Expresso Bongo (film)

Expresso Bongo is a 1959 film satire of the music industry directed by Val Guest, shot in an uncredited Dyaliscope and starring Laurence Harvey, Cliff Richard, and Yolande Donlan.. It is adapted from the stage musical of the same name, which was first produced on the stage at the Saville Theatre, London, on 23 April 1958.

Expresso Bongo
Directed byVal Guest
Produced byJon Penington
Written byWolf Mankowitz
Julian More (play)
StarringLaurence Harvey
Cliff Richard
Sylvia Sims
Yolande Donlan
Eric Pohlmann
Hermione Baddeley
Gilbert Harding
Music byRobert Farnon
CinematographyJohn Wilcox
Edited byBill Lenny
Distributed byBritish Lion Films
Release date
1959
Running time
111 min.
CountryUnited Kingdom
LanguageEnglish

In the film, Cliff Richard and the Shadows made their second screen appearance in a film released during 1959, the first being the much darker Serious Charge. The later film was made at Shepperton Studios, near London, with certain scenes shot on location in London's Soho district.

Plot

Laurence Harvey plays sleazy hustler Johnny Jackson, who is always on the lookout for fresh talent to exploit, while managing his hectic life with his stripper girlfriend, Maise. Maise is looking to find a better life in singing.

Jackson discovers a teenage singer named Bert Rudge, played by Cliff Richard, in an espresso coffee shop and sets about sending him along the rocky road to fame. He changes his name to Bongo Herbert and soon gets him a record deal and a relationship with an ageing American singing sensation Dixie (Yolande Donlan).

However, Bongo soon realises that his 50/50 contract with Johnny is not as great as he thought it was, and breaks from Johnny's contract with help from Dixie as Bongo is a minor.

Director Val Guest engaged Kenneth MacMillan to choreograph the strip-club dancers who appear in the film. Struggling at Shepperton Studios to get them to dance and sing to playback at the same time, MacMillan complained, "It's the simplest routine. They may have looks, legs and tits, but they have no co-ordination."

At first, Laurence Harvey was undecided on the kind of accent he would give his character, so Guest told him he was 'part Soho, part Jewish, and part middle-class' and that it might be an idea to model him on the writer Wolf Mankowitz. Harvey arranged a couple of lunches with the unsuspecting Mankowitz to study the writer at close hand, so the character Johnny Jackson in the film sounds something like the writer of the film.[1] Harvey's character sports a melange of accents including his own South African. Wolf Mankowitz appears in the film's opening credit sequence, wearing a sandwich-board bearing his writer credit.

Cast

Soundtrack album

The music for the 1959 film was produced by Norrie Paramor. With the exception of one song, it was entirely different from the music that was used in the 1958 musical. The music and the plot were rewritten to downplay the satire and showcase Richard and his band. In the best ironic traditions of Tin Pan Alley, a satire became a tribute. Only The Shrine on the Second Floor — a song that was intended to drive a sharpened stake into the heart of all sentimental ballads about mother – made it into the movie, but Richard sang it straight.

Track No.TitleComposer(s)Lyricist(s)Performance
1
"Nausea"David Henneker and Monty NormanJulian More and Wolf MankowitzFrom original stage show
2
"The Shrine on the Second Floor"Cliff Richard
3
"I've Never Had It So Good"From original stage show
4
"A Voice in the Wilderness"Norrie ParamorBunny LewisCliff Richard
5
"Loch Lomond"Uncredited (Traditional)Uncredited (Traditional)Arranged by Robert Farnon / Performed by the chorus girls
6
"You Can Look at the Goods but Don't Touch"Robert FarnonVal GuestSylvia Syms and the chorus girls
7
"Bongo Blues" (Instrumental) Norrie ParamorN/APerformed by Hank B. Marvin, Bruce Welch, Jet Harris, Tony Meehan and Cliff Richard
8
"The Irish Washerwoman"TraditionalTraditionalArranged by Robert Farnon
9
"Love"Norrie ParamorBunny LewisCliff Richard
10
"Worry Go Lucky Me"Robert FarnonVal Guest
11
"Nothing Is For Nothing"David Henneker and Monty NormanJulian More and Wolf Mankowitz
12
"You Can't Fool You"Robert FarnonPaddy Roberts

Soundtrack EP

Expresso Bongo
EP by
ReleasedJanuary 1960
RecordedSep-Dec 1959, EMI Studios, London
GenreRock and roll
LabelColumbia
ProducerNorrie Paramor
Cliff Richard chronology
Cliff No. 2
(1959)
Expresso Bongo
(1960)
Cliff Sings No. 1
(1960)

In January 1960, an EP made up of all the Cliff Richard and the Shadows' tracks from the album was released. On the tenth of March, Record Retailer published the first UK EP Chart with Expresso Bongo topping the chart.[2] Prior to this, the EP had also made the UK Singles Chart reaching number 14.[3]

Track No.TitleComposer(s)Lyricist(s)Performance
1
"Love"Norrie ParamorBunny LewisCliff Richard
2
"A Voice in the Wilderness"Norrie ParamorBunny LewisCliff Richard
3
"The Shrine on the Second Floor"David Henneker and Monty NormanJulian More and Wolf MankowitzCliff Richard
4
"Bongo Blues" (Instrumental) Norrie ParamorN/APerformed by Hank B. Marvin, Bruce Welch, Jet Harris, Tony Meehan and Cliff Richard

Reception

According to Val Guest the film made "a lot of money and got us a lot of awards".[4]

In a review for Radio Times, David Parkinson said that as well as being a fascinating snapshot of the era the film was also "one of the best musicals ever produced in this country." Laurence Harvey was "perfectly cast" as the talent agent and the script by Wolf Mankowitz was said to give the film an authentic quality. It was given a 4/5 rating.[5]

References

  1. Val Guest, So You Want to Be in Pictures, p. 135
  2. Neil Cossar (1 June 2010). This Day In Music: An Every Day Record of Musical Feats and Facts. Omnibus Press. p. 323. ISBN 978-0-85712-362-6.
  3. "Expresso Bongo (EP) - Official Singles Chart". www.officialcharts.com. Retrieved 8 July 2016.
  4. Tom Weaver, "Val Guest", Double Feature Creature Attack: A Monster Merger of Two More Volumes of Classic Interviews McFarland, 2003 p 114
  5. https://www.radiotimes.com/film/g7hwb8/expresso-bongo/
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