TV on DVD: “Mr. Rock ‘n Roll: The Alan Freed Story”

Written by Television, TV on DVD

51NWdk2obPL._SS500_Mr. Rock ‘n Roll: The Alan Freed Story (2009, Eagle)
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You never know what to expect when you’re watching a made for TV docudrama like Mr. Rock ‘n Roll: The Alan Freed Story, especially one starring Judd Nelson as Alan Freed, one of the most important and influential men in the early days of rock and roll. To be quite honest, I glossed over the fact that this was a biopic and thought it was a straight up documentary. So when it arrived in my mailbox and I realized that this movie is 10 years old and just now coming out on DVD, I was a little suspect.

I wish I could say that I fell in love with Mr. Rock ‘n Roll, and indeed, I found the first half of the film rather charming. But in the end the movie is rather, umm, bad. As I mentioned, Nelson plays Freed, whose career as a disc jockey really takes off in Cleveland, Ohio. He hosts a popular radio program and when looking for a way to attract a younger audience, Freed decides to start playing rhythm and blues. His ratings go through the roof as teenagers tune in to hear what new record he’ll be playing and what crazy shenanigan he may pull while on the air. As he becomes famous with the kids, Freed also faces the scorn of angry listeners who want their lite pop orchestra music. He even receives death threats from racist, which only makes Freed want to play more music. The film goes out of its way to paint Freed as a man who didn’t not care about the color of a person’s skin, emphasized in a scene where he takes Jackie Wilson for drinks and then drinks from Wilson’s glass and takes a drag from his cigarette just to piss off some idiots at another table.

One night he happens upon a dance studio and meets the lovely Jackie McCoy. They begin courting almost immediately. (It should be noted that Jackie McCoy is a fictional name for Freed’s second wife, leading me to believe that Mr. Rock n Roll isn’t 100% accurate with the facts.) Freed is up front that he’s divorced with kids and Jackie appreciates his candor. The two fall in love and on the day of Freed’s historic Moondog Coronation Ball, the very first rock concert, he proposes to Jackie. Of course she accepts. The day gets even better when the Moonlight Coronation Ball oversells and there is a near riot. The police shut it down and Freed becomes a legend.

From that point the movie follows Freed’s career to New York where he becomes a national star and tries his hand at television, only to fail. When Freed puts together the very first rock and roll tour with acts like Buddy Holly, Jackie Wilson and Jerry Lee Lewis, it’s an unmitigated success. But, as Freed’s constant narration tells us, the powers to be were out to get him and they shut down a Boston concert that turns into a riot. The film implies that the government couldn’t stand to see the youth of America corrupted by rock and roll music and set out to find any dirt they could on Freed. Thus, came the payola scandal that brought him down and ruined his career.

Just about the only reason to watch this movie is Nelson’s quirky acting. He’s so earnest at times is kind of funny. Likewise, Madchen Amick is acceptable as the supportive wife. Paula Abdul shows up as a woman Freed has an affair with and her performance is fine. It’s not quite as entertaining as her loopy moments on American Idol, but it works for this movie. There are fine musical selections throughout Mr. Rock ‘n Roll, featuring the likes of Bo Diddley, Buddy Holly and Jerry Lee Lewis. Still, with “Peggy Sue” and others readily available to buy, do you really want to watch some unknown actor lip sync to the song? Didn’t think so.

If you have a rainy afternoon and you happen to get this film from your Netflix queue you might want to watch Mr. Rock ‘n Roll: the Alan Freed Story. Other than that I can’t see anyone rushing out to buy the movie.