When the Beatles fielded the inevitable movie offers that came with their first burst of chart success, they were firm on one point – they wouldn’t just pop in and mime a couple of songs in among a procession of other acts in one of the jukebox movies that were rushed out to cash in on pop fads back in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. Richard Lester, who would eventually get the gig of making A Hard Day’s Night not at all like those movies, had actually directed a prime specimen in this picture … which was also the first official production from producer-writer Milton Subotsky’s Amicus outfit, and was designed to capitalise on a weird blip of early ‘60s Brit enthusiasm for trad jazz (Dixieland jazz in the US) but got retitled for US release even as other types of pop crowd out the likes of the Temperance Seven (who were as much fab as trad), Acker Bilk, Chris Barber and Kenny Ball so renditions of ‘Down By the Riverside’ and ‘Frankie and Johnny’ co-exist with Del Shannon, Gary US Bonds, Chubby Checker and Gene McDaniels (shot in America and tipped in) and the crooning styles of nominal leads Craig Douglas and Helen Shapiro.
It opens with the mean Mayor of a small town – Felix Felton, who usually played Dickensian villains (he was Dr Roylott on the 1964 Sherlock Holmes show) – visiting a café for a ‘nice, quiet cup of coffee’ and being incensed by teenagers enjoying the dangerous tootlings of trad jazz … and banning the musical form outright, calling on the Lawrence Welk-loving police chief (Arthur Mullard) to enforce the ban brutally. Teens Craig and Helen head to London to pester disc jockeys (Alan Freeman, Pete Murray, David Jacobs) to arrange a free jazz concert to protest the ban, which – after a ton of musical numbers – they do, and a van crashes through slapstick barriers to hold a good time gig which wins the villain over when a journalist congratulates him on the event. More jazz. The end. Lester struggles with a not untypical jukebox film issue – Subotsky wouldn’t spring for the rights to use the acts’ strongest material, so true belter Shapiro is stuck with some drippy ballads – but is already finding ways of making musos miming or looning interesting, especially in a surreal bit with The Temperance Seven.
The brief comic bits between acts do get goonish, as characters have conversations with the narrator (Deryck Guyler, later of A Hard Day’s Night) – who is omnipotent enough to supply a pie to shove in the face of an officious usher (Hugh Lloyd). Also glimpsed doing bits – Arnold Diamond in a Scenes We’d Like To See skit as a panelist on a talk show responding to criticism of his book by punching a pundit in the face, Derek Nimmo as a comedy waiter, Ronnie Stevens and Frank Thornton as TV directors (prefiguring Victor Spinetti in AHDN) and Ferdy Mayne as a less comedy waiter. Photographed by Gil Taylor.
It’s playing on Talking Pictures TV. Here’s an extract – Alan Freeman introducing Gene Vincent’s Spaceship to Mars. Also: Gene McDaniels’ Another Tear Falls.