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Don't Knock the Twist
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Don't Knock the Twist

As every pop culture aficionado can attest, The Twist was by far the most durable of the many dance crazes that swept the USA in the early 1960s. Given that exploitation musicals of the 1960s latched onto only the latest fads and released product as quickly as possible to take advantage of the fickle teen market, it is worth noting that Chubby Checker - that most visible proponent of The Twist - made no less than four films showcasing the dance. He first shows up in Teenage Millionaire (1961) performing "Let's Twist Again" and "Twistin' U.S.A." followed by the Twist-centric Twist Around the Clock (1961), produced by Sam Katzman for Columbia Pictures. The next outing was the British film It's Trad, Dad! (1962 – released in the United States as Ring-a-Ding Rhythm!), in which Checker sings "Lose Your Inhibition Twist". With the Twist craze still going strong, Katzman, Columbia, and Checker found room in 1962 to squeeze out a follow-up to Twist Around the Clock called Don't Knock the Twist.

At the offices of the GBC Broadcast Company, network president Herb Walcott (Frank Albertson) is watching a competing TV network as it airs a woman's derriere twisting to the latest dance sounds. He tells Ted Haver (Lang Jeffries), the head of special programming for GBC, "Progress, Boy, progress! That's what The Twist is. New ideas, new dances, new comedy, new faces. America's always moving forward, and a TV network has to do the same." Walcott gives Haver a deadline of only four weeks to produce a 90-minute Twist spectacular to beat a competing network to the punch. Ted runs to the Spice Island Club (decked out with cool Tiki décor) to talk to Chubby Checker and enlist his help in rounding up acts for the special. Meanwhile, fashion designer Dulcie Corbin (Mari Blanchard) is dealing with harsh criticism of her latest line, which the critics call "dull." She latches onto boyfriend Ted's quest and decides to design new Twist-inspired fashions. Ted discovers a brother-sister dance team, Billy and Madge Albright (Stephen Preston and Georgine Darcy), and asks them to dance on his special. Dulcie sees dollar signs with Madge, however; she wants to sign the dancer to promote her clothing line.

No matter how trite or inconsequential the plot, every Katzman-produced exploitation musical is invaluable for capturing obscure recording artists of the era in their prime, often performing their signature songs. This was certainly true of two artists in Don't Knock the Twist; Gene Chandler makes a lasting impression in top hat and monocle lip-synching "Duke of Earl" while The Dovells knock out their well-known chart-topper, "Bristol Stomp." Other performances take the film further away from the Rock 'n' Roll aesthetic of Katzman's earlier music films – songs like "Little Alter Boy" by Vic Dana and "Yessiree" by Linda Scott were slick pop numbers that serve as a reminder that many of the chart toppers of the period were soon forgotten.

Don't Knock the Twist is also one of those Rock movies that emphasize the importance of adults' acceptance of their kids' fads and tastes. Never in exploitation cinema have so many reaction shots been filled with middle-aged and even elderly white-haired patrons. (It has been said that the Twist was universally accepted and lasted as long as it did because the dance was so simple – anyone with two legs and a torso could pull it off, and that includes parents and grandparents). The theme runs throughout the film, as when Chubby Checker yells, "Now everybody Twist!" in a club, and we see a middle-aged woman telling her husband, "it's too strenuous dear – you haven't paid your insurance premium," and naturally, the old man does the Twist anyway. Even the casting of the "youngsters" skews older in this film; while Twist Around the Clock featured a very youthful Mary Mitchel, this follow-up centers on a much older brother-and-sister dance team in "the Albrights." The role of dancing firestorm Madge Albright was no doubt the most extensive part played by Georgine Darcy, then 31 years of age. Darcy's most notable prior appearance was the showy but mute role of "Miss Torso" in Alfred Hitchcok's Rear Window (1954).

Domenic Priore gives Don't Knock the Twist high marks in Marshall Crenshaw's Hollywood Rock: A Guide to Rock 'n' Roll in the Movies, writing, "it probably took about two seconds flat to put together this follow-up to Twist Around the Clock. By this time, it was already obvious that the Great Dance Craze had replaced JD rock 'n' roll, so producer Sam Katzman probably figured he could afford to spend a little more on this quickie. The bigger budget paid for more acts and better sets. ...There are some brilliant choices for guest stars as well. Gene Chandler as the Duke of Earl would be shocker anytime... monocle, top hat, cap, bustier, and all. A great surprise are the Carroll Brothers stomping out a surfy version of 'Bo Diddley.' ...Gratefully, Chubby Checker's gyrations keep popping up in place of actual dialogue."

Producer: Sam Katzman
Director: Oscar Rudolph
Screenplay: James B. Gordon
Cinematography: Gordon Avil
Art Direction: Don Ament
Music: Fred Karger (uncredited)
Film Editing: Jerome Thoms
Cast: Lang Jeffries (Ted Haver), Mari Blanchard (Dulcie Corbin), Georgine Darcy (Madge Albright), Stephen Preston (Billy Albright); music guests - Chubby Checker, Gene Chandler, Vic Dana, Linda Scott, The Dovells, The Carroll Bros.
BW-86m. Letterboxed.

By John M. Miller

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