One of the guilty pleasures of watching a biographical film about a songwriter is that while pretending to gain new insight into pop culture, you can secretly revel in hearing terrific music straight from the source. Luckily, in the case of A.K.A. Doc Pomus, we get both a poignant biography and a truckload of performance clips as an homage to Doc Pomus (1925–1991), the legendary Brill Building songwriter. Among his more than 1,000 songs, he authored such enduring rock-and-roll hits of the 1950s and ’60s as “Save the Last Dance for Me,” “This Magic Moment,” “Teenager in Love,” “Viva Las Vegas” and dozens of others for artists as diverse as Dion, Elvis Presley, Dr. John, Andy Williams and B.B. King.
Like so many of his R&B songwriting colleagues, Doc Pomus was a city-bred Jew. Born Jerome Felder in 1925 in Brooklyn, he was stricken with polio as a boy, which permanently disabled his legs and left him with a lifetime of both visible and private pain to overcome. Channeling that pain first into a career as a blues singer—certainly the only heavy-set, white, Jewish teenager on crutches to headline blues clubs in Greenwich Village—he later turned to songwriting and created the staggering string of hits that would land him in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But as this spirited and honest film reveals, real life for Jerome Felder was also a struggle with disability, gambling and loss. The burly man whom Bob Dylan himself turned to for lyric-writing assistance, comes across as an American original, whose soulful output even now makes you want to close your eyes and dance the night away.