Great fun with Bill Haley and the Comets

Critics' picks: New DVDs

January 21, 2007|By Chris Kaltenbach

ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK/DON'T KNOCK THE ROCK -- Sony Pictures Home Entertainment -- $19.95

Bill Haley, possessor of history's most famous kiss-curl, was one of the first rock 'n' rollers to make the move to Hollywood; when Rock Around the Clock was released in 1956, Elvis' big-screen debut (Love Me Tender) was still eight months away. The film, available here for the first time on DVD, is little more than a series of songs with a loose plot (Johnny Johnston as a promoter who believes band music is dead, until he gets an earful of the Comets) stringing them together. It's all great fun, however, with nine songs from Haley and his Comets (50 years later, "Rock Around the Clock" and "See You Later, Alligator" have lost none of their appeal), plus a pair from The Platters ("Only You" and "The Great Pretender").

Don't Knock the Rock, released later that same year, is even better. True, Haley and the Comets are reduced to supporting players (crooner Alan Dale plays Arnie Haynes, a star rocker whose "scandalous" ways threaten to get the music banned everywhere; Haley and his crew are just one of the bands who come to his rescue).

But the film introduced a plot that remains a mainstay of rock movies more than half a century later: kids get together to show everybody, especially their parents, that the music isn't as dangerous as everyone says. And one of the featured performers is Little Richard, belting-out "Tutti-Frutti" and "Long Tall Sally."

True, he's lip-synching (like everyone else in both films), but with that pompadour and those histrionics, who cares? When it comes to early rock 'n' roll, things don't get any more seminal than this.

Special features

None, except some curious dubbing (wanna hear Don't Knock the Rock in Portuguese?) and subtitles in a whole bunch of languages (Rock Around the Clock in Thai?). Oh yeah, and the chance to see where it all began.

ALSO ANTICIPATED

YOJIMBO/SANJURO --Criterion -- $69.95

Two samurai classics, from the immortal Akira Kurosawa - this is the kind of stuff cinephiles salivate over. Released in 1961, Yojimbo, the story of a ronin plotting to rid a village of two criminal gangs by pitting one against the other, may be the better-known (Sergio Leone remade it three years later as A Fistful of Dollars and handed Clint Eastwood a career). But Sanjuro (1962), with the great Toshiro Mifune as a ronin helping a group of nine young men battle corruption in their hometown, is no slouch, either. (Plus, the latter comes with liner notes written by The Sun's own Michael Sragow.)

Chris Kaltenbach

chris.kaltenbach@baltsun.com

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