Go, Johnny, Go! (1959) (DVD)

The only reason to watch “Go, Johnny, Go!” is if you want to see some of the best rock and roll artists of all time do their thing on the big screen. Other than that, “Go, Johnny, Go!” is the story of the boring, milquetoast Johnny Melody, a bright eyed, blond white boy who rose from the slums as an orphan to become a rock and roll singer. It’s surprising that a movie featuring Ritchie Valens, and Chuck Berry would only focus on the most uninteresting individual, as when the movie stops to spread its paper thin premise with performances, it ironically becomes worth sitting through.

Starring Alan Freed and Chuck Berry as themselves, “Go, Johnny, Go!” stars Jimmy Clanton as Johnny Melody, a singer whose story of his rise to fame is compelling enough to stop even Alan Freed in his tracks. With Freed intimating that Johnny once almost landed in prison, Berry asks to hear his story and Freed regails the singer with how Johnny Melody became a sensation. Even at only a little over seventy minutes, “Go, Johnny, Go!” feels spread painfully thin, and you can see that there isn’t much substance to the narrative from the outset.

Director Paul Landres’ production looks cheap, his direction is distracting, and he fills the film with a ton of full performances from rock stars. In between, we watch as Johnny builds his love for rock and roll, and learns to build the courage to confront Alan Freed and look for his chance at stardom. I’d wager that the script probably was only fifty pages total, and Landres stuffs the movie with segues in to musical numbers. The movie even begins with Chuck Berry singing his classic “Go, Johnny, Go!” before we even get to the narrative, and once it becomes all about Johnny, the movie falls apart bit by bit.

There’s just not a lot of conflict or obstacles coming for Johnny and singer Jimmy Clanton just doesn’t play the street tough orphan well, at all. One scene where he rants to his girlfriend about how he doesn’t need parents should have been a sad moment, but he delivers the line with such passing boredom, there’s just no sense of loss or pain for the character. That said, “Go, Johnny, Go!” garners a myriad performances by folks like Chuck Berry, Jackie Wilson, Eddie Cochran, and the Cadillacs, respectively.

There’s also an appearance and performance by Ritchie Valens, which was reportedly his only film appearance. “Go, Johnny, Go!” is a silly, goofy, and clunky fantasy music biopic, but if you have to see it, see it for the raucous and excellent rock and roll music.

On the DVD, there’s a commentary track from Richard M. Roberts, Randy Skretvedt and Brent Walker. Theirs is a look at the history of rock and roll, the early days of the music genre, and the movie’s role in bringing the music to the mainstream. There are also some neat asides like how Berry doesn’t mime playing a piano well. This is an informative and well made commentary for music enthusiasts alike. There’s also the original theatrical trailer for “Go, Johnny, Go!”