..from the 1956 rock film The Girl Can't Help It, please enjoy one of the great surreal moments in the history of American cinema -- the extremely vavavoom Julie London and her fabulously sultry rendition of...
...wait for it...
Thank you, I'm here all week. Try the veal. Also -- tip your waitresses and bartenders, they all have massive drug habits to support.
The recorded version of "River," which Julie is lip-synching in the movie, derives from her debut album (above), which was released in 1955 (complete with cheesecake cover photo of London, which became something of a trademark on her subsequent album releases). The song (and album) were produced by Julie's second husband (and later co-star on TV's Emergency), the great Bobby Troup (who wrote "Route 66," among other notable accomplishments).
I think it's an absolutely genius single -- a brilliantly minimalist arrangement (just guitarist Barney Kessel and acoustic bassist Ray Leatherwood), coupled with London's all-but-perfect phrasing (she had, as she famously said, "only a thimbleful of a voice," but man it sounded great and did she ever know how to use it) and then a discreet little bit of echo as the record fades out.
What I did not know until yesterday was that the song itself (which has been covered about a zillion times by everybody from Barbra Streisand to Joe Cocker) is by a songwriter named Arthur Hamilton (also hitherto unknown to me), and was originally written to be sung by Ella Fitzgerald in the 1955 movie Pete Kelly's Blues; the song was dropped before the movie was released, however. The film's star was Jack (Dragnet) Webb, who London was married to at the time; presumably she heard a demo of the song and liked it enough to claim it as her own.
I should add that The Girl Can't Help It (Troup wrote the Little Richard-sung title song, by the way), while never less than fun, has a reputation as the first great rock film which it only occasionally deserves.
Yes, the "Cry Me a River" montage with London is a great proto-rock video; the segment with a young and gorgeous Abby Lincoln...
...should probably not be witnessed by impressionable teenage boys; and the club scene featuring the aforementioned Little Richard (and his lethal road band The Upsetters) is truly jaw-dropping.
But some of the other musical performances -- notably including Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent -- are criminally truncated, and while writer/director Frank Tashlin's cynicism about the workings of the music business and the nature of pop celebrity is bracing (even today), the whole thing is obviously an outsider's satire, and as a result it often doesn't quite ring true.
Still, TGCHI is definitely worth seeing; to my surprise, you can get it over at Amazon but only as part of a Jayne Mansfield collection with The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw and the very funny Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter. Sounds like a pretty good idea, actually.