Expresso Bongo

Overview

Prior to A Hard Day's Night, there was one genuinely clever, knowingly cynical comedy out of England that utilized rock 'n' roll as a source of inspiration, and that was Val Guest's Expresso Bongo. A thoroughly cinematic adaptation of a West End play authored by Wolf Mankowitz, the movie depicted the sleaziest side of the music and entertainment businesses. This DVD marks the first time that Expresso Bongo has been shown properly outside of a movie theater -- a widescreen movie in which every corner of the image ...
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Overview

Prior to A Hard Day's Night, there was one genuinely clever, knowingly cynical comedy out of England that utilized rock 'n' roll as a source of inspiration, and that was Val Guest's Expresso Bongo. A thoroughly cinematic adaptation of a West End play authored by Wolf Mankowitz, the movie depicted the sleaziest side of the music and entertainment businesses. This DVD marks the first time that Expresso Bongo has been shown properly outside of a movie theater -- a widescreen movie in which every corner of the image is filled with activity and information, it's been cropped and had whole sections chopped out of it (mostly a couple of songs and some shots of female semi-nudity) on television for 40 years; only theatrical showings have ever presented the movie in all of its cynically strident glory, and at any time since 1960, one has had to live in the New York area and follow the programming at Film Forum to catch those showings. Kino International's DVD has made it available for the asking, in a crisp, clean letterboxed transfer with definition on the sound that's a match for the picture -- whenever Cliff Richard & The Shadows perform, the music fairly roars out of the speakers, but the dialogue is also well represented. The movie has been given a dozen chapter breaks, which is just about adequate, marking off the key musical numbers and the major scenes reasonably well. The source print is in good shape, with only a few traces of dirt and wear, and a good degree of depth and detail throughout. The disc opens automatically to an entertainingly garish on-screen menu utilizing artwork from the movie, and with a loop of some hot instrumental music by the Shadows in the background; it has no extras except for on-screen recreations of the content of the movie's original pressbook. The only modest flaw is in the choice that Kino made of which version of the movie to release -- this is the 106 minute American edition of Expresso Bongo, as opposed to the 111 minute British cut; it's missing the musical numbers from the original play, which gave the movie a doubly surreal edge. It's still fun to watch, but it's missing that last totally over-the-top level of cynicism that the original UK version presented.
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Special Features

[None specified]
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Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide - Craig Butler
Expresso Bongo is very much a product of its time, which fact may limit its appeal to most modern audiences; but that very "other era-ness" is also part of the fascination it holds for many, and is partially responsible for its cult status. It also must be admitted, however, that in spite of a number of very worthy things, Bongo as a whole doesn't come off. It starts out like gangbusters, with a long tracking shot that takes the viewer into the heart of the seedy London nightclub world of the late 1950s. We quickly meet Johnny Johnson, who as portrayed by Laurence Harvey in a knife-sharp performance is a lowlife heel but one that is hard to resist: his ambition is so naked and his desperation so keen that he radiates an attraction that demands submission. It's a mesmerizing performance, and one of the finest Harvey ever committed to the screen. He's well matched by Sylvia Sims as his girl friend, and their bantering has real spark. For the first half, Bongo is on track to being a good film, Harvey's nerve smoothing over the familiar plot points. But midway through, the focus switches too much toward Cliff Richard and Yolande Donlan. Richard is good when singing, but his dramatic performance is poor, flat at best and inept at worst. He derails the picture when it shifts to him, and it never recovers.
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Product Details

  • Release Date: 11/6/2001
  • UPC: 738329022921
  • Original Release: 1959
  • Rating:

  • Source: Kino Video
  • Aspect Ratio: Cinemascope (2.35:1)
  • Presentation: Letterbox / Black & White
  • Time: 1:45:00
  • Format: DVD

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Laurence Harvey Johnny Jackson
Sylvia Syms Maisie King
Yolande Donlan Dixie Collins
Cliff Richard Bongo Herbert
Meier Tzelniker Mayer
Ambrosine Phillpotts Lady Rosemary
Eric Pohlmann Leon
Gilbert Harding Himself
Hermione Baddeley Penelope
Reginald Beckwith Rev. Tobias Craven
Wilfred Lawson Mr. Rudge
Martin Miller Kakky
Avis Bunnage Mrs. Rudge
Barry Lowe Beast Burns
Kenneth Griffith Charlie
Susan Hampshire Cynthia
Peter Myers Cynthia's boy friend
Esma Cannon
Wolf Mankowitz Sandwich Man
Pamela Morris
Maureen O'Connor
Susan Burnet Edna Rudge
Norma Parnell
Katherine Keeton
Technical Credits
Val Guest Director, Score Composer, Songwriter, Producer
Bunny Lewis Songwriter
Beatrice Dawson Costumes/Costume Designer
Robert Farnon Score Composer, Songwriter
David Heneker Score Composer
David Henneker Songwriter
Bill Lenny Editor
Kenneth MacMillan Choreography
Wolf Mankowitz Screenwriter
Tony Masters Art Director
Julian More Score Composer, Songwriter
Monty Norman Score Composer, Songwriter
Norrie Paramor Songwriter
Jon Penington Producer
Paddy Roberts Songwriter
John Wilcox Cinematographer
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Scene Index

Side #1 --
0. Scene Selection
1. Opening Titles [7:05]
2. "You Can Look At the Goods but Don't Touch" (Syms) [7:23]
3. "Bongo Blues" (The Shadows), "Love" (Richard) [9:01]
4. The Family Rudge [12:34]
5. Cosmorama [5:11]
6. "A Voice in the Wilderness" (Richard) [8:28]
7. The Big Broadcast [7:23]
8. The Fabulous Dixie Collins [8:57]
9. "The Shrine on the Second Floor" (Richard) [9:16]
10. A Night With Dixie [9:34]
11. Battling for Bongo [14:57]
12. Hard Knocks [5:53]
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Menu

Side #1 --
   Feature Start
   Original Pressbook
      Laurence Harvey (Profile)
      Cliff Richard (Profile)
      Larry's Ambition
      Sylvia Syms (Profile)
      What Have Mankowitz and Hitchcock Got in Common?
      Cliff's a "Natural" Says Producer/Director Val Guest
      The "21's" Come to the Screen
      Promotional Stills
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