A group of concerned citizens, led by Eustace Fentwick III (Douglas Dumbrille), are meeting to decide what to do about the new menace to society: rock 'n' roll. They watch the dancing on the local TV station's music show appalled, and make up their minds to form a pressure group to stop these concerts from going ahead, even if it means writing to Washington to do it. The presenter of the TV show is Gary Nelson (Mike Connors), a disk jockey who is all for the new movement, but his girlfriend June (Lisa Gaye) is the niece of pressure group members Mr and Mrs Fitzdingle (Raymond Hatton and Margaret Dumont), which puts them both in a very difficult position...
One of the many hastily produced movies to cash in on the rock 'n' roll craze of the fifties, Shake Rattle and Rock was scripted by Lou Rusoff. It reflected the opinions of the time, you were either for it or against it, it either contributed to the corruption of youth or it was a free spirited way for the kids to express themselves. Presumably Alan Freed wasn't available, so it's up to Nelson to persuade the moral guardians that there's nothing wrong with groovin' on the dancefloor to the latest sounds, who in this film include the legendary Fats Domino and Big Joe Turner.
One thing this movie has in its favour is the collection of character actors that fill the roles, putting a nice comedic spin on events. Standing out is Sterling Holloway, then in his fifties, as a hip-talking musician who digs the scene and serves as right hand man to Nelson. In the other corner, Dumont, famed for being the foil in the Marx Brothers comedies, is one of the busybodies, and behaving in just the same affronted way as in the thirties. As her onscreen husband, Hatton secretly likes the rock, and fires off a few long suffering lines at the expense of his cohorts. And let's not forget Percy Helton as a death-obsessed undertaker.
The controversy is brought to a head when Nelson televises a live concert featuring the three acts the producers booked for the film (incidentally, according to Nelson the man we've all been waiting for is Tommy Charles, but I think he'll find it's Fats Domino we wanted to see). The pressure group show up with a petition to get the concert halted, and the local gangsters, put out that the teens are now more interested in dancing than crime, incite the crowd to riot - or, at least, smash up Fentwick's car. The inference is that without the rock to burn off all that energy, the kids will turn to violence instead.
A trial is held to put Nelson behind bars when he refuses to give the police any names. This trial is staged in the TV studio, on live TV, so that demonstrations of rock music can be shown. Interestingly, Fentwick's objections to the dancing are shown to be racist when he compares them to African tribal displays, as if there were something wrong with that, but mostly this is a chance to poke fun at the squares. The teens have a clubhouse where they participate in arts and crafts, proving that they're decent citizens really, and Nelson's trump card is that all young people go through a rebellious phase, no matter what generation they belong to. Shake Rattle and Rock is harmless fun, with good music and some genuine laughs, as when Holloway takes the stand and his slang has to be subtitled! And check out what they substitute for "The End". Only in the fifties.
Hugely prolific, underrrated American director specialising in crime and sci-fi, who turned in some 120 B-movies over 30 years. Cahn began directing for Universal in 1930, and over the next two decades worked at most of the major studios, turning in films like Emergency Call, Main Street After Dark and I Cheated the Law.
In 1956, his efficient, economic style led him to Samuel Z. Arkoff’s American International Pictures where he turned in his best films, such as The She Creature, Invasion of the Saucer Men, Invisible Invaders and It! The Terror from Beyond Space (the latter two big influences on Night of the Living Dead and Alien).