Expresso Bongo (UK 1959)

Thoroughly modern British

Expresso Bongo was based on a hit stage musical, though BFI Screenonline tells us that only two of the original 17 numbers survived. It takes a while for the numbers to start, it didn’t appear to be a musical at first, and for some the main interest will be the casting of Cliff Richard as a burgeoning pop star wondering what will happen to him when he’s 20 (Richard’s okay in the role). I was surprised by the nudity at the strip club; no doubt the tassles saved the censor’s blushes but the film does strike me as very risqué for its time. Similarly surprising was Sylvia Sims playing the lead stripper (above centre) a year after playing the ‘good girl’ beloved of British cinema at the time, in Ice Cold in Alex.

Although obviously dated now through its music, the film was clearly ‘hep’ at the time with its cynical take on the recording industry; something that hasn’t dated at all. Laurence Harvey plays the unscrupulous agent who ‘discovers’ Richard’s Bongo Herbert. Harvey plays Johnny Jackson as a Jewish shyster and Meier Tzelniker’s record company executive is a similarly unappealing stereotype. The women are passive, sex objects (Sims’ faithful girlfriend is annoying faithful) with the exception of Yolande Donlan’s ‘has been’ American movie star trying to reinvigorate her career on the back of London and Bongo.

Gilbert Harding, a well-known ‘television personality’ of the time, parodies himself examining the ‘teenage phenomenon’ for the BBC. There are uncredited appearances by Kenneth Griffith and Susan Hampshire, two actors that became very well known in the following decade.

The milieux of Soho is well presented, even if studio based. It was still the centre of the London sex industry in the ’70s, when I first visited London, but it has been ‘cleaned up’/’cleansed of character’ now.

2 Responses

  1. […] directly address the film’s audience. Soho was known for its sex clubs and, like Expresso Bongo, there is titillation to be had from women in underwear and tassels on their nipples. The […]

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