EXPRESSO BONGO(director: Val Guest; screenwriter: Wolf Mankowitz/from the play by Wolf Mankowitz and Julian More; cinematographer: John Wilcox; editor: Bill Lenny; music: Robert Farnon; cast: Laurence Harvey (Johnny Jackson), Sylvia Syms (Maisie King), Yolande Donlan (Dixie Collins), Cliff Richard (Bongo Herbert), Meier Tzelniker (Gus Mayer), Ambrosine Phillpotts (Lady Rosemary), Eric Pohlmann (Leon), Gilbert Harding (Gilbert Harding), Hermione Baddeley (Penelope), Reginald Beckwith (Rev. Tobias Craven), Avis Bunnage (Mrs. Rudge), Wilfred Lawson (Mr. Rudge), Susan Hampshire (Cynthia), Kenneth Griffith (Charlie), Esma Cannon (Night club cleaner), Burt Kwouk (Soho youth), Martin Miller (Kakky); Runtime: 108; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Val Guest; Continental Distributing, Inc.; 1959-UK)
“Has a charm all its own, but that’s not enough to take the ringing of the bongo drums out of my ears.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Val Guest (“80,000 Suspects”/”The Day the Earth Caught Fire”/”Mystery at the Burlesque”) is the writer and producer of this outdated but flavorful period piece of the late fifties that gives a view of the early days of Brit rock ‘n’ roll; it’s an abrasive and energetic satire showbiz musical that has a charm all its own, but that’s not enough to take the ringing of the bongo drums out of my ears. It plays best as a low rent Sweet Smell of Success. Wolf Mankowitz hands in a screenplay that borders on kitsch; it’s adapted from the successful play by Mankowitz and Julian More.
Unscrupulous, brash and smarmy small-time talent agent Johnny Jackson (Laurence Harvey) trolls at night London’s Soho district for new talent to exploit. It’s a busy neon-lit street of coffee shops, delicatessens, penny arcades, and strip joints. When his chorus gal stripper girlfriend Maisie King (Sylvia Syms) insists he take her out after her nightclub show to one of those new coffeehouses springing up everywhere, he discovers the impoverished pompadoured 18-year-old Herbert Rudge (Cliff Richard) playing a mean bongo and singing like Elvis and dubs him as his meal ticket to the big-time. When he can’t get the renamed “Bongo” Herbert’s parents to sign the contract, he goes just with the kid’s signature, even though he’s underage and his signature is invalid, and clips him for a fifty-fifty split. By fast-talking and always throwing out a sales pitch, Johnny soon guides the kid to stardom through a record deal and to be a guest star on a popular telly variety show. The kid is charmed by aging American vaudeville artiste Dixie Collins (Yolande Donlan), returning to London after appearing in the States for awhile. Dixie takes the naive kid under her wings and through her own sleazy manager and record producer, Gus Mayer (Meier Tzelniker), gets the kid’s contract voided. Dixie and the good-mannered kid are supposedly heading for a thirteen-week engagement in New York, when the corruptible nature of showbiz shows its fangs.
It has its fun taking a whack at the business side of pop singing, Jewish types of sharpie agents, and the hype that goes into the making of a star, but its early liveliness quickly fades and in the second half all that remains is a dull sleaziness and an artificial theatrical setting.
REVIEWED ON 12/20/2007 GRADE: C+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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