable love ballads and demonstrate next to no personality. Neal Hefti arranged the incidental music but it must be a case of great artists having to start somewhere ... it all sounds like stuff from Lawrence Welk trying to be upbeat. Most of the production effort is expended in an opening dance number, where there is at least some camera movement.

Paul and Freda lip-sync all their songs, and it sounds highly artificial when recording-studio acoustics suddenly sprout from an ordinary public address microphone. The economical shooting style alternates audience shots with generic angles of disc jockeys acting as emcees. There's no attempt at disguising the fact that the two dozen Deejays (including Dick Clark and LA's definitely non-rock Dick Wittinghill) were probably all filmed in sequence on the same tiny set.

There's no backstage action or any film at all tying the 'guest performers' to the rest of the movie. We simply cut to each song playing out, like a performance music video. Disappointingly, none of the performances are live; we hear instruments we don't see and see performers playing instruments (even Fats Domino's in-your-face piano) we don't hear. No matter if the venue is supposed to be a nightclub or a theater in New York, London or Germany, the stage is minimally decorated with the same style of cardboard scenery. At least we know that the songs were filmed for this show!

The music is for the most part pretty grim. Jerry Lee Lewis and Fats Domino are restrained by the need to synch with prerecorded material. Carl Perkins comes off well, but doesn't seem to belong in a rock-oriented movie. Frankie Avalon is very, very young, with a voice that wouldn't even be there, were it not for the miracle of audio amplification.

The only real benefit to the show is the chance to see what some mainly-radio personalities actually look like. Count Basie mixes well with his lead singer, a very pleasant Joe Williams. Country yodeler Slim Whitman (immortalized in Tim Burton's Mars Attacks!) has a sneaky moustache and looks nervous, like a crooked door-to-door Bible salesman. Other 'special guests' may have been notable personalities in their time but make little impression now - Jimmy Bowen, Charlie Grace, Buddy Knox. 'Lewis Lymon & the Teenchords' front the best stage act - they at least move around a bit and seem to be enjoying their song. A quick net search didn't straighten Savant out as to their exact identity. They're apparently not 'Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers,' but perhaps a relation? Curiously, Frankie Lymon split from his 'Teenagers' to become a solo act after playing the London Palladium, just like the fictional Pete Porter in this film.

I would imagine the biggest disappointment for pop fans of the time was to see the name Connie Francis in the credit block, only to find out that she's only dubbing the film's non-singing star and does not appear in person.


Warners' DVD of Jamboree is in clear B&W with equally good audio, both of which show up the film's mediocre production values -- bad lighting, sloppy editing. A couple of the song numbers start roughly on the soundtrack, indicating that they might have been slugged in at the last minute. The movie is transferred flat full frame, although the shape of the title credit blocks show that it could easily be as wide as 1:77 or even 1:85.

The only extra is a trailer that emphasizes the participation of so many disc jockeys, implying that the choice of performers was theirs. Warners' designs and package text do their best to associate Jamboree with 1957 movie music landmarks like Jailhouse Rock.


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Jamboree rates:
Movie: Fair
Video: Good
Sound: Very Good
Supplements: Trailer
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: August 22, 2005





DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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