Cast & Crew
At Christmastime, disk jockey and record promoter Alan Freed's show at New York City's Loews State Theater is a huge success, especially for his new young star, Johnny Melody. Backstage, rock and roll star Chuck Berry convinces Alan to tell him the real story of Johnny, whose success, some people say, rested on the toss of a coin: As an orphaned teenager, Johnny is accepted into Mr. Morton's choir, but is soon fired for singing a rock and roll song as another choir member accompanies him on the organ. Johnny decides not to go back to the orphanage, and sometime later is hired as an usher at Loews State. On his first night, when an older usher sees him dancing to the music, he fires Johnny, but allows him to stay for the show, which ends with Alan announcing that he is now searching for a new singing star, whom he intends to name "Johnny Melody." Outside the theater, Julie Arnold, who lived at the same orphanage as Johnny but has not seen him in years, calls out to him. She tells him that she was fortunate to be adopted by wonderful parents and is saddened that Johnny was never adopted. She asks him if he wants her phone number but he declines, saying that he has to save all of his money for a record demo. Just then Alan leaves the theater and is surrounded by fans. Johnny approaches him, saying he wants to be Johnny Melody, but Alan dismisses him, saying that idea was merely a stunt dreamed up by his press agent. Not long after this, Julie, who is also an aspiring singer, completes her record demo in a hired studio. Just as she is leaving, Johnny arrives, with barely enough money for his demo. Because he could not afford to hire a girl to sing with him, Julie happily volunteers to be his female backup singer. When Johnny's song, "My Love Is Strong," arrives in Alan's office, Alan listens to it but is tired of hearing from all of the singers who want to be Johnny Melody. Chuck and Alan's press agent, Bill Barnett, like the song though, and encourage Alan to select Johnny as his new star. Alan promises to think about the record as the three men leave for the television station where Chuck will be performing that night. Moments later, Johnny and Julie telephone Alan, but when his secretary tells them that Alan is not in, Johnny thinks Alan did not like the record and is upset. After watching Chuck's performance on television at Julie's apartment, Johnny plays his trumpet and sings while Julie accompanies him on the piano. When her parents come home, Mr. Arnold offers to speak with Alan, with whom his company advertises, but Johnny declines the offer. Mr. and Mrs. Arnold then invite Johnny and Julie to join them at The Krazy Koffee Kup club, where they watch rock and roll acts. Unknown to them, Alan, Chuck and Bill are also there, talking about "Johnny Melody." Bill and Chuck finally convince Alan to try to find him, even though there was no telephone number or address sent with the demo. After Julie and Johnny dance to Jackie Wilson's song "You'd Better Know It," she sees Alan and convinces Johnny to go to his table. Just as they approach, though, Alan and the others leave, further frustrating Johnny. At 10:00 p.m., when Alan starts his popular radio program, he announces that he has found "Johnny Melody" and wants him to call the radio station so that he can sing on the Christmas program at Loews State. While "My Love Is Strong" is playing, the station is inundated with calls from fans, but not from Johnny, who is in Julie's car and has turned off Alan's program. Johnny then accompanies Julie back to her apartment, where he asks her what she wants for Christmas. She says she only wants a hit record for him, but when he insists that she ask for something else, she tells him about a pin she saw in a jewelry store that has a musical note with two hearts and reminds her of them. As Julie gets into bed that night, she listens to Alan's show and hears Johnny's song, which Alan has played every fifteen minutes. She then calls Johnny's boardinghouse, but his landlady, Mrs. McGillacudy, tells her that Johnny left carrying his trumpet after asking her for a good pawnshop, saying "I've got to get that pin, one way or another." Julie then rushes to the radio station, but the show has ended. After a kind janitor tells Julie the name of the club where Alan has gone, she follows him there and introduces herself as Johnny's girl friend and says she thinks she knows where Johnny is. Meanwhile, Johnny, who has been unable to pawn his trumpet, looks despondently at the window of the jewelry shop that is selling the pin Julie likes. When he sees a pile of bricks nearby, he grabs one and thinks about throwing it through the window. A few blocks away, Julie tells Alan, who is frustrated that Johnny was not at the pawnshop, that she is sure he has gone to the jewelry store that is selling the pin she wanted, but she cannot remember if the jewelry store is on 54th or 55th street. Not knowing what else to do, Alan flips a coin to decide which street to try first. They arrive at the jewelry store just after Johnny has thrown a brick through the window and set off the alarm. As they hear a police car approaching, Alan tells Johnny to get into his car with Julie. When the policemen arrive, they see Alan holding the brick and pretending to be drunk, claiming that he threw it out of anger at the jeweler, who sold his wife too much jewelry. The police then arrest Alan but let Julie and Johnny go, thinking they were only bystanders. Johnny is worried about Alan, but Julie assures him that he will be fine. Onstage at Loews State, Alan announces to the audience that that is the story of Johnny Melody. He then introduces Johnny, who sings another song as Julie proudly displays her engagement ring.
Hal Roach Jr.
Maurie M. Suess
Maurie M. Suess
Go, Johnny, Go!
Typical of most rock films of its era, Go, Johnny, Go! presents a distinctly ordered music universe where white musicians headline supported by - in many cases - much more talented and dynamic black entertainers. It was a time when singers like Pat Boone covered songs such as Little Richard's "Long Tall Sally" and Fats Domino's "Ain't That a Shame", often outselling the original versions. And it's no different in Go, Johnny, Go! where Chuck Berry plays a "yes man" associate of DJ Alan Freed and a sideline cheerleader of whitebread singer Jimmy Clanton. But there's simply no contest here as Berry blows his two co-stars off the screen whenever he appears; his performance of "Memphis, Tennessee" is a particular highlight.
In all fairness, Clanton was more talented than such fellow teen idols as Tommy Sands or Fabian and was part of the New Orleans music scene. In fact, his debut single, "Just a Dream," was recorded with session musicians Mac Rebennack (a.k.a. Dr. John) and Allen Toussaint who would soon become famous for their own songs. In Go, Johnny, Go!, Clanton specializes in soulful ballads ("My Love is Strong") and finger-snapping ditties ("Angel Face") but none of them can compare to Jackie Wilson's expert rendition of "You Better Know It" or The Flamingos' hyperactive performance of "Jump Children," featuring a variety of James Brown-like dance moves.
Alan Freed, not known for his musical chops, even gets into the action at one point, playing drums in a late night club jam scene with Berry. But his real expertise and claim to fame was popularizing rock music and breaking down racial barriers through his radio shows. An enterprising businessman with a talent for spotting genuine musical talent, Freed is not too convincing playing himself in Go, Johnny, Go! though he'd had plenty of practice by this point; he'd appeared in Rock Around the Clock, Don't Knock the Rock (both 1956), Rock, Rock, Rock and Mr. Rock and Roll (both 1957). He's a quirky screen presence who's both rigid and insincere - would you sign a record contract with this man? - and his big dramatic scene - acting drunk to distract policemen from a robbery attempt by up-and-coming singer Johnny Melody (Clanton) - is pretty lame. Still, watching Freed doing his radio gig in Go, Johnny, Go! you get a sense of his relentless zeal for self-promotion and his musician hustler bravado.
At the time the film was made, Chuck Berry enjoyed a good relationship with Freed who had helped advance his career by previewing a copy of "Maybelline" on his radio show; it became his first major hit. Later, however, the friendship cooled. According to Berry in his autobiography, Freed was a heavy drinker and "at one of those loose-speaking drink gatherings, a bit of information was exposed that induced Alan to tell me that he intended to give me back the one-third writer's-credit rip off from Chess's false registration of "Maybelline." This was a promise that lingered on through his death and probated estate. It was sometime in the late seventies that I finally got litigation going that brought me rightful full ownership of the copyright."
As for the filming of Go, Johnny, Go!, Berry recalled that it was made in five days in Culver City, California at the Hal Roach Studio: "My greatest thrill while there was seeing all the big movie cameras and technical equipment I had only seen in photos. There were lots of people walking around doing nothing, it seemed, but surely on the payroll...The making of Go, Johnny, Go! came around a short tour I was doing through southern California where the movie studios paid for hotel accommodations and food for the cast. I thought that was terrific because I nearly always acquired residence at the cheapest little motel near the airport, which also aided in making the morning flight to the next concert. Sometimes I was invited to a party after the concert and would be out too late to check in anywhere so I would drive on to the local airport and park my Hertz car directly in front of the terminal door entrance, curl up in the back seat, and dream of a king bed with queen covering."
Later in their careers both Berry and Freed would end up in trouble with the law; Berry for tax evasion and solicitation of underage girls and Freed for payola charges (taking bribes from record companies). Ritchie Valens, who makes an unforgettable cameo appearance singing "Ooh! My Head," barely even had a career. Go, Johnny, Go! marks his only feature film appearance; he died in a plane crash with Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper before the film was released but he did get to see a preview of it, remarking "I'm not much good, but I hope my mother likes me." On the contrary, he generates real electricity in his short number, his raucous voice and assured guitar playing at odds with his baby face. The other memorable acts in Go, Johnny, Go! include Harvey [Fuqua] (of the Moonglows) singing "Don't Be Afraid to Love," Jo-Ann Campbell's saucy "Mama, Can I Go Out?", The Cadillacs performing "Please Mr. Johnson" and "Jay Walker", and Sandy Stewart, cast in the unflattering role of Clanton's girlfriend/aspiring vocalist, doing a full orchestra version of "Playmate."
Producer: Alan Freed, Hal Roach, Jr., Jack Hooke
Director: Paul Landres
Screenplay: Gary Alexander
Cinematography: Jack Etra, Eddie Fitzgerald
Editing: Walter Hannemann
Music: Leo Klatzkin
Art Direction: McClure Capps
Cast: Jimmy Clanton (Johnny Melody), Sandy Stewart (Julie Arnold), Herb Vigran (Bill Barnett), Frank Wilcox (Mr. Arnold), Barbara Woodell (Mrs. Arnold); guest stars - Chuck Berry, Jackie Wilson, Ritchie Valens, Eddie Cochran, Jo-Ann Campbell, The Cadillacs, The Moonglows.
by Jeff Stafford
Go, Johnny, Go!
The film's working titles were Johnny Melody, The Swinging Story of Johnny Melody and The Swinging Story. Some sources list the title as Go Johnny Go, without punctuation. Actress Barbara Wooddell's surname is misspelled "Woodell" in the cast credits. The title was inspired by Jimmy Clanton's popular single "Go, Jimmy, Go" as well as the refrain from Chuck Berry's hit song "Johnny B. Goode," which is listed as "Johnny Be Good" in the onscreen credits. The song is sung by Berry over the opening and closing credits. The song "Once Again," which a press fact sheet included in the AMPAS Library file on the film states was sung by Clanton and Sandy Stewart, was not heard in the print viewed. Berry, Clanton and Stewart are the only rock and roll stars to act as well as sing in the film. The others only sing their musical numbers, most in a stage performance setting.
Go, Johnny, Go! marked the motion picture debuts of Clanton and Stewart. Clanton made only one other film, the 1961 release Teenage Millionaire (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70). Go, Johnny, Go! also marked the final screen appearance of "rockabilly" performer Eddie Cochran (1938-1960), who died in an automobile crash on April 17, 1960, and the only screen appearance of popular teenage idol Ritchie Valens (1941-1959), who died in a plane crash on February 3, 1959, along with fellow rock and rollers Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper, shortly after filming his song for the picture.
Go, Johnny, Go! was also the final film of disc jockey and producer Alan Freed (1921-1965), who had previously appeared in several rock and roll-themed films. Not long after the film's release, Freed became the center of the radio "Payola" scandal that ended his career. He was the subject of the 1978 biographical musical American Hot Wax, directed by Flooyd Mutrux and starring Tim McIntire as Freed. For additional information on Payola and Freed's early career, please consult the entry below for the 1956 film Rock Around the Clock.
Released in United States 1959
The only film appearance of Ritchie Valens who was killed in a plane crash with Buddy Holly before the film was released.
Released in United States 1959