Forming a band is no Cakewalk. It doesn’t just need people who have a shared passion, it also needs people who can cohesively work in unison. Director Emilio Palame and David M. Gutel are quite aware of the kind of togetherness it takes for music to actually make sense. Their film, Knights of Swing, which is named after the band that a few young men formed in 1947 post World War II America, is a story that’s full of heart. It’s also pleasantly cheesy and charming, which might be just the kind of thing you would want to see on a day when things don’t feel all that good.
The story opens with Gifford Williams (Curran Barker) and Nolan Edward (Kyle DeCamp) – best friends and wannabe musicians who are eager to bring their swing band named ‘The Jammie’ Pajama Men’ out from their garage and into the real world. They play swing, and the next step on their cards is to pursue their teacher Herb Miller (Richard Neil) to arrange music for them.
Castle High, the school where they study, feels like a place that simply can’t exist in reality. It’s a place where the students are too good to each other, and a head teacher who plays the piano to do the daily announcements. Basically, it’s a place that is, for the lack of a better phrase – a paradise for them. Herb, who is initially reluctant, finally gives in due to his own personal history with music. This is where the two young men, along with Herb, start to recruit more people into their big-ol swing band, which eventually gets named ‘The Knights of Swing.’
However, what’s a story about ambition and triumph without a few speed bumps? Director Emilio Palme and David M. Gutel, who seems to be too in love with their old-school story, slowly creep in the conflicts. Since this is the post World War II America, racism was pretty prevalent, and so was the trauma that the war left everyone reeling with. The first major conflict arrives in the form of Mrs. Barlutski (Amanda Lamberti) and her little racist group, Mr. Simms (Jeffery Conway) & Mr. Tanner (Randy Irwin), who are completely against colored boys playing in their local band.
While these conflicts are not enough to keep you emotionally invested; the lack of character development and one-dimensional motivations also doesn’t help, they keep the plot moving. Since most of the film is shot indoors, the aesthetic of the 40s doesn’t come out all that well. The costume and set design could have used a more lived-in feel to leave a mark. Additionally, the performance across the board is fairly serviceable at best, with the only standout here being Richard Neil’s Mr. Miller, who really brings a cathartic quality to his character in spite of the lags in writing. His little love story with the waitress at the local diner Marlene (Kathy Christopherson), despite adding nothing much to the overall story, feels well done.
Consequently, by the time the movie gets to climax, you can’t believe that you now know every single beat and every single note of all the three recurring musical numbers – namely ‘Cucamonga,’ ‘You’ve Gotta’ Have a Dream’ and ‘The Victory Stomp.’ A lot of it is thanks to genuine casting choices that make the players feel like they are actually playing the music right in front of you.
That said, clocking in at a runtime of 2 hours 30 minutes, Knights of Swing does feel like a story that would work better as a 3-episode long miniseries, but in its present state, it is still pretty charming, albeit cheesy period piece that will leave you stomping your feet.