Nerdy as it sounds, ever since our memorable trip to Graceland last year, Christine and I have been trying to see all 31 of Elvis Presley’s movies. Now, if you’ve seen even one of them for yourself, you know how truly difficult this task really is. Because, well…most of them kinda suck.
But with the lone exception of the King’s first movie “Love Me Tender” (1956), which I think was an outright bomb, everything else we’ve seen has at least one or two elements or songs that make them fun and totally worth watching. And despite some awkward turns in a few of the clunkier pictures, Elvis is still freaking Elvis, baby, so…he still totally rules!
For example, “Kissin’ Cousins” (1964) has the King playing a military man and his blond hillbilly cousin, and better yet has not one, but several scenes with a fleet of hooting, hollering mountain gals called the “Kittyhawks” descending upon the homestead to steal single men. I kid you not, that happens at least two or three times in the movie. Crazy!
“It Happened at the World’s Fair” (1963) has a funny cameo by a pint-sized Kurt Russell and some gorgeous shots of Seattle and it’s then brand-spanking-new Space Needle. “The Trouble With Girls” (1969) is a period piece set in and around a traveling roadshow type of deal called a Chautauqua — don’t feel bad, we’d never heard of a freaking Chautaqua either! — and features some of the strangest camera angles you’ve ever seen in a Hollywood movie. It’s downright groovy, man. Gotta love those late-60’s filmmakers…wow!
“Blue Hawaii” (1961) has Elvis surfing with a bunch of adoring Hawaiian kids and a strangely-sinister Angela Lansbury playing his mom. Yes, his mom. I don’t know if Lansbury was gearing up for her iconic role in “The Manchurian Candidate” (1962) or what, but she is crazy weird in this movie…yikes!
And of course, the best of bunch we’d seen to date was “Jailhouse Rock” (1957) which is not just a great Elvis movie, but is also a really great movie in its own right. Cinematic, funny, dark, and beautifully shot in a brooding black and white, there is a reason Elvis fans love this movie. For not only is this probably the King’s best role — playing essentially, a twisted version of himself — this movie is just plain awesome! Seriously, if you were ever gonna buy an Elvis movie on DVD, this is the one to get!
Which brings me, finally, to the most recent Elvis movie on our list…“Viva Las Vegas” (1964). Christine had already watched — and insanely raved about! — this movie without me when I was in Santa Fe, and now we finally caught it again on TCM…and let me tell ya, this is the only other Elvis movie that you simply must have on DVD!
I think Elvis is usually better in his comedies, and here again, he shines playing a gambling race car driver/waiter at the Flamingo Hilton. But this time, the King is joined onscreen by the spectacularly gorgeous Ann-Margret. I don’t know exactly when the term “knockout” came into favor, but I can guarantee you it had something to do with Margret. Seriously, that face, that hair, those legs, that um…posterior…wow, this chick has it all.
And not only can she hold her own with Elvis in the singing and dancing department — actually, I think she’s a way better dancer, but that’s just me — but Ms. Margret can act too. And as written by Sally Benson — who also co-wrote my favorite Hitchcock film, “Shadow of a Doubt” (1943), yay! — her character is no throw-away girlfriend role, but rather a living, breathing firecracker-of-a-swimming-instructior to be reckoned with.
And the chemistry between her and Elvis…wow, I kid you not, you can almost see the sparks crackling off these two onscreen. They are incredible together, and though the first five minutes of so of the movie kinda dragged a bit, the minute Ann-Margret showed up in those skimpy white hot pants…it was on, baby!
Yes the movie has some crazy shit in it — their first date includes a dance class, skeet shooting, water skiiing, a helicopter ride over Hoover Dam and ends on a houseboat, where Margret lives with her father! — but the chemistry between these two keep everything rolling at such a crackerjack pace that you hardly care.
And the extended race car sequence at the end of the movie is really something to behold, especially when you consider the fact that they didn’t have CGI back then! Those are real cars, driven by real stunt men, yo!
I know that George Lucas has said that the chariot race sequence from “Ben Hur” (1959) inspired little Anakin’s pod race scene in “The Phanton Menace” (1999), but I swear to you, there are more than a few similarities between the race in “Viva” and the one in “Menace”. Don’t believe me? Read a hilariously geeky break down of the similarities here.
Anyway, another thing we both loved about “Viva Las Vegas” are the songs! This is one of the first Elvis movies I’ve seen that featured so many rocking duets, and though the title track is still the star, the rest of songs seriously kick ass. And when you factor in two (!) smoking solo songs for Ann-Margret, well, how can you go wrong?
So, if you like your movies loud, fun and loaded to the gills with out-of-control star wattage, check out “Viva Las Vegas”. And if you have a favorite Elvis movie you’d recommend we check out, by all means, let us know.
We’re still dying to see Presley’s last movie — “Change of Habit” (1969), with Mary Tyler Moore as a nun! — but they never play it on TV and the old-ass versions on DVD look pretty crappy. Here’s hoping a deluxe edition is in the works! And in the meantime, we’ll busy ourselves with some of the other movies on our list…next stop, “Harum Scarum” (1965)!