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Jamboree!

Jamboree!(1957)

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Home Video Reviews

"A '50's Rock 'n Roll Extravaganza!" proclaims the poster art tagline for Jamboree, a 1957 musical hodgepodge from Warner Bros. (now on DVD) that also promises "17 great recording stars! 21 hit tunes!" Yet despite the presence of Jerry Lee Lewis and Fats Domino, this is less about the emerging rock 'n roll scene of the fifties and more about what constituted the hit parade of mainstream radio. An additional blurb on the original poster describes Jamboree as "a fast-spinning love story behind the scenes of today's brand new kind of Tin Pan Alley!" and that's exactly the type of performers on display here, family-friendly Ed Sullivan Show-like acts such as The Four Coins, Slim Whitman and Ron Colby who have more in common with The Ink Spots, Patti Page, and Pat Boone than dynamos Elvis Presley or Wanda Jackson.

Jamboree is an undeniable time capsule for pop music historians but watching it in real time is a sometimes painful experience! The flimsy plot, and there is way too much of it, has a formerly married talent agent team scheming against each other in the competitive world of top forty hits. On their own, Grace (Kay Medford) and Lew (Bob Pastine) aren't having much success with their new discoveries so they decide to join forces and promote their singers Honey Wynn (Freda Holloway) and Pete Porter (Paul Carr) as a duo. The ploy works better than they imagined but then Grace gets greedy and pressures Honey to go solo, a plan complicated by a budding love affair between the singers. The worst part of all this are the numerous musical numbers performed by Freda (dubbed by Connie Francis) and Paul. Not only does this cut into valuable screen time for the more dynamic performers featured but the songs - "For Children of All Ages," "If Not For You," "Who Are We to Say" - are instantly disposable.

On the positive side, there are a few standout cameos. Foremost among them is Jerry Lee Lewis banging out "Great Balls of Fire" which generates real heat but is over too soon. Fats Domino is a delight performing "Wait and See" and rockabilly star Carl Perkins picks up the tempo with "I'm Glad All Over" (no relation to the Dave Clark Five hit). Less familiar to contemporary music lovers are practically forgotten artists like Buddy Knox ("Hula Love"), Charlie Gracie ("Cool Baby") and Jimmy Bowen ("Cross Over") - all three of them playing songs that blur the lines between rockabilly, country, rock 'n roll and novelty songs. Unfortunately, the staging of each musical number on a sparse soundstage with minimal art direction is visually uninspired. The only thing that really matters is the music and from act to act it's purely a matter of taste for the viewer. There's nothing wrong with Count Basie and his orchestra performing "One O'Clock Jump" but big band music seems as out of place in Jamboree as Slim Whitman's rendition of "Unchain My Heart" or Mary Lou Harp warbling "Crazy to Care."

If nothing else, Jamboree has a curiosity value which will appeal to anyone who grew up listening to the radio in the fifties (which means anyone over the age of forty-nine). Several of the most influential deejays of that era have cameos in the film; among them are the perpetually young Dick Clark, Los Angeles's Dick Whittinghill and Joe Smith of WVDA in Boston (he later became president of Warner Bros. records). It's also fun seeing a baby-faced Frankie Avalon prior to his AIP Beach Party films of the early sixties and Frankie Lymon's little brother, Louis, belting out "Gone" and sounding just like Frankie. Also of note is the director, Roy Lockwood, who entered the British film industry in the thirties and scored a major success with his movie adaptation of Jack London's The Mutiny of the Elsinore (1937). How he ended up helming Jamboree is anyone's guess. You'll also recognize Milton Subotsky's name in the credits. He served as a co-screenwriter here but later became a successful producer, specializing in horror films such as Dr. Terror's House of Horrors (1965), Torture Garden (1967) and Tales from the Crypt (1972).

For more information about Jamboree, visit Warner Video. To order Jamboree, go to TCM Shopping.

by Jeff Stafford