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With: Alan Freed, Jimmy Clanton, Sandy Stewart, Chuck Berry, Jackie Wilson, Ritchie Valens, The Cadillacs, Jo Ann Campbell, The Flamingos, Harvey Fuqua, Eddie Cochran, Jimmy Cavalio and the House Rockers, Herb Vigran, Frank Wilcox, Barbara Woodell
Written by: Gary Alexander
Directed by: Paul Landres
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 75
Date: 06/30/1959
IMDB

Go, Johnny, Go! (1959)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Ooh My Head

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Released in 1959, Go, Johnny, Go! features quite the roster of rock-and-rollers, as well as legendary DJ Alan Freed. You'd think it would be an essential document, but the moment it begins, we're plunged into the story of the so-called "Johnny Melody" (Jimmy Clanton), a supposed up-and-coming new rock star. We're treated to a cringe-inducingly awkward performance, just Johnny on a bare stage with no band, microphone, backup singers, dancers, or anything, and it looks like something that would have been outright rejected on "American Idol." I hoped that would be the last of him, but no, he sings something like half the songs in the movie.

The plot takes place in flashback with Alan Freed "discovering" him through a radio contest; he's, of course, an orphan, and he falls in love with a girl and tries to steal a ring for her, etc. When he's not singing, he's either talking about how he's going to make the big time, or other people are talking about how great he is. The most painful thing is seeing the great Chuck Berry snapping his fingers to Johnny's soulless performance and smiling for all the world like he's having a great time.

But in-between, the day is saved by Berry's two blazing performances of "Little Queenie" and "Memphis, Tennessee" (his "Johnny B. Goode" is played over the opening credits). Unlike anyone else, Berry seems totally comfortable in front of the camera, lip-syncing with no microphone. Artists I had never heard of, The Cadillacs, The Flamingos, Jo Ann Campbell, and Harvey help out as well. Eddie Cochran sings one of his lesser-known, less-interesting songs, and Jackie Wilson jumps in with "You Better Know It." Even the film's female lead, Sandy Stewart, has more vocal pop power than the bland male lead.

On the other hand, Ritchie Valens looks supremely uncomfortable performing "Ooh My Head," but then, where else are you going to get a chance to see Ritchie Valens on film? By the time this film was released, he was already dead from the infamous 1959 plane crash that also took Buddy Holly. So for those reasons alone, certainly not for its story or star, Go, Johnny, Go! is worth treasuring. The Sprocket Vault released a fine-looking DVD in 2017; it includes a trailer and a commentary track by Richard M. Roberts, Randy Skretvedt, and Brent Walker.

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