Maya Angelou and Calypso Music Take Over the World
The 1957 film Calypso Heat Wave comes from Sam Katzman, one of Hollywood’s most prolific B-movie producers. In addition to serials, westerns and sci-fi, Katzman produced a number of music-filled films in the ‘50s and ‘60s, including Don’t Knock the Rock, Twist Around the Clock, Elvis Presley’s Kissin’ Cousins and Harum Scarum, Herman’s Hermits’ When the Boys Meet the Girls, and the classic teensploitation entry Riot on Sunset Strip.
Like those better known films, this entry is light on plot and heavy on musical cameos. The story involves a jukebox operator, played as a Harry Brock-styled mug by actor Michael Granger, muscling his way into a record label. Once inside, he pushes the label to cut more deeply into the artists’ action, echoing some surprisingly accurate truths of the racket’s seediest side. Along the way, the label’s star attraction skips town and discovers calypso in the Caribbean, which everyone quickly realizes is destined to be bigger than rock ‘n’ roll.
Performance highlights include lip-synched appearances by the Hi-Los, Treniers and Tarriers. A very young Joel Grey dances in an early scene, and legendary DJ Dick Whittinghill spins records in what might or might not be the actual KMPC radio studio. Perhaps the most surprising number is Maya Angelou’s back-lot Trinidadian song and dance production. Angelou had toured a club act in the mid-50s, recorded the album Miss Calypso, and performed in an off-Broadway revue from which the film borrowed its title.
Also seen in the Trinidad sequence is a 23-year-old Alan Arkin, making his first-ever film appearance, playing guitar and singing lead alongside the Tarriers’ Erik Darling and Bob Carey. Their 1956 rendition of “The Banana Boat Song,” which they recreate here, helped spark the calypso craze, which also spawned the films Calypso Joe and Bop Girl Goes Calypso. You can find Calypso Heat Wave at The Video Beat (along with Bop Girl Goes Calypso), but it’s also playing regularly on getTV. [©2015 Hyperbolium]