Expresso Bongo

A fast-talking would-be pop impresario leads a pageant of sleazy characters hoping to cash in on fresh talent in the 1959 British film Expresso Bongo, now available in the U.S. for the first time. At once joyous fluff and sharp satire, it skewers everything from teen dance crazes to BBC documentaries to the career of its star: real-life heartthrob Cliff Richard, who may or may not be in on the joke. Laurence Harvey plays the agent with a sly goofiness that suits the deceptively breezy script; over-the-top musical numbers spoofing the styles of the era round out the atmosphere of false giddiness. In disappointing contrast, 1962's Beat Girl presents a dreary, melodramatic vision of the same time period. Her home broken, Gillian Hills must embark on a thorough and systematic search for kicks. Her new stepmother's dark past gives the movie an opportunity to earn an "X" rating with quaint strip-club scenes that fail to liven things up. More of a slang-dictionary recital than a story, Beat Girl's wooden performances will try the patience of even the most avid retro hound. Shopping for a video-kitsch fix can be hit-or-miss, as this pair clearly demonstrates; while Expresso Bongo delivers a smart, hilarious send-up of British teen culture in the early '60s, Beat Girl wallows in it as sullenly as its title character does.

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