Spies, Gun Slingers, and Gumshoes. American Film in Jamaican Ska.

guns of navarone

Here is an advertisement for Guns of Navarone from the Daily Gleaner, January 19, 1963. Certainly it inspired The Skatalites and Don Drummond to create their classic ska version of the American film’s soundtrack. American movies were incredibly popular in Jamaica during the 1950sand 1960s, as were all types of American culture and media, especially music. Spaghetti westerns with tough cowboy stereotypes, and spy movies were favorites. In addition to “The Guns of Navarone” which was a seminal hit for the Skatalites, so too was the James Bond theme, “Dick Tracy,” and “Lawless Street” which was made after the 1955 western movie, while “007 (Shanty Town)” became a big hit for Desmond Dekker in later years. “Bonanza Ska” was a ska version of the classic television theme song played by Carlos Malcolm and his outfit. “Duck Soup” by Baba Brooks was a song in honor of the Marx Brothers’ 1933 movie of the same name.

Byron Lee & the Dragonaires even appeared in the Bond movie Dr. No, the first James Bond movie, which came to film in Jamaica. The Dr. No soundtrack included Byron Lee & the Dragonaires tunes “Kingston Calypso” and “Jump Up,” which they performed in the film as the house band in a scene set in a club. The club in the Dr. No was known as Pussfeller’s bar but they were actually filmed at a hotel and yacht club at Morgan’s Harbour which was located on the main road to Palisadoes airport (renamed to Norman Manley International Airport).

The Daily Gleaner on January 16, 1962 boasts the headline, “Dr. No Team Arrives.” Ian Fleming had already visited the island as early as 1948 and fell in love with the land and its people, eventually calling it home, so it is no wonder that he chose Jamaica as setting for his first film. The film stared Sean Connery and Ursula Andress. The article stated, “Many Jamaican actors will be used in the film. They Include Reggie Carter, ‘Miss Jamaica’ Marguerite LeWara, Eaton Lee, and others. Monty Norman, who is to write the music for the film, will use local bands as far as possible. Director Terence Young will be interviewing local artists at the Copacabana club tomorrow evening, for the cabaret scene.”

As a side note, the following month, musician and orchestra leader Carlos Malcolm and guitarist Ernest Ranglin filed a monetary claim suit in the Supreme Court against the production team, claiming that “he was engaged to compose and write musical scores and supervise the recordings, while Mr. Ranglin claims he was engaged to look after the arrangements.” It is not known what the outcome of that suit was, but the film was premiered in Kingston at the Regal and Carib Theaters on September 17, 1963.

The role of American film in early Jamaica ska is important. Scholar Joseph Heathcott writes, “Such songs reveal the close affinities ska musicians felt to liminal male characters—tricksters, spies, cowboys, private dicks—as well as the ongoing media and commodity ties between Jamaica, Britain, and the United States.”  The incorporation of such imagery in ska and rocksteady only grew and evolved in the English and American incarnations of ska in the subsequent decades as they were interpreted through new eyes.

Can you think of more Jamaican-era ska or rocksteady references to American film? Comment here.