Gonks Go Beat (1964)

Kenneth Connor, Terry Scott, Frank Thornton, Iain Gregory,
Bizarre sixties fable resembling Romeo and Juliette, but instead of Montagues and Capulets, there are two musical communities, one who like rock and roll and one who like ballads, who become reunited through the love between a cou...
  • 4.3 /10.0 IMDB Rating:
  • DatePublished:
  • 2018-09-07 Added:
  • Jimmy Watson, Peter Newbrook, Writer:
  • Robert Hartford-Davis, Director:
  • Producer:
5 / 10

Cult musical madness

GONKS GO BEAT is a very strange, low budget British sci-fi oddity. It's a musical re-working of the Romeo and Juliet storyline, with a unique sci-fi twist; an alien is sent to a futuristic Earth (which looks remarkably like the 1960s) where mankind is divided into two warring tribes. His goal is to bring the two tribes together through music and romance.

The description above doesn't really do justice to the sheer oddness of this production. It's basically a musical in which one number plays after the other from beginning to end. Stars like Lulu show up to contribute a number and then disappear. In between the songs, we get some random trappings of the sci fi genre, with respectable actors pretending to be aliens and Kenneth Connor delightfully mugging as the alien ambassador. My favourite scene is the convoy of cars with guitarists sitting on top and playing away - great stuff. What, might you ask, is a gonk? The answer is that they're cheesy soft toys that play a minor role in the proceedings, just adding to the bizarre feel. The film as a whole is weird, quirky, and very, very cult.

7 / 10

"Splendidly silly"

You have to be a real killjoy not to love this splendidly silly film, a kind of bubblegum version of Romeo and Juliet. However, the film is of some historical interest, featuring footage of the Graham Bond Organisation (urged on by a cane-wielding, mortar-board-donning Reginald Beckwith!). Musical numbers of widely varying merit are interspersed among the unfolding of a mind-bogglingly lightweight romance between a Beatland boy (sometime Joe Meek protege Ian Gregory) and a Balladisle girl, as seen from the viewpoint of a visiting alien (Kenneth Connor). Perhaps this studio-bound cheapathon was UK cinema's last unabashed quota-quickie. What a contrast with John Boorman's wintry, wistful "Catch Us If You Can" (made in the same year), and yet 60s-phobes (of whom there are regrettably many) are likely to bracket the films together as throwaway musicals!

5 / 10

Endearing Silliness

Ever since Chuck Berry crowed "Roll Over, Beethoven!" in the mid-fifties there have been many in the pop world, both fans and performers, who have regarded themselves as being in a state of cultural war against all other musical genres. The rivalry between the "Mod" and "Rocker" sub-cultures of the early sixties- a rivalry which often involved actual violence- was partly based upon differences in musical taste, with the Mods favouring jazz and the Rockers (as their name implies) rock-and-roll.

"Gonks Go Beat" dramatises another of these musical culture wars, that between pop and what was rather patronisingly known as "easy listening". Unlike the Mods-versus-Rockers clashes, this one did not actually lead to fighting in the streets, but nevertheless generated a surprising amount of ill-feeling. There are still people, now in their sixties or seventies, who consider their youths to have been blighted by the fact that the Beatles' famous double A-side of "Penny Lane" and "Strawberry Fields" was kept off the top of the charts by Engelbert Humperdinck's "Please Release Me". I well remember the disgust of my female teenage contemporaries from the seventies when their idol, Donny Osmond, was replaced at Number One by Perry Como, a man old enough to be his father. It would not have mattered if the Beatles had been bested by the Rolling Stones or Osmond by, say, David Cassidy. What mattered was that pop, the music of youth, progress and freedom, had lost out to "easy listening", the music of the conservative older generation.

The central premise of the film is that, at some far-distant date in the future, Planet Earth is dominated by two mutually hostile powers, Beatland and Ballad Isle. Each of these two nations is defined by its attitude to the youth culture of the sixties. Beatland is a land of long, or longish, hair- very long hair was not as fashionable in 1965 as it was to become a few years later- polo-neck sweaters, jeans, sunglasses and, of course, hip and trendy beat music. Ballad Isle is a place of short hair, button-down shirts, pressed slacks and floral dresses. Its inhabitants, of course, only listen to ballads. (The old word "ballad", once little used except by devotees of folk-poetry, had been pressed back into service to mean an easy-listening song).

The story is a variant on the "Romeo and Juliet" storyline (but without the tragic ending) in which a Beatland boy, Steve, and a Ballad Isle girl, Helen, fall in love. It also features Wilco Roger, an interplanetary ambassador who has been sent by the galactic powers-that-be to try and reconcile the two warring factions. For the uninitiated the "gonks" of the title were a type of stuffed toy very popular in the sixties and seventies, both with children and occasionally with adults. (Ringo Starr was a noted collector). They feature prominently in the title sequence but do not play a major role in the film itself, although Wilco is frequently threatened by the powers-that-be with exile to Planet Gonk- evidently a dreadful fate- should he fail in his mission.

When "Gonks Go Beat" first came out, it did not prove very popular either with young or old. The older generation would have dismissed it as silly kids' stuff, and the youngsters would not have liked the way in which the rather anodyne Steve and Helen, the ostensible protagonists, are overshadowed by middle-aged actors like Kenneth Connor, Frank Thornton, Terry Scott and Arthur Mullard, all well-known comedians or comic actors of the period. They would probably also have been bored by all those ballads which make up around half of the 16 musical numbers. Both generations would have combined in deriding the absurd plot, the indifferent acting, the low quality of the dialogue and the cheap, wobbly sets. It has been named as a contender for the title of "worst British film ever made".

The various musical acts featured were mostly, even at the time, obscure; others who may have been well-known at the time have slipped into obscurity since. Probably the best-known performer to a modern audience would be Lulu, a little-known teenager in 1965 but one who shot to stardom later. Despite this, however, the musical numbers are generally cheerful and tuneful, if not particularly memorable; none of them are likely to turn up on a "Great Hits of the Sixties" compilation album.

The film's main virtue is that it never takes itself too seriously. Fifty-odd years on from the date when it was made, it may be a dated period piece but its endearing silliness reminds us of just why pop music had such a following in the sixties; it was fun. Nobody could call "Gonks Go Beat" a well-made film, but it can be a curiously enjoyable one, more enjoyable than many films with much higher technical standards. 5/10

4 / 10

Well, the opening credits were entertaining anyway!

This is a totally weird 60s rock-n-roll musical send-up of Romeo and Juliet centering on two squabbling islands: Beatland and Ballad Isle. Intergalactic ambassador Wilco Roger is summoned to resolve the differences between the communities, employing the tactic of uniting a Beatland boy and a Ballad Isle girl; if he is unsuccessful he faces exile to Planet Gonk (inhabited by some strange doll-like creatures that apparently were based on a popular toy of the time). Despite the presence of Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce, Graham Bond and Lulu, the music here is nothing special. The music by the Beatlanders is typical of mid 60s rock rave-ups (watch for the lead singer/guitarist for The Long and the Short doing his best "Enzyte Bob" impression during their number "Love is a Funny Thing"!) , while the music favored by Ballad Isle consists of some of the sappiest ballads imaginable (the best way I could describe them would be to imagine the late 50s light pop group The Fleetwoods on Prozac). We're also treated to musical sequences featuring a band playing instrumental rock while driving down a deserted airstrip and a nine drummer prison jam session (neither of which serve much purpose other than padding the movie's run time) and a wacky "battle" sequence between both factions with musical instruments used as weapons. All this leads to the Golden Guitar contest pitting both islands against each other (which usually ends in a draw). Lulu's song "I'm the Only One" is pleasant but not exactly memorable, and The Nashville Teens' "Poor Boy" comes nowhere close to matching their hit "Tobacco Road". The bargain basement budget is readily apparent in the cheap set designs and the minimal special effects (watch for Wilco Roger ducking into the cloud of smoke as he makes his first entrance). If there was anything resembling a highlight here it would be the opening credits sequence featuring the Gonks grooving among construction paper/contact paper animation (to the song "Choc Ice", sung by Lulu with her voice altered almost to the point where she starts sounding like Cartman); it's pretty much all downhill after that.

4 / 10

barking mad film

I still have a copy of this film on VHS video, it came out sometime in the nineties as part of a series of British "musicals" including Tommy Steele and Billy Fury. I have seen it available at boot fairs and second hand record/video shops so i guess others were buying/watching at one time. This is the sort of film that can clear a house of unwanted guests leaving a hardcore of like minded (barking mad) friends to laugh themselves stupid (i know from experience) .it is that bad. like one of the other posters i think the drumming sequence is amazing but the lulu sequence with the "gay looking" backing singer clapping is hysterical "darling do try to look as butch as you can, while clapping your hands in the air, splendid!" as the other posters have noted the songs are not great the acting is awful and the story is virtually non existent so all together a truly awful film right! no! in the right mood and with friends of equal IQ (friday night IQ) its great fun. go and find a copy (somewhere in the UK) and watch. PS when i was at college i even tried persuading the film club to show this, but was turned down in favour of the french film Weekend-from the stupid to the bloody boring...