Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Elvis Movies: The Good, The Bad, The Unwatchable

Notice I didn't use the word "Great" because there aren't any great Elvis movies, just some servicable ones and some to skip at all costs. Elvis, of course, was the quintessential entertainer on stage and set the groundwork for every rock star that followed him. He was after all the first rock star. But he also set an example for what NOT to do with your fame: pop pills, wear rhinestone jumpsuits, make thirty-one movies. Yeah, don't do that.

Anyway, Elvis wanted to be a serious actor. He wanted to be the next James Dean or Marlon Brando. But he never really would have been, nor would he get the chance. His only serious acting jobs were praised by the directors he worked for like Michael Curtiz (who directed Elvis in King Creole), but his manager Colonel Tom Parker (neither a real colonel nor a real manager) made sure Elvis got trapped in the worst contracts for the worst movies. He wanted Elvis to make music, not become the next Marlon Brando. The '68 Comeback Special was the result and it was a huge success. So Colonel Tom finally got his way. But in the meantime audiences were tortured with some pretty bad flicks, especially in the latter days of The King's film career, while the Colonel counted his greenbacks. It wasn't always that bad, however.

Even these films aren't for everybody. The dramatic roles are few and few of those are good. The rest are campy to say the least. But for me that's what gives them charm. They were very thin in plot and were just an excuse to see Elvis perform for the general public who would never get to see him.

It Happened At The World's Fair

Set in the 1962 World's Fair in Seattle this has a typical love story, a cute little girl, and Elvis as a cropduster pilot. A young Kurt Russell in his first film has a bit part.

Fun In Acapulco

Ursulla Andress and cliff diving make this one more entertaining than most.

Follow That Dream

This is probably my favorite. Elvis does a fine job of acting, the story is unique, and it is genuinely funny.

Flaming Star

Widely considered the best film Elvis ever made. This is totally a dramatic film, a harsh Western examining racial conflict. Elvis gives the performance of his career as a half-breed torn between two worlds. Only two songs were used in the movie. Of course, being a non-musical film it didn't make as much money, which led to Colonel Tom's decision to keep Elvis away from such roles.

Jailhouse Rock

This is Elvis' most famous movie and one many consider his best. It is also a dramatic film with some great songs. I am not a big fan of the additions to the title song. The choreography has become famous but they should have just left the song alone.


Most of The King's films fall into this category. Titles like Double Trouble, Spinout, G.I. Blues, Roustabout, Frankie and Johnny, and Girl Happy. Not good but not all bad. I put King Creole into this category even though it starred Walter Matthau and was directed by Michael Curtiz. Sure, it is one of Elvis' better acting performances but I find parts of it silly. I put his debut film in this category too, the western Love Me Tender in which Presley got third billing. Paradise, Hawaiian Style is also "Okay". My favorites in this category are the camp classics Viva Las Vegas

...with Ann-Margret who admittedly annoys me.

and Clambake

...with Shelly Fabares and Bill Bixby. Super corny but still entertaining with it's Prince and the Pauper storyline.


Movies like Tickle Me, Blue Hawaii (where Angela Lansbury uses a ridiculous Southern accent), Speedway, and Kid Galahad. They have few memorable moments and few memorable songs (although my favorite Elvis song, "I Can't Help Falling In Love With You" is in Blue Hawaii). Wild in the Country starts out very interesting and then goes nowhere.


These should be avoided at all costs. These are ones even die-hard Elvis fans like me cannot sit through:
Live a Little, Love a Little- Watch a little.
Easy Come, Easy Go- Just GO, please!
Kissin' Cousins- I think the title says enough. Elvis in a "stawberry blonde" wig is not good cinema.
Harum Scarum- Cambodian films have higher production value. Was this filmed in somebody's backyard sandbox?


Joel said...

who is this elvis you speak of?

Dignan said...

One of the minor prophets I think, either before or after Joel.