Saturday, August 28, 2010
Written by General Jabbo
Throughout Roy Orbison's life, his stunning, operatic, angelic voice was admired not only by millions of fans, but by his peers as well, with artists such as The Beatles, Elvis Presley, Bruce Springsteen, and Bono singing his praises. Recorded December 4, 1988, in Highland Heights, Ohio just two days before his death at age 52, The Last Concert shows Orbison's incredible voice stayed with him right until the end of his life.
In 1988, Orbison was in the midst of a major comeback. His song, "In Dreams," was featured in the film Blue Velvet; he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; he had a successful album with the super group The Traveling Wilburys; his concerts were doing well and he had just completed the soon-to-be hit album, Mystery Girl, with fellow Wilbury Jeff Lynne at the production helm. Tour dates were booked into 1989 and things were looking up when tragedy struck.
Originally released in limited form via iTunes, The Last Concert makes its CD debut here. The show is undoctored and appears to be from the soundboard so occasionally, backup singers might be louder or song volumes may fluctuate. Obviously no one knew at the time this would be his last show and the sound quality is still excellent, with Orbison fans still having a fine document of his last performance.
And what a performance it is. From the opening "Only the Lonely," Orbison delivers one hit after another, his vocals nothing short of jaw-dropping on classics such as "Leah" and "Crying." Fans are treated to the first song Orbison ever recorded in "Ooby Dooby" as well as the first song he ever wrote with "Go, Go, Go (Down the Line)," the latter featuring some excellent jamming by Orbison and his band. Being the last concert adds a touch of poignancy to "It's Over" while "Oh, Pretty Woman" brings the set to a dramatic close.
Roy Orbison was back on top of the music world and still on top of his game at the time of his death. Mystery Girl would go on to become a big hit and it seems unfair Orbison was cheated out of seeing this success. For Orbison fans or for fans wondering why he was loved by so many, The Last Concert is a must-own CD.
Article first published as Music Review: Roy Orbison - The Last Concert on Blogcritics.
Friday, August 27, 2010
Written by General Jabbo
The year was 1965 and Frank Sinatra was soon to be 50 years old. While that may not seem old for an entertainer now, it was then, and Sinatra was facing a midlife crisis of sorts. Not that he wasn't having success — he still had plenty of that from live performances, album sales and from being part owner of Reprise Records — but his age allowed him to look back on his career, which he was already 30 years into. Not wanting to be passed up by the likes of the Beatles and the Beach Boys, Sinatra decided to collaborate with Gordon Jenkins on a new project that reflected this mature outlook. The resulting album, September of My Years, is a look at days and loves past that remains hopeful for the future. It ranks among Sinatra's best.
The album boasts at least two classics — the title track, written by longtime Sinatra songwriters Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen in which Sinatra wonders where the time has gone; and "It Was a Very Good Year," a former Kingston Trio pop tune reworked by Jenkins into arguably Sinatra's greatest introspective song, its lyrics believable because Sinatra lived the song. It's not a stretch to imagine Sinatra as "vintage wine from fine old kegs."
On "Hello, Young Lovers" Sinatra pleads with a young couple not to feel sorry for him because he is alone, but rather to enjoy the love they have now, to be in the moment as he once was. He is not bitter, but instead remembering his youth. "September Song," which featured only a few years before on his final Capitol album Point of No Return, tackles the same subject matter, but from a darker place. He realizes time has passed him by and he relishes the days he has left. "It Gets Lonely Early" finds Sinatra depressed at a lack of companionship, but relishing the time when he had a family and children at home. Life imitates art in this song as Sinatra himself was living alone during this period.
The newly remastered CD features two bonus tracks — a live version of "This is All I Ask" from 1984 and the original single version of "How Old Am I?" — and extended liner notes from original liner note writer Stan Cornyn. September of My Years won multiple Grammy awards, including Album of the Year and Best Vocal Performance, Male for "It Was a Very Good Year."
In terms of Sinatra's career, the album's title is misleading as Sinatra was still performing 30 years after its release. Still, even Sinatra likely wouldn't have predicted he'd still be performing at 80. For fans of Sinatra's concept albums and of his ballad albums, it doesn't get much better than September of My Years.
Article first published as Music Review: Frank Sinatra - September of My Years on Blogcritics.
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Written by General Jabbo
It would be difficult at best to document the career of Elvis Presley in 102 minutes, but This is Elvis does a reasonable job of doing just that. The film chronicles Elvis' life from his humble beginnings in Tupelo, MS, his rise to the top, his fall from grace, and his tragic death at the age of 42.
The movie begins with a reenactment of the events the day of Presley's death and begins its flashback, using reenactments mixed with actual footage of Presley to great effect. The movie is narrated by Ral Donner as Elvis from beyond the grave and pulls no punches, dealing with racism he encountered from his music being "too black" to parents feeling threatened by him to his extensive drug use and cry for help during the 1970s.
Along the way, we are treated with archival footage of Presley from 1956 on the Dorsey Brothers and Milton Berle shows to his appearance with Frank Sinatra after getting out of the army to a sad performance from 1977 of "Are You Lonesome Tonight?," where an overweight, sweating Presley forgets the words to the song. It is a sad sight to see for such a brilliant performer. Along those lines, there's also interview footage with former bodyguards Sonny West and Dave Hebler, whose book, Elvis: What Happened? was the first tell-all book about Presley's drug use, infidelities, and other things the Colonel tried to keep from the public's eye.
It's not all negative though, the film shows plenty of highlights, including home movies from his wedding, his return to the concert stage, and his triumphant Aloha From Hawaii TV broadcast. Part of the Elvis: 75th Anniversary DVD Collection, This is Elvis attempts to paint of balanced picture of a brilliant performer who was human and had flaws like anyone else. And in this sense, it largely succeeds. This is a single-disc version that features the theatrical cut and a featurette "Behind the Gates of Graceland."
Article first published as DVD Review: This Is Elvis on Blogcritics.
Written by General Jabbo
The Trouble With Girls was Elvis Presley’s penultimate film of the 1960s. Based on the novel Chautauqua by Day Keene and Dwight Vincent, the film is oddly titled and conjures up images of mid-1960s Elvis movies films with girls in bikinis. Nothing could be further from the truth here.
Presley stars as Chautauqua manager Walter Hale, who has traveled to small town Iowa 1927 for the Chautauqua fair. During the fair, he tries to prevent his pianist Charlene (Marlyn Mason) from organizing the Chautauqua employees into a union. Hale also learns firsthand about nepotism, as the local mayor puts pressure on his company to have his daughter be the lead in their play over the current lead, who is much more talented.
During the fair, sleazy local druggist Harrison Wilby (Dabney Coleman) is murdered. Charlene had earlier overheard him being abusive to his worker, Nita Bix (Sheree North) in his store. Initially, one of the Chautauqua members is accused of the murder, but Hale learns that it is not his employee, but rather Wilby's employee, Bix who committed the crime. With the murder hanging over the Chautauqua, Hale gets Bix to agree to a live confession in front of a paying audience. Charlene is mortified by the idea of exploiting Bix, but Hale feels it is the only way she'd get a fair trial in the town.
Part of the Elvis: 75th Anniversary DVD Collection, The Trouble With Girls features very little singing and what is included fits the theme of the movie, such as when Hale sings "Swing Down Sweet Chariot" when their gospel singer is unavailable. Elvis fans should be on the lookout for uncredited appearances by Joe Esposito and Jerry Schilling while Brady Bunch fans should watch for a not-yet Cindy Brady Susan Olsen as one of the auditioning singers. Vincent Price makes a short, but fun cameo as Mr. Morality while Joyce Van Patten takes a weird turn as a swimmer during the Chautauqua.
As a period piece, The Trouble with Girls provides an interesting look at 1920s Iowa. Presley gets less screen time than usual, almost as a costar in his own movie, but the role is different for him and shows what might have been.
Article first published as DVD Review: The Trouble with Girls on Blogcritics.
Written by General Jabbo
Continuing the more serious theme of his recent films, Charro! is notable in that it is the only Elvis Presley film in which he doesn't sing, with his only vocal coming in the form of the title song, played over the opening credits. Set in the Old West, Presley stars as Jess Wade, a man framed for stealing a cannon from the Mexican army by Vince Hackett (Victor French). Wade was once a member of Hackett's gang, but he left that lifestyle behind, taking Hackett's girl Tracey Winters (Ina Balin) with him in the process.
Hackett vows revenge for this act and makes up wanted posters, saying Wade is the only identifiable member of the gang who stole the cannon as he has a scar on his neck (which was placed there because Hackett had him branded). In actuality though, it is Hackett and his men who have stolen the cannon and they intend to hold it for ransom.
Later, Hackett uses the cannon against the townspeople and threatens to destroy their city if his brother Billy Roy (Solomon Sturges), who is in prison for shooting Sheriff Ramsey (James Almanzar), is not released by sundown. A dying Ramsey tells Wade he can't give in to Hackett and release his brother as that would be letting Hackett win. Wade agrees, much to the dismay of Ramsey's wife Sara (Barbara Werle) who does not want any more bloodshed. Wade vows to avenge Ramsey's death and bring the cannon's real thieves to justice, going after Hackett and his men.
Charro! is part of the Elvis: 75th Anniversary DVD Collection, and marks a more serious acting turn for Presley. Critically panned upon its release, the film has held up better than some of his others and is worth checking out for fans of spaghetti westerns in particular.
Article first published as DVD Review: Charro! on Blogcritics.
Monday, August 9, 2010
Written by General Jabbo
Elvis Presley was riding a major wave of success in 1970. Free of his movie obligations of the 1960s, Presley had delivered the '68 Comeback Special and subsequent return to live performances in 1969. He had also released his strongest album in years with From Elvis in Memphis and had what would be his last number-one single in the U.S. with "Suspicious Minds." It was good to be the King and the time was ripe for a documentary of this rebirth. Filmed over several shows in August 1970, Elvis: That's The Way It Is - Special Edition is a brilliant snapshot of this period.
The film starts with Presley and his band in rehearsals listening to recordings of their performances. Presley directs the band on how he wants the arrangements to sound and they run through hot versions of "That's All Right" and a medley of "Little Sister" and "Get Back" with Presley on guitar. Presley is in his physical and vocal peak and his focus is in sharp contrast with some of his distant film performances just a few short years earlier.
Presley then works on vocal arrangements with his backing singers. Presley was not a songwriter in the traditional sense, but he understood music and what he wanted to hear from his band at all times. After reading some telegrams, including a joking one from Tom Jones hoping he'd break both legs, Presley gets ready to take the stage.
Opening with "That's All Right," Presley whips the crowd into a frenzy with a run of classic 1950s hits including "I Got a Woman" and "Hound Dog" and he goes into the crowd during an extended "Love Me Tender."
It's not all nostalgia however as Presley delivers then recent hits "In the Ghetto" and "Just Pretend" and definitive versions of "Polk Salad Annie" and "Suspicious Minds." The King had regained his crown, singing as if his career depended on it in a relentless performance.
Part of the Elvis: 75th Anniversary DVD Collection, this is the one-disc version of this show. The two-disc special edition includes the original theatrical cut, which includes more fan interviews. This version focuses mostly on Elvis. The DVD also includes the featurette Patch it Up: The Restoration of Elvis: That's The Way It Is, career highlights and the theatrical trailer. This is a must-own for fans of Presley and an excellent reminder of why he was the King.
Article first published as Music DVD Review: Elvis: That's The Way It Is - Special Edition on Blogcritics.
Written by General Jabbo
Live a Little, Love a Little, finds Elvis Presley in a more "adult" role, moving away from the tired formula used in so many of his '60s films. He stars as Greg Nolan, a photographer who meets a rich socialite on the beach named Bernice (Michelle Carey). She introduces herself to him as Alice though. She asks if he is married and then throws herself at him. He resists her advances and her dog Albert, a giant Great Dane, chases him into the ocean.
Nolan goes back to her home to change and dry off. A delivery boy comes to her house, calling her Suzie. Bernice says Nolan is burning up and gives him a pill, which knocks him out for several days, possibly weeks. Upon waking up, Nolan leaves, only to find that he has lost his job and his apartment due to his time away. Nolan returns to see Bernice and find out what has happened and she mentions that her husband Harry died from affliction of the liver, but then changes her story to whooping cough. Harry (Dick Sargent) shows up at her home, calling her Bernice. Nolan assumes this was her husband, who is clearly not dead, but Harry informs him he also wasn't her husband either. Bernice says she has different names for different moods. The three have dinner, where Harry, in a nod to his TV show, suggests Nolan should get a job in an advertising agency. Later in private, Harry tells Nolan that Bernice is scared of life, love, and of being alone. He also tells Nolan to "run for the hills." Nolan goes to sleep in Albert's room, only to imagine Albert is talking to him and pushing him into an abyss where Nolan sings "Edge of Reality." The scene has a trippy, psychedelic feel to it and is a rare moment of relevancy in a late 1960s Elvis movie.
Bernice feels guilty about what has happened to Nolan and buys him a new apartment, but it is expensive and he has to take two jobs to pay for it — one at a Playboy-style magazine called Classic Cat and the other for a much more conservative fashion magazine. Mike Lansdown (Don Porter) is the Hugh Hefner-esque publisher of Classic Cat who, after seeing some of the more risqué photos in Nolan's portfolio, offers him a job. Lansdown is very casual though, insisting Nolan not wear a tie as it "cuts off the circulation," while Penlow (Rudy Vallee) prefers the sharp dressed man. This leads to some amusing scenes of Presley changing in the stairwell as both jobs were in the same building. Later, Penlow catches Nolan shooting photographs for his rival, Lansdown, and fires him immediately. Lansdown on the other hand, loves that he was able to pull off two jobs without anyone noticing and offers to double his salary. Keen viewers will recognize Presley's father Vernon as a model in one of the scenes.
Carey is great as the eccentric Bernice, placing a wooden divider on her bed so she and Nolan can sleep together and he can avoid her advances. He gives in eventually, throwing the divider out the window and she leaves him a note thanking him for making her a woman. Nolan goes to see Harry, thinking she may be with him and Harry says Nolan can't marry Bernice because she's asked Harry to take her back, something Bernice later denies. The movie ends as it began, only this time Nolan gets Albert to chase Bernice into the water, providing an interesting symmetry in the film.
Part of the Elvis: 75th Anniversary DVD Collection, Live a Little, Love a Little is now best known as the film that introduced "A Little Less Conversation," which became a hit three decades later. It also was a much more adult feature than Presley had been making up until that point, with the occasional cursing, drug use and implied sex scenes. This was not Harum Scarum and could have pointed the direction of better things to come had Presley stayed in Hollywood.
Article first published as DVD Review: Live a Little, Love a Little on Blogcritics.
Sunday, August 8, 2010
Written by General Jabbo
In an attempt to possibly recreate the success of Viva Las Vegas, Elvis Presley stars as a racecar driver with a dynamic leading lady in Speedway. Presley is Steve Grayson, a playboy racecar driver who finds he is $145,000 in debt with the IRS due to mistakes and shady claims on his return made by his manager Kenny Donford (Bill Bixby).
Susan Jacks (Nancy Sinatra, in what would be her final movie role) shows up at Grayson's trailer and he mistakes her for a fan. In actuality, she is working for the IRS who is about to audit him. Grayson learns that Donford has a gambling problem that has led the government to repossess not only gifts Grayson had bought for his friends, but Grayson's personal belongings as well. As a result, the pair is put on an allowance — a paltry $100 per week for Grayson and $50 per week for Donford — until they are able to repay their debts.
Grayson goes about wooing Jacks and he manages to get her to convince her boss at the IRS, R.W. Hepworth (Gale Gordon) to let him keep some of his earnings to pay off the innocent people who have had their lives ruined by Donford's gambling. Whether or not this could actually happen in real life is a matter of opinion, but hey, it's an Elvis film, so it's OK.
While not as good as Viva Las Vegas, Speedway does have its good points as well. NASCAR fans will enjoy the cameos by real-life drivers Richard Petty, Buddy Baker and Cale Yarborough while Bill Bixby is great in his comic role of the likable, yet sleazy manager. There are a few good moments on the soundtrack too; most notably Presley's "Let Yourself Go" and Sinatra's "Your Groovy Self." Sinatra's track has the distinction of being the only song without Elvis on one of his soundtrack albums. Part of the Elvis: 75th Anniversary DVD Collection, Speedway would be the last of the typical Elvis movies, with subsequent releases featuring more serious plots and less songs. Speedway is worth a look for fans of racing, Elvis Presley, and Nancy Sinatra.
Article first published as DVD Review: Speedway (1968) on Blogcritics.
Written by General Jabbo
Elvis Presley plays Native American bull rider Joe Lightcloud, who convinces his congressman to give his father 20 heifers and a quality bull to raise on their reservation in Stay Away, Joe. If Lightcloud's family is successful, then the government will help their tribe financially. Joe asks where his sister Mary (Susan Trustman) is and his grandfather (Thomas Gomez) replies "she's city folk now." The Grandpa character is very stereotypical, even for 1968, as he warns of squaws and relies on smoke signals. While he has some comical moments, he is mostly over the top.
During a wild party celebrating Lightcloud's return, his family, in their drunken haze, mistakenly cooks and eats the prize bull given to them by the government. Lightcloud is unworried at this point, having his friend Bronc Hoverty (L.Q. Jones) get a new bull for him, instructing him to make sure the bull is Blue Ribbon. The bull arrives the next day and spends most of his time sleeping, taking no interest in the heifers. At the same time, Joe's father Charlie (Burgess Meredith) has been selling off the heifers to pay for improvements his wife wants made to their home. Meredith's character is an odd sight for sure, with his dark makeup and strange behavior.
The government gets word of what has happened to the heard and is not pleased. Lightcloud finds out that the bull was indeed Blue Ribbon, but as a riding bull — not as a stud. The bull's previous owner boasted that no one had ever successfully rode him and Lightcloud has an idea to stage a rodeo to raise money to replace the cattle and save the reservation. Lightcloud had previously been raising money by selling parts of his car to a junkyard until nothing was left. It is this strange sense of comedy that occurs throughout the movie.
Part of the Elvis: 75th Anniversary DVD Collection, Stay Away, Joe is a mostly forgettable film portraying Native Americans as sex-crazed drunks with odd performances from Meredith and Gomez. For his part, Presley seems to be enjoying himself, it's just a shame the material isn't stronger. The film is based on the best-selling novel of the same name and while it follows the plot closely, something seemingly got lost in translation.
Article first published as DVD Review: Stay Away, Joe on Blogcritics.
Written by General Jabbo
In Double Trouble, Elvis Presley stars as Guy Lambert — an American singer on tour in England — something the real Presley wanted to do, but was unable to throughout his career thanks to legal issues with the Colonel. In fact, Presley only played a handful of shows outside the U.S. and they were all in Canada.
While performing at a club, Lambert meets Claire Dunham (Yvonne Romain) who is following him, saying she's been at every show since he opened. She knows of his apparent girlfriend, but throws herself at him regardless. Lambert manages to resist Dunham's advances, but not Dunham herself as she shows up throughout the film. He also meets Jill Conway (Annette Day), a pretty redhead who goes home with Lambert, but resists his advances because, unbeknownst to Lambert, she is still a few days away from 18. While there, she cooks for him and wants him to sing. He goes to her turntable and, naturally, she has an instrumental version of one of his records that he sings to, during which she falls asleep. During this time, one of the first of several suspicious acts occurs as a thug comes to the door by mistake and punches Lambert out.
Conway's uncle Gerald Waverly (John Williams) calls and when Jill mentions Lambert, Waverly wants to meet. Conway wants to marry Lambert, but Waverly is reluctant to allow her as he has been dipping into her inheritance. Conway had not only not told Lambert about the money, she had not told him she was for days away from 18. Not wanting to go to jail, Lambert distances himself from Conway. Her uncle then decides to send Conway to school in Belgium, which she readily agrees to after remembering Lambert had mentioned in passing he would be playing there.
Conway and Lambert end up on the same ship and it is there that Conway learns she only has to be 18 to get married in Sweden, where she tries to encourage Lambert to take her. During this time, a pair of thieves takes Lambert's suitcase so they can smuggle some diamonds into the country. Lambert notices that he’s had to save Conway twice and that someone tried to run him over and Conway explains everything. The pair goes on the run trying to save their lives and let Conway make it to age 18 to protect her inheritance.
Part of the Elvis: 75th Anniversary DVD Collection, Double Trouble shows just how far out of touch musically Presley's people had become as there is a scene where he sings "Old MacDonald" on the back of a truck. This was while the Beatles were releasing Sgt. Pepper and Jimi Hendrix had Are You Experienced? Presley clearly deserved better than this. That said, the movie itself isn't terrible, has some clever plot twists and amusing cameos from a talking parrot and the Wiere Brothers as bumbling cops.
Article first published as DVD Review: Double Trouble (1967) on Blogcritics.
Written by General Jabbo
In Spinout, Elvis Presley plays a singing racecar driver named Mike McCoy. While this isn't much different than the typical 60's Elvis movie fare, the film is more fun and Presley seems to be enjoying himself. As the movie begins, McCoy takes his racecar out for a spin only to get run off the road by a crazed fan. Undeterred, he makes it to his gig on time where his band performs "Adam and Evil" and "Stop Look and Listen." These songs, along with the title track, "All That I Am" and "I'll Be Back" formed the basis of one of Presley's strongest soundtracks in sometime and his enthusiasm for the songs comes out in the performances.
While at the club, he meets author Diana St. Clair (Diane McBain) who wants him to be the subject of her book about the perfect American male. She wants to marry him and won't take no for an answer. McCoy then meets Howard Foxhugh (Carl Betz), a rich automobile executive who offers McCoy and his band $5,000 to sing one song at his daughter's birthday party. McCoy refuses the offer though, telling him to have her catch them at the clubs and Foxhugh uses his political influence to get the band's tour canceled. McCoy has no other choice but to play the party and he soon learns that Foxhugh's daughter Cynthia (Shelley Fabares) is the same fan who ran him off the road to get his attention. Cynthia is a spoiled rich girl who is used to getting what she wants or having daddy pay for it if necessary and this time she wants to marry McCoy. Foxhugh does not want Cynthia to marry McCoy though, but he does want him to drive his new racecar, the Foxhugh Five. Sensing a way to get close to McCoy, Cynthia offers to help get him to driver her father's car.
McCoy test drives Foxhugh's car and seems interested until Foxhugh informs him he is not to marry his daughter. McCoy refuses to drive for him saying if he's not good enough for her, he's not good enough for him and vows to beat his driver in the race. During this time, McCoy's drummer Les (Deborah Walley) also reveals her crush on McCoy. He had been oblivious to her advances even though she was always cooking for him and getting mad when other women chased after him. In a running joke throughout the film, everyone keeps mistaking Les for a boy because of her name and her short hair. Walley delivers a fun performance and looks convincing enough on the drums.
Three women, all with marriage on their mind are seemingly after McCoy. Who does he pick? The ending may surprise you. Part of the Elvis: 75th Anniversary DVD Collection, Spinout features a more-focused Presley, better songs a fun script and a fun cast. After some forgettable films, Spinout is a winner.
Article first published as DVD Review: Spinout on Blogcritics.
Written by General Jabbo
While many Elvis Presley supporters claim he could have been a fine actor, given the right material, his detractors point to films such as Harum Scarum as their proof otherwise. Presley had hoped for a Rudolph Valentino-style role, but instead got something much different (and much worse). Presley stars as Johnny Tyronne, an American action movie star (and singer, of course) who is in the Middle East to promote his new film Sands of the Desert.
After singing "Harem Holiday" and "Go East Young Man" for a group of dignitaries, Prince Dragna (Michael Ansara) and his lady Aishah (Fran Jeffries) invite Tyronne to be a guest of Dragna's brother, King Toranshah (Phillip Reed). After seeing Tyronne karate chop a cheetah in one of his films (It's an Elvis movie, why wouldn't he be able to do that?), they are convinced he is the right man to kill the king. They drug Tyronne and take him to see Sinan, lord of the assassins, who asks Tyronne if he carries death in his hands. Tyronne tells him his skills are used for self-defense and Sinan sends his goons after Tyronne.
While in captivity, Tyronne meets Princess Shalimar (Mary Ann Mobley) who is posing as a slave girl, when in reality, she is Toranshah's daughter and therefore royalty. Shalimar gets wind that Sinan has returned and, sensing her father is in danger, helps Tyronne thwart the plot to assassinate him.
Presley looks bored out his mind throughout the proceedings and likely was. He was frustrated at the lack of good roles and music for his films and was going through the motions. The film is filled with ridiculous clichés such as a child with three mothers named Sapphire, Emerald, and Amethyst, and forgettable songs. Reportedly, even the Colonel was embarrassed and wanted to add a talking camel as narrator as a way of acknowledging the film's cheesiness. For completists only, Harum Scarum is also part of the Elvis: 75th Anniversary DVD Collection.
Article first published as DVD Review: Harum Scarum on Blogcritics.
Written by General Jabbo
Elvis Presley stars as Lonnie Beale, a singing rodeo rider looking for work. After singing "It Feels So Right" from 1960's classic Elvis is Back! and getting into a fight with a jealous husband, Beale meets Vera Radford (Julie Adams), owner of the Circle Z Ranch — an all-girls spa and ranch where women spend $500 per week to essentially be reconditioned into hotties (hey, it is an Elvis movie!). Radford offers Beale a job tending to the horses on the ranch, which Beale accepts.
While at the ranch, he meets and falls for fitness instructor Pam Merritt (Jocelyn Lane) who has a letter from her grandfather saying he left her a large sum of gold coins in an old ghost town with directions on how to find the treasure. Merritt is subject to numerous kidnap attempts as word has gotten out about the letter. The staff at the ranch complains about Beale, saying he is distracting the women, as they are all, of course, attracted to him and especially like his singing. Radford calls Beale into her office, telling him he needed to pick his spots to sing before forcing herself on Beale. Beale tries to resist, as he is interested in Merritt, but after she catches him kissing Radford, she leaves in a huff, refusing to believe Beale's explanation that it was not as it seemed.
Merritt drives into the ghost town to look for the treasure and Beale follows her there with fellow ranch employee Stanley Potter (Jack Mullaney). Beale and Merritt wonder what an abandoned saloon must have been like in its heyday and we are treated to a fun flashback scene, where Beale is the Panhandle Kid — a milk-drinking gun slinger fast enough to shoot a man's gun out of his hand, but courteous enough to offer a bandage to stop the bleeding. It is a surreal scene in a surreal movie and it only gets weirder from here.
The trio spends the night in an old wax museum and Tickle Me suddenly becomes an episode of Scooby Doo, as the museum is seemingly haunted and men dressed as monsters come after Merritt. A comical moment in the film comes when Potter is punched through an opening in the wall that Beale is unable to find when he looks for it. Meanwhile, Potter tries to convince Beale that he is not seeing things. The rest of the film finds Beale, Merritt and Potter trying to find the treasure before the kidnappers find it (and them) first.
Tickle Me did not have any new songs commissioned for it due to budgetary constraints. As a result, Presley sang old (read: better) songs in the film, including: "Such An Easy Question," "Dirty, Dirty Feeling" and "Night Rider," making for a vastly superior soundtrack than most of his 1960s films. These songs, along with a quirky script, make for an entertaining, if bizarre film.
Article first published as DVD Review: Tickle Me on Blogcritics.
Friday, August 6, 2010
Written by General Jabbo
Elvis Presley cashes in on the beach-movie craze of the 1960s with Girl Happy. Presley stars as Rusty Wells, a Chicago nightclub singer who is planning on going to Fort Lauderdale with his band on spring break as their engagement at the bar had ended. Seeing their popularity, and not wanting to lose out on any money while they are gone, the bar’s owner Big Frank (Harold J. Stone) wants to extend their stay for four to six weeks. The band balks at the idea, but when Big Frank’s daughter Valerie (Shelley Fabares) decides she wants to go to spring break with her girlfriends, Big Frank changes his tune, offering to pay the band to go down to Florida to keep an eye on her.
Wells and his band arrive in Florida, performing “Spring Fever” to a group of college students, many of who are in lettered college sweaters (even though it is in Florida and presumably warm there). They spot Valerie and after seeing how attractive she is, realize the problems they will have guarding her from eager men. Wells meets Deena (Mary Ann Mobley), who immediately falls for him, but her attempts at intimacy with him keep getting thwarted when he has to leave to keep Valerie out of harm’s way. Along the way, Wells realizes he is falling for Valerie and tells his band that they can enjoy their spring break and he’ll watch her solo. They have no knowledge of his feelings for Valerie and feel guilty for him, trying to get him back together with Deena. This makes for an amusing scene where he has both women in his room and tries to keep them from seeing each other.
Valerie tells her father on the phone that she is falling for Wells and he laughs, saying Wells is only being nice because he paid him to be. Valerie vows revenge and goes on a wild partying spree to make Wells earn his money. Valerie later lets it slip that Wells kissed her and her father says he didn’t pay him to do that and offers to try and make things right between them.
Part of the Elvis: 75th Anniversary DVD Collection, Girl Happy is thin on plot, but lighthearted and entertaining. Fabares, in her first of three Presley movies, is cute and charming as good girl Valerie and the soundtrack has a few good songs, most notably the title track and “Puppet on a String.” Presley and Fabares have some chemistry together and the movie is breezy fun.
Article first published as DVD Review: Girl Happy on Blogcritics.
Written by General Jabbo
Elvis Presley made some forgettable movies, but he also made a few that have become classics. Viva Las Vegas is among the latter and is often cited as one of Presley’s best films. Presley stars as Lucky Jackson, a racecar driver headed to Las Vegas to participate in the city’s first annual Grand Prix.
Jackson needs a new engine for his car if he wants to race though and sets about raising the money while in Las Vegas. He does get the money, but manages to lose it all when it falls prey to the hotel’s swimming pool. It is here that he meets Rusty Martin (Ann Margret), the hotel’s swim instructor who immediately strikes his fancy. Martin plays hard to get and duets with Jackson on “The Lady Loves Me,” pushing Jackson into the pool. He eventually wins her over and the pair becomes inseparable, going skeet shooting, riding mopeds and taking a helicopter trip to see the Hoover Dam with Martin serving as tour guide. Martin takes Jackson to meet her father who, unbeknownst to Rusty, secretly likes racing. The chemistry between Margret and Presley is obvious, sparking rumors of an off-screen affair and for one of the few times in his movie career, Presley had a female lead who could give him a run for his money.
While at the hotel, Jackson meets Italian racecar driver, Count Elmo Mancini (Cesare Danova), who wants Jackson to drive for him. Jackson refuses Mancini’s offer though, vowing to get an engine and beat the driver in the race. Mancini tells Martin of a famous driver who crashed during one of his races and this makes Martin scared for Jackson’s safety. Jackson doesn’t want to give up racing though, upsetting her, while Mancini vows he’d give up racing for the right woman (e.g. Martin). Martin has dinner with Mancini to make Jackson jealous, only to have Jackson show up as their bumbling waiter, spilling champagne on Mancini. Later, in one of the film’s highlights, Martin sings “My Rival,” with the rival being Jackson’s racecar.
Jackson goes to work for Mancini to raise money when Martin’s father shows up, along with a new engine. Jackson rushes to get the car ready so he can win the race and Martin’s heart.
The DVD includes a commentary by Elvis in Hollywood director Steve Pond, a retrospective featurette and Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound as well as the original mono. This DVD is also part of the Elvis: 75th Anniversary DVD Collection.
The theme song to Viva Las Vegas has become not only one of Presley’s best-loved songs, but also an unofficial theme song for the city itself. There are a number of other musical highlights, including “What’d I Say,” “Come On Everybody,” and Margret’s “Appreciation.” For fans of Presley, Margret, and Sin City, Viva Las Vegas comes up a winner.
Article first published as DVD Review: Viva Las Vegas - Deluxe Edition on Blogcritics.
Written by General Jabbo
Elvis Presley expands his acting horizons, playing two roles in the low-budget comedy Kissin’ Cousins. Presley stars as Army second lieutenant Josh Morgan and his “hillbilly” cousin, Jodie Tatum, sporting blonde hair for the latter. When Army captain Salbo (Jack Albertson) complains to General Donford that he wants a Pentagon tour of duty, as he hasn’t seen his wife in ages, Donford tells him if he can complete Operation Smoky in three days, he’ll grant him his wish, but if he doesn’t, he’ll be shipped off to Greenland with Morgan. Operation Smoky involved convincing the Tatums to let the government build a missile base on top of their mountain and Morgan gets the job of convincing his family to allow it.
Morgan’s arrival does not go well as he gets into a fight with Jodie and Pappy Tatum (Arthur O’Connell) fires his shotgun when the Army soldiers arrive. We are also introduced to the “Kittyhawks,” wild mountain women in search of men with only one thing on their minds. Morgan has dinner with the Tatums and their daughter Azalea (Yvonne Craig) flirts with him. Morgan tries to explain the concept of ICBM missiles to Pappy who just doesn’t get it, saying “how can everybody see it but me?”
A local newspaper reporter gets a tip about the Army’s attempts at building a base and goes to investigate, getting a photo of Morgan in his jeep with the headline, “Anyone for missiles?” much to the captain’s dismay. In the meantime, General Donford shows up with his men to try and get the deal done, only to be forced to drink moonshine, eat possum tails and fall prey to the “Kittyhawks.” Morgan has fallen for Azalea by this point, while Jodie (who looks and sings remarkably like Morgan) has fallen for Army stenographer Midge (Cynthia Pepper).
Part of the Elvis: 75th Anniversary DVD Collection, Kissin’ Cousins features some themes that would be much less likely today, such as cousins falling for each other (distant or not) and a very stereotypical portrayal of southerners as rednecks or hillbillies. That said, the movie has a fun, innocent feel to it (Azalea dolls herself up by painting her toenails, even though the bottoms of her feet are dirty for instance) and some fun songs, including the title track, “Echoes of Love” and “Once is Enough.” Not the best Presley film, but far from the worst and one of the more charming.
Article first published as DVD Review: Kissin' Cousins on Blogcritics.
Thursday, August 5, 2010
Written by General Jabbo
The Century 21 Exposition, also known as the 1962 World’s Fair is the setting for Elvis Presley’s 1963 film, It Happened at the World’s Fair. Presley stars as Mike Edwards, a crop duster whose partner Danny Burke’s (a pre-2001: A Space Odyssey Gary Lockwood) gambling habits causes the pair nothing but trouble. While Edwards doesn’t trust Burke with the money they have earned and keeps it locked in a safe, unbeknownst to him, Burke has a key and takes the money to go gambling. Meanwhile, Edwards finds time for skirt chasing, singing, “Relax” to a sultry Yvonne Craig, who resists his advances long enough for her parents to return home and her dad to threaten to shoot him. This is standard '60s Elvis movie fair, but Presley’s chemistry with the not-yet Batgirl is undeniable. This would not be her only Presley film.
Burke’s gambling turns dangerous when the group he is playing cards with realize he has stiffed them out of a lot of money. Luckily for him, Edwards shows up to rescue him (and get into the prerequisite Elvis movie fight). The pair flies back home, only to have their plane repossessed by an angry sheriff looking to collect on $1,200 that Danny owes. Not knowing what to do, the pair goes hitchhiking.
Along the way, they run into Walter Ling (Kam Tong) and his young niece, Sue-Lin (Vicky Tiu), who are headed to the World’s Fair. Ling agrees to take them as far as the Fair and the pair boards his truck. It’s not long before Sue-Lin produces a ukulele that needs repair, which Edwards happily does before singing “Take Me To The Fair.” In different hands this scene would be corny, but Presley and Tiu’s enthusiasm make it a fun scene and a highlight of the film.
When they get to the Fair, Ling is unable to accompany Sue-Lin and Edwards agrees to take her in his place. At the same time, Burke goes looking for a friend, Vince Bradley (H.M. Wynant), whom he thinks can help them with their financial woes. Edwards takes a liking to Sue-Lin and spoils her rotten, letting her eat everything in site. Naturally, she gets sick and has to see nurse Diane Warren (Joan O’Brien), who Edwards is immediately attracted to. She resists his advances and Edwards pays a young boy (an uncredited Kurt Russell) to kick him in the shin so she’ll have to see him. As Edwards begins to win Warren over, the pair run into Russell’s character again, who throws Edwards under the bus, asking if he wants to be kicked in the shin again. Warren is furious and wants nothing to do with Edwards after this.
Burke later wants Edwards to help him do a cargo run to Canada for Bradley, but has to figure out a way to get rid of Sue-Lin, who Edwards had been protecting since her uncle had gone missing. He arranges for a woman to call child services, posing as Warren and Sue-Lin is taken away. Heartbroken, Sue-Lin manages to run away with Edwards staying behind to search for her while Warren tries to prove it was not she who made the call.
Presley had not become completely jaded with Hollywood yet when this picture was filmed and as such, delivers a more focused performance. The World’s Fair footage makes for an interesting time capsule while the music is better than some of the later Presley films, making It Happened at the World’s Fair one of the more enjoyable Presley pictures.
This DVD is also part of the Elvis 75th Anniversary DVD Collection.
Article first published as DVD Review: It Happened at the World's Fair on Blogcritics.
Written by General Jabbo
Jailhouse Rock, Elvis Presley’s third movie — and first for MGM — is widely considered to be one of his best. Certainly the dance sequence set to the title song is one of the most iconic moments of not only Presley’s career, but for musicals in general.
Presley stars as Vince Everett, a hothead who ends up in prison after accidentally killing a man in a fight. His cellmate is Hunk Houghton (Mickey Shaughnessy) a former country singer who robbed a bank when his bookings dried up. Houghton runs the show, bribing other prisoners and even guards with packs of cigarettes to get preferential treatment, something Everett learns the hard way when he gets a terrible haircut that Houghton could have bought his way out of.
When the prisoners get rowdy, Houghton plays a country song on his guitar to settle them down. It is here that Everett learns Houghton used to be a country singer. Everett is intrigued by the idea of making money singing and proceeds to play “Young and Beautiful” to great response in the jail. Sensing his talent, Houghton convinces Everett to sing in the televised prison talent show where Everett performs “I Want to be Free.” Everett starts getting fan mail in droves, which Houghton hides from him because he wants to ride Everett’s coattails on a tour when they both get out of prison. Everett agrees to split everything with Houghton 50/50. After a prison fight breaks out, Everett is whipped as his punishment. Houghton laments he didn’t have enough cigarettes to buy his way out of it, something not lost on Everett when he gets out. Before Everett’s release, Houghton refers him to Sam Brewster, a man who he says can help find him gigs singing. The warden hands Everett a large bag of all his fan mail when he leaves and Everett learns they had been holding his mail back.
Everett goes to see Brewster at his club and he offers him a job — as a busboy.
Everett decides to sing anyhow and bombs miserably, attempting to smash his guitar over a mocking patron’s head. In spite of this, he captures the attention of record executive Peggy Van Alden (Judy Tyler) who encourages him to make a recording so he could practice and get better. Van Alden says he needs to sing with more passion. Van Alden is a shady character herself, working in payola with her other artists, most notably Mickey Alba.
Everett records “Don’t Leave Me Now” and Van Alden shops it around, finally selling it to a new label, but when she and Everett go to the store to buy copies, they find out that Everett’s arrangement had been stolen by Mickey Alba as the label wanted a proven star. Not willing to give up, Everett decides to form his own label with Van Alden distributing the records. Everett’s new song, “Treat Me Nice,” is a big hit and Everett is on his way.
In his lust for fame though though, Everett forgets the people who helped get him there. When Houghton is freed from jail, Everett reluctantly agrees to let his old-style country number into his TV appearance — the same one that features the dynamic “Jailhouse Rock” dance number. Houghton’s song gets cut and he reminds Everett of the contract while Everett reminds him of the mail scam. They compromise and Houghton becomes Everett’s paid flunky, forced to do such tasks as walking the dogs. When Everett treats Van Alden poorly though, it is all Houghton can take and he takes several swings at Everett. Not wanting to hurt the older Houghton, Everett doesn’t fight back; something Van Alden considers an act of love. Everett once again wins over her affections. Houghton had given Everett what he had coming to him and Shaughnessy delivers the scene convincingly. Likewise, Presley succeeds in making Everett a very unlikable character prior to his redemption.
This DVD is part of the Elvis: 75th Anniversary DVD Collection and was supposed to include a commentary by the director, a retrospective featurette, the theatrical trailer and soundtrack in both Dolby 5.1 stereo as well as the original mono. Instead, one may select the language or view the trailer. This is an obvious mistake on the part of Warner Brothers that will hopefully be corrected in later pressings.
Jailhouse Rock is different from most Presley films in that he plays the antihero. He was a killer; he curses and treats everyone with disdain, making the film edgy for its time and certainly among Presley films. When people say Presley had the potential to be a good actor, they point to films such as Jailhouse Rock as proof. Sadly, Presley was ever given much of a chance to prove himself with more serious material — especially post Army — and the world will never know Presley’s true acting potential.
Article first published as DVD Review: Jailhouse Rock - Deluxe Edition on Blogcritics.
Written by General Jabbo
Jerry Schilling first met Elvis Presley when Presley was a mere 19 years old and a mostly unknown singer. While Schilling was only 12 at the time, the two hit it off and formed a 23-year friendship that lasted until Presley’s death in 1977. During this period, Schilling traveled with Presley, lived with him, acted as a stunt double in Charro! and worked creatively with him on such projects as Elvis On Tour. Not wanting to be known just as an “Elvis man,” Schilling got into film editing and served as the Executive in Charge of Talent on the 10-hour The History Of Rock ‘n’ Roll documentary. He also got into management, serving as a tour manager for Billy Joel and as a personal manager for the likes of the Beach Boys and Jerry Lee Lewis. Suffice to say, Jerry Schilling has led a very interesting life.
I spoke with him about Elvis’ 75th birthday, the DVD/Blu-Ray release of Elvis On Tour that recently played in 460 theaters across the country and about Schilling’s life in music. This is what he had to say.
What was your role in the original version of Elvis on Tour?
I was on tour with Elvis and by the time we did Elvis On Tour, I had enough knowledge of film editing that (directors) Bob (Abel) and Pierre (Adidge) hired me. I worked with the producers for a year. I’m in the footage. I got to work with him (Presley) on a creative level, which was a great thing for him and for me. It’s one of the first movies after Woodstock with multi-panel images. It was a really great experience working with young filmmakers, Marty Scorsese (Scorsese supervised a montage sequence in the film) and the directors. It is the best insight on film into Elvis that there is.
Why was “Johnny B Goode” replaced in the opening sequence by Don’t Be Cruel?
It simply came down to the fact that nobody was able to get a hold of Chuck Berry or his representatives. It wasn’t the price — we were never given a price. Chuck Berry is a very smart man. He kept his publishing from the beginning.
Did you ever think when you first met Elvis that you’d still be talking about him in 2010? What was that meeting like?
I don’t think either of us did! I was a big fan of James Dean and Brando and Elvis had that sense about him that you wanted to know him.
Will you be involved in any of the "Elvis 75" celebrations?
On August 15, Elvis On Tour is gonna have a European premiere in Brussels, and I’ll be a guest speaker. He has worldwide appeal, not just America. I find the further away you get, the more intense are the fans.
What was a day in the life of Jerry Schilling like when you were working for Elvis?
I was friends with him for 23 years and I worked and lived and traveled with him for 10 years of that. There were times when you were really busy and then there was quiet time.
How did you get into managing Billy Joel and the Beach Boys?
Elvis had a promoter, Tommy Hewlett with Concerts West and I asked Tom if he could help me and he mentioned this lady in New York who asked a bunch of questions, basically to see if I’d have trouble working for a woman. I went out to Colorado to meet his band. He was recording the Turnstiles album. We were in Detroit opening for the Beach Boys and that’s how I met the Beach Boys tour manager. I was their manager for 10 years, from 76 to 86. After 82, it was co-managed. I worked out their deal at CBS records. I also managed Jerry Lee Lewis at this time.
Elvis On Tour is part of the Elvis 75th Anniversary DVD Collection.
Article first published as Interview: Jerry Schilling; Producer, Music Industry Professional, and Friend of Elvis on Blogcritics.
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
Written by General Jabbo
In 1972, Elvis Presley was still riding high from the commercial and critical rebirth that started with the ’68 Comeback Special and continued with his return to live performances the following year. His previous documentary, Elvis: That’s The Way It Is was a success, showing the King at the height of his physical and vocal ability. Hoping to recapture some of that magic, directors Robert Abel and Pierre Adidge followed Presley on his 15 cities in 15 nights 1972 tour, the results of which became Presley’s 33rd and final film, Elvis On Tour. Long out of print on VHS, it makes its DVD and Blu-ray debut with this release.
Not just a concert performance, Elvis On Tour gives a behind-the-scenes look at Presley’s tour with plenty of backstage moments. We see Presley just before he hits the stage, candid moments with the Memphis Mafia in his limousine, studio footage and footage of Presley and his band singing gospel songs on their off hours. A true highlight comes when Presley leads them through a rendition of “I, John.” Gospel music moved Presley and it shows in these scenes.
There are also a number of complete live performances, filmed in Hampton, VA; Greensboro, NC; and San Antonio, TX including the first-ever performance of Presley’s last U.S. top-10 hit, “Burning Love.” The song is so new that Presley reads the lyrics off a sheet of paper while he sings, but the performance is dynamic. Other highlights include a rocking “Polk Salad Annie,” powerful versions of “Bridge Over Troubled Water and “An American Trilogy” and a fine version of “Funny How Time Slips Away” that is made ever more poignant as Presley would be gone just five years later. Elvis On Tour also features a career-retrospective montage supervised by Martin Scorsese and the middle of “Love Me Tender” is intercut with love scenes from Presley’s movies.
Keen fans may notice the intro to the movie is different and that’s because Chuck Berry’s classic, “Johnny B. Goode” has been replaced by ‘Don’t be Cruel.” Seems Presley’s people could not get a hold of Berry’s people and they were unable to get the licensing for the song. As “Don’t be Cruel” is shorter, one section of the lyrics had to be repeated, making for a clumsy intro. Still, some movie is better than no movie. The DVD is also included as part of the Elvis: 75th Anniversary DVD Collection, while the Blu-ray is in the Blu-ray book format, featuring 40 pages of photos, quotes, biography, and set lists for the shows filmed.
While both discs feature remastered video and audio (The standard DVD has Dolby Digital 5.1 while the Blu-ray has DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround) the content is identical. The picture and the sound quality are fantastic, especially on the Blu-ray, but there are no extras included on either version. This will be disappointing news to Presley fans, many of who are aware a plethora of footage for these shows exists. There would have been plenty of room on either disc (the Blu-ray especially) to include commentary, cut scenes, behind the scenes footage or even the new 20 minutes of footage shot for the recent theatrical rerelease. Instead, all fans were treated to was a bare bones version of the film. The film itself is great — something any Presley fan would do well to have in his or her collection — but for such a big release, the presentation disappoints.
Article first published as DVD Review: Elvis on Tour on Blogcritics.
Written by General Jabbo
Counting the two concert documentaries, Elvis Presley appeared in 33 movies during his career. To celebrate what would have been the King’s 75th birthday, Warner Brothers has collected roughly half of these films in the largest collection of Elvis movies to date. Simply titled Elvis: 75th Anniversary DVD Collection, the box set features 14 Presley feature films and three documentaries, including: Jailhouse Rock; It Happened At The World’s Fair; Kissin’ Cousins; Viva Las Vegas; Girl Happy; Tickle Me; Harum Scarum; Spinout; Double Trouble; Stay Away, Joe; Speedway; Live A Little, Love A Little; Charro!; The Trouble With Girls; Elvis: That’s The Way It Is; Elvis On Tour; and This Is Elvis.
In Jailhouse Rock, Presley stars as Vince Everett, a man sentenced to prison for accidentally killing a man in a fight. While in prison, he learns about the music business from his cellmate Hunk Houghton (Mickey Shaughnessy), himself a former country singer. After Everett’s release from prison, he eventually becomes a recording and movie star. His lust for fame and money make him forget everyone who helped him along the way though. Jailhouse Rock features some of Presley’s best music, including the famous title song dance sequence and the DVD is supposed to include a commentary, featurette and Dolby Digital 5.1 stereo. None of these bonus features are included on the DVD however, an obvious mistake by Warner Brothers.
The Century 21 Exposition is the setting for It Happened At The World’s Fair. Presley stars as Mike Edwards, a crop duster whose partner Danny Burke’s (a pre-2001: A Space Odyssey Gary Lockwood) gambling problems lead the pair to go hitchhiking cross-country to find work to pay off their debts. They end up at the 1962 World’s Fair when a man and his niece Sue-Lin (Vicky Tiu) pick them up along the way. When Sue-Lin’s Uncle Walter (Kam Tong) is unable to take Sue-Lin to the fair, Edwards volunteers to do so while Burke offers to go look for his friend Vince Bradley (H.M. Wynant) to hit him up for money. After Sue-Lin eats too much, she gets sick and sees the nurse Diane Warren (Joan O’Brien), who Edwards immediately hits on. When she resists his advances, he pays an uncredited Kurt Russell to kick him in the shin so he is forced to see the nurse. A number of the characters turn on each other, but in typical Elvis movie style, everyone lives happily ever after. The movie even ends with the song “Happy Ending.” It Happened At The World’s Fair is still early enough in Presley’s film career that he is focused and into the film. Likewise, the soundtrack is a lot stronger than what was to come.
Presley plays dual roles in Kissin’ Cousins. The first is as Army second lieutenant Josh Morgan while the second is as his backwoods cousin, Jodie Tatum. Captain Salbo (Jack Albertson) complains to General Donford (Donald Woods) that he wants a Pentagon tour of duty so he can see his wife more often. Donford agrees, provided he complete Operation Smoky in three days, otherwise he will be shipped to Greenland and take Morgan with him. Operation Smoky involved convincing the Tatums to let the government build a missile base on top of their mountain, something Morgan gets tasked with doing. While there, he falls for his distant cousin Azalea (adorably played by Yvonne Craig) while his cousin Jodie (who looks and sings remarkably like Josh) falls for Army stenographer Midge (Cynthia Pepper). When Morgan is moving too slowly for Donford’s liking, the general shows up with a group of Army troops to try and get the deal settled, only to get forced to eat possum tails, drink moonshine and get assaulted by the “Kittyhawks” — a group of wild women who prey on unsuspecting men. Distant cousins or not, this theme likely wouldn’t fly today nor would the stereotypical portrayal of rednecks, but the film has an innocent (and very low budget) feel about it and is not meant to be taken seriously. The title track, “Echoes of Love” and “Once is Enough” are standouts from the fun, but nonessential soundtrack.
Presley’s focus returns in Viva Las Vegas — often cited as one of his best films. It helps that he had a dynamic costar in Ann-Margret and the chemistry between the two onscreen was such that it fueled rumors of an affair off-screen. Presley stars as Lucky Jackson, a racecar driver headed to Las Vegas to participate in the city’s first annual Grand Prix. An Italian driver, Count Elmo Mancini, decides he wants Jackson to drive for him, offering to give up racing so he could be with Rusty Martin (Ann-Margret). Jackson refuses his offer though. Mancini proceeds to tell Martin about another driver’s crash and she worries for Jackson’s safety and is upset when he doesn’t want to give up racing. Ann-Margret sings “My Rival” at this point and it marks one of the highlights of the film. In spite of the rushed ending, all of the scenes with Presley and Ann-Margret together are great, as is the majority of the soundtrack — save for the bizarre version of “The Yellow Rose of Texas” that Presley was forced to sing. The DVD includes a commentary by Elvis in Hollywood director Steve Pond, a retrospective featurette and Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound as well as the original mono.
In Girl Happy, Presley portrays Rusty Wells, a singer in a Chicago nightclub band that is about to leave for spring break in Fort Lauderdale to chase women until their boss, Big Frank (Harold J. Stone) extends their stay at the club. Big Frank changes his tune when he finds out his daughter Valerie (Shelley Fabares) is gong to Fort Lauderdale for spring break with some girlfriends. He hires Wells and his band to watch her and keep her out of trouble. Wells begins to fall for Valerie and offers to watch her on his own, relieving the band members of their duties. When Valerie tells her father she has fallen for Wells, he is shocked and says that he was only being nice to her because he had paid him. Valerie is crushed and decides to make Wells earn his money by going on wild drinking binges and partying. Fabares is fun and is arguably the highlight of the film. The movie is entertaining, but definitely light-hearted fair and thin on plot. The soundtrack features a couple good songs though, most notably the title track and “Puppet on a String.”
Presley once again plays a singer in Tickle Me starring as Lonnie Beale. He goes to work taking care of horses at an all-girls spa and ranch. The women there pay $500 per week to essentially be reconditioned into hotties — only in an Elvis film! While there, he meets and falls for fitness instructor Pam Merritt (Jocelyn Lane), who is the victim of several kidnapping attempts due to people knowing she has a map of her grandfather’s buried treasure. Merritt sees Beale kissing her boss, Vera Radford (Julie Adams) and leaves, refusing to believe his explanation that she came on to him. She drives into an old abandoned town to look for her treasure and Beale follows her with fellow ranch employee Stanley Potter (Jack Mullaney). We are treated to a fun flashback scene to the old western days with Presley as the milk-drinking Panhandle Kid. The trio then spends the night in an old wax museum. It is here when Tickle Me becomes almost like a Scooby Doo episode, with its haunted houses and men dressed as monsters. This movie is just strange enough that it works and the soundtrack is filled with recycled old songs, including numbers from the classic Elvis is Back! so the music is top notch.
With Harum Scarum, Presley hoped to deliver a Rudolph Valentino-style role. Sadly the script was a joke and fans instead were treated to one of Presley’s worst films. Presley stars as Johnny Tyronne, an American, action movie star visiting the Middle East to promote his new film, Sands of the Desert. Prince Dragna (Michael Ansara) and his lady Aishah (Fran Jeffries) invite him to be a guest of Dragna’s brother, King Toranshah (Phillip Reed). After seeing Tyronne karate chop a cheetah in one of his films (Hey, it’s an Elvis film), a group of assassins are convinced of his prowess and drug him. They take him to see Sinan, lord of the assassins, who wants him to kill the king for them. While there, he meets Princess Shalimar (Mary Ann Mobley) who is posing as a slave girl when in reality, she is the king’s daughter. When she finds out that Sinan is back, she knows her father is in danger and helps Tyronne thwart the plot to assassinate him. The film is full of ridiculous clichés and forgettable songs and Presley looks bored out of his mind. Things would soon get better for Presley though.
While not much different that his other films (Presley plays singing racecar driver Mike McCoy) the fun at least returns to Presley films with Spinout. The movie begins with McCoy getting run off the road by a crazed fan but he still makes it to his gig where he performs “Adam and Evil” and “Stop Look and Listen” with his band. These songs, along with the title track, “All That I Am”, and “I’ll Be Back” were the strongest soundtrack songs Presley had sang in sometime and his enthusiasm for them comes through in the performance. While at the club, he meets author Diana St. Clair (Diane McBain) who wants him to be the subject of her book about the perfect American male. She has marriage on her mind and is set on McCoy. Howard Foxhugh (Carl Betz) then approaches McCoy and offers $5,000 for the band to perform at his daughter’s birthday party. McCoy caves and the band plays the party only to find out Foxhugh’s daughter Cynthia (Shelley Fabares) is the same fan who ran McCoy off the road. She is a spoiled rich girl who wants and expects to marry McCoy while her dad wants McCoy to drive his new racecar, the Foxhugh Five. While this is happening, the band’s drummer Les (Deborah Walley) reveals her crush on McCoy. Three women, all with marriage on their mind are seemingly after McCoy. Who does McCoy pick? The ending may surprise you. Better music, a better cast and a twist at the end make Spinout a winner.
Presley is Guy Lambert — an American singer on tour in England — in Double Trouble. While performing at the club, Lambert meets Jill Conway (Annette Day) a pretty redhead who resists Lambert’s advances because, unbeknownst to him, she is not yet 18. She is also set to inherit a large sum of money when she does turn 18, a point of contention with her uncle Gerald Waverly (John Williams) who has been dipping into the inheritance. Her uncle sends her to Belgium for school, which she readily agrees to when she learns that Lambert will be performing there. While on the boat, a pair of thieves takes Lambert’s suitcase to smuggle diamonds into the country. Lambert notices that he’s had to save Conway twice and that someone tried to run him over. The pair go on the run trying to save their lives and let Conway make it to age 18 to protect her inheritance. This is a decent film with some clever twists and amusing cameos from the Wiere Brothers as bumbling cops and from a talking parrot that inadvertently gives away plot points.
Stay Away, Joe stars Presley as Native American bull-rider Joe Lightcloud who manages to convince his congressman to give his family 20 heifers and a quality bull so they can raise them. If they prove to be successful, then the government will help them out. Problems arise from the family though when, at a party celebrating Joe’s return, the family in a drunken haze mistakenly cooks the bull. Joe has his friend Bronc Hoverty (L.Q. Jones) get a new bull and Hoverty gets one that is supposedly Blue Ribbon, yet when the bull gets there, all he does is sleep. Meanwhile, Joe’s father Charlie (Burgess Meredith) has been selling off the cattle to pay for improvements his wife wants made to their home. The government learns what has happened and is not pleased. Meredith’s character is an odd sight, with his dark makeup and strange demeanor. Thomas Gomez as Grandpa is depicted as a stereotypical Native American. All that was missing was for him to say, “how.” The Native Americans in this film were very badly stereotyped, even for 1968 and portrayed as wild, sex-crazed drunks. Presley seems to be enjoying himself and there are some nice scenery shots, but the title of this one seems appropriate. Stay away.
Presley once again plays a racecar driver in Speedway, this time starring as Steve Grayson. Grayson owes the IRS $145,000 due to mistakes in his return by his manager Kenny Donford (Bill Bixby). Susan Jacks (Nancy Sinatra) shows up at Grayson’s trailer and he mistakes her for a fan. Turns out, she is working for the IRS, who are about to audit him. Donford’s gambling and fuzzy math have led to the repossession of not only gifts Grayson has bought for others, but many of Grayson’s possessions as well. The pair is put on an allowance — $100 per week for Grayson and $50 per week for Donford — until their debts are paid. After wooing Jacks, Grayson manages to get her to convince R.W. Hepworth at the IRS (Gale Gordon) to let him keep some of his earnings to pay off the innocent people who’ve had their lives ruined by Donford’s stupidity. Light on plot, Speedway is like a poor man’s Viva Las Vegas. That’s not to say there aren’t any plusses though. Bill Bixby is great in his comic role, playing a likable sleazebag and there are a few fun moments on the soundtrack, including “Let Yourself Go” and Sinatra’s “Your Groovy Self,” the latter being the only time a non-Elvis track appeared on one of his soundtracks.
In Live a Little, Love a Little, the focus, as in the last few movies Presley made, was more on the acting than the music. Presley stars as Greg Nolan, a photographer who meets a rich socialite named Bernice (Michele Carey). After drugging him, he finds out he has lost his job and his apartment due to the extended length of time he has been away. She feels guilty and gets him a new apartment, but it is expensive and he has to take two jobs to pay for it — one at a Playboy-style magazine called Classic Cat and the other for a much more conservative fashion magazine. Mike Lansdown is the Hugh Hefner-esque publisher of the former and doesn’t want Nolan wearing a tie because it cuts off the circulation, while Penlow (Rudy Vallee) prefers the sharp-dressed man. This leads to some amusing scenes of Presley changing in the stairwell as both jobs were in the same building. Carey is great as the eccentric Bernice, who places a wooden divider on her bed so she and Nolan can sleep together without him worrying about her advances. Similarly, Dick Sargent is fun as former Bernice love interest Harry and makes a winking nod to his old TV show when he tells Nolan he should get a job in advertising. This film is most notable these days for launching “A Little Less Conversation,” which became a hit three decades later. It also features a cool psychedelic dream sequence set to “Edge of Reality.” A socially relevant Elvis movie in 1968? Go figure.
Presley is Jess Wade in Charro!, a man framed for stealing a cannon from the Mexican army. Wade was once part of Vince Hackett’s (Victor French) gang and Hackett wanted revenge for Wade not only leaving, but taking his girl Tracey Winters (Ina Balin) with him. They make wanted posters saying Wade is the only identifiable member of the men who stole the cannon as he has a scar on his neck (which was placed there because Hackett had him branded). Hackett intends to hold the cannon for ransom and he also uses it against the local townspeople when his brother is jailed for shooting the sheriff. Critically panned, Charro! nevertheless marks a move to more serious roles for Presley. It is the only movie that he does not sing in. The only Presley vocal comes from the title song, played over the opening credits. Worth a look for fans of westerns.
The Trouble With Girls was Presley’s penultimate film of the 1960s. He plays a Chautauqua manager who has made his way into smalltown Iowa for the fair. He tries to prevent his pianist Charlene (Marlyn Mason) from organizing the workers into a union. At the same time, he has to deal with nepotism, as the town’s mayor wants his daughter cast in the lead role of a play instead of the more talented current lead, and the murder of a local druggist, for which a Chautauqua troop member was initially blamed. When the killer is revealed, he exploits the murder which at first enrages Charlene, but he convinces her it was the only way to get a fair trial. Look for a great cameo by Vincent price as Mr. Morality and some fine Presley singing performances, including “Clean Up Your Own Back Yard” and his remake of “Swing Down Sweet Chariot.” Presley gets less screen time than usual in this film, but it is a little different for him and shows what might have been.
With his movie contracts fulfilled and the success of the ’68 Comeback Special and subsequent live shows in 1969, the time was ripe for a concert documentary. Elvis: That’s The Way It Is Special Edition captures material from shows filmed in August of 1970. We see the band in rehearsal, where Presley keeps everyone loose by joking; yet he is clearly in charge. An overlooked aspect of Presley’s is his involvement in the musical side of his show. Here we see Presley directing backup singers and helping with arrangements. The songs sounded exactly the way he wanted them to. The live performances show Presley at the peak of his vocal and physical abilities. Highlights include blistering versions of “Polk Salad Annie” and “Suspicious Minds” and the powerful vocal workout of “Just Pretend” that Presley mistakenly says is from his country album. This is the one-disc version of this show. The two-disc special edition includes the original theatrical cut, which includes more fan interviews. This version focuses mostly on Elvis.
Elvis on Tour attempts to recapture the magic of Elvis: That’s The Way It Is from two years earlier and largely succeeds. The documentary follows Presley on his 15 cities in 15 nights tour in 1972 and shows candid backstage footage, studio footage and footage of the band rehearsing and singing gospel numbers in their off time. It also features the first-ever performance of "Burning Love," Presley’s last top ten hit in the U.S. It is one of the first films after Woodstock to use the multipanel format and it makes its debut on DVD here. The DVD also contains no extras — disappointing given all that was filmed.
This is Elvis chronicles the King’s life from his beginnings in Tupelo, MS, to his meteoric rise to the top to his tragic fall and death at a young age. The film goes in chronological order and it mixes reenactments and narration with actual archival footage of Presley, going as far back as his 1956 TV appearances and as recent as images of his funeral procession. It talks about the racism Presley dealt with for his music sounding “too black” and how parents felt threatened by him in general, his move to Hollywood and his return to live performances. It pulls no punches in dealing with Presley’s drug use, but overall paints a balanced picture of the man. He was a great talent, but he was human.
It’s fascinating to watch these movies in order and see the progression from eager young actor to bored formula actor to reenergized stage performer. Elvis Presley was a unique performer and these DVDs show what a talent he was musically and, in some cases, what he could have been on the silver screen.
Article first published as DVD Review: Elvis: 75th Anniversary DVD Collection on Blogcritics.