Judge Patrick Bromley puts his glad rags on to review this slice of 1950s goodness.
A fast-spinning love story behind the scenes of today's brand new kind of Tin Pan Alley!
Jamboree, a self-described "'50s Rock n' Roll Extravaganza," is the kind of movie I instantly respond to. It's a rock n' roll road show relic for the pre-MTV set, when teenagers who couldn't make it to the State Fair had to flock to the cinema to see their favorite Top 40 hits performed. That is its only reason for existing. My favorable reaction to the movie, I imagine, is probably a result of the fact that I've long suspected that I was born in the wrong decade—I just may be a 1955 boy trapped in a 1977 body. Watching films either made or set in that decade, I find myself growing nostalgic for a time I wasn't even around for—not the politics, just the pop culture. I'm envious of the music, the trends, and (especially) the movies, and not with any kind of too-hip ironic distance. I genuinely love Vanilla Coke, Buddy Holly records, and giant insect flicks. That I have such a good time with a film like Jamboree, then, should come as no surprise. And while my bias may certainly color my judgment, it doesn't make me an unreliable reviewer. Bias is probably the only way to get through Jamboree.
The movie is edited and structured like a porn film, with musical performances in place of sex. It's that paper thin. There is only the tiniest shred of a plot to be found in Jamboree—just enough to carry the film from song to song, singer to singer. In some instances, the performances are built in to the "story"; when that doesn't work, the songs are simply shoehorned in. Most of the plot is advanced by actual 1950s DJs (playing themselves), who appear sporadically to read the latest news item about the two protagonists. They're Honey (Freda Holloway in her only film credit) and Pete (Paul Carr, Eat a Bowl of Tea), a young up-and-coming singing duo who've fallen in love, only to be split up by their two scheming managers (Why? Because don't trust adults, that's why). When Honey and Pete aren't breaking into song, they're surrounded by actual '50s artists performing (mostly) forgettable songs, including Jerry Lee Lewis (I said mostly), Frankie Avalon, Carl Perkins, the Four Coins, Fats Domino, and Count Basie, dubbed the "Elvis Presley of Brazil"—a title that should still rightfully be mine.
This is the kind of movie where no matter where the on-screen rockers are meant to be performing (be it recording studio, TV studio, supper club, or telethon), they're always on the same soundstage—no attempt is made to disguise it. The kind of movie where, despite the implied idea that the performers are playing live, the songs all fade out. Where a single singer and a guitar is somehow backed by an invisible four-piece band. Where that same singer can stop strumming the guitar long enough to "emote" with hand gestures, but the guitar track keeps chugging along. It is the kind of movie where Dick Clark appears as himself (and yes, he clearly drinks the blood of the young) and makes reference to "all of the 48"—talking about the United States. It is not particularly well acted, nor skillfully made. What it is is energetic and a lot of fun—a snapshot of a time long forgotten in both film and teenage culture.
Jamboree is presented by Warner Bros. in a decent, no-frills package. The black and white film is presented full frame; while it shows quite a few signs of aging, it does look like Warner's did their best to clean it up. The audio is delivered as a slavishly faithful mono track, and it's absolutely the right call—hearing these songs in full 5.1 surround would feel all wrong. The only extra provided is the movie's original theatrical trailer, which—like many films of this type—might be more than sufficient in giving most viewers the general idea of the film. Sitting through the whole thing might feel like overkill.
It ought to be noted that my rating of the film should be taken in context. Essentially, the movie is now (as it was then) critic-proof. The score, then, is meant to reflect the idea that the movie does what it wants to do very well, and does not necessarily mean that it's as good a film experience as other titles I've given a score of "80" to. Viewers seeking plot or character development would do better to look elsewhere, but those with fond memories of the movie or who've never had a glimpse at this particular moment in film history ought to give Jamboree a chance. I, for one, will continue to think wistfully of a time when a movie would come to a complete stop just long enough for Frankie Avalon to sing a song about a girl.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Theatrical Trailer
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