4 movies to watch on Elvis' Birthday

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January 8th falls on a Saturday this year, making it a perfect time to celebrate the birth of the “King of Rock 'n Roll” by watching some of his films...as well as one that you may not have considered.

Jailhouse Rock

I chose this over Elvis' first film “Love Me Tender” as it's more representational of his career at that point, plus it's a far more entertaining film. In “Love Me Tender” Elvis is only a supporting character (though a prominent one), in “Jailhouse Rock” Elvis gets the chance to really show off his talents.

The plot is somewhat contrived of course, Elvis is serving time for a manslaughter charge when his cellmate, a former country singer (go figure!) gets him into the record business. Of course it's all kinda crooked, so Elvis decides to form his own record company and try to make it on his own. Will he succeed? Are you kidding me?

Elvis himself helped choreograph the famous and much copied “Jailhouse Rock” dance sequence. And the film is full of energy even in the slower, talkie scenes. The black and white cinematography is crisp and gives the film a somewhat timeless look. About the only unfortunate aspect of watching this film is knowing that Elvis' “love interest”, played by the attractive Judy Tyler died only days after completing her scenes.

Blue Hawaii

Arguably not quite as good as Elvis' first effort after leaving the Army “G.I. Blues”, “Blue Hawaii” is a more visually compelling film for it's stunning location photography in Hawaii and better song selections, including one of his most popular songs ever, “I Can't Help Falling In Love With You”.

Here, Elvis has just gotten out of the Army (what, again?) and is tempted by Dad to work at a prominent fruit company, but instead chooses to become a tour guide at his girlfriend's travel agency. To say this plot is kind of sleight would be akin to saying Yul Brynner is kind of bald. Angela Lansbury plays Elvis' mother, though it's far less menacing version than her performance in “The Manchurian Candidate”.

Lots of surfin', singin', and carryin' on at times in no particular direction. “Blue Hawaii” was never a threat to win the Best Picture Oscar, but is pretty entertaining for Elvis fans.

Perhaps the most interesting fact to come out of this movie is that the soundtrack was Elvis' most successful album spending 20 weeks at #1. A record that stood for over 15 years.

Spinout

This is not the best nor the worst of his films, but it is the most typical of his movies in the 1960's. Elvis stars as a race car driver by day and rock 'n roll star at night. Cavorting about with his combination band members and pit crew, Elvis is being chased by three women (go figure). A cool blonde journalist who finds Elvis to be the perfect male, a millionaire's daughter who's father owns a new race car he wants Elvis to drive, and the drummer of the band who just finds Elvis dreamy.

The songs are above the average fare for Elvis films of that period like the gentle ballad “All That I Am”, the nifty rocker “Stop, Look, Listen” and the swaggering “I'll Be Back”.

While the film is supposedly a comedy, there are some unintentionally funny scenes like the one at club where Elvis rocks the house with “Stop, Look, Listen” that has everyone dancing, including a guy talking on the phone.

Lighting a dry pile of wood with one match dropped from above (try that on your next camping trip). Elvis talking an elderly rich couple into taking a second honeymoon and leaving their mansion in his care (a rock star no less, what could happen?), and the final big race scene.

It doesn't help that Elvis himself is rather uninterested and goes through the motions rather than trying to act. His eyes seem somewhat hazy as well which fits the rumors of his drug use at that time. The lowest moment occurs early in the film when a dog unexpectedly shows up, only for Elvis to comment that it's a “Hound Dog”...ugh.

Yet the film is still an entertaining enough effort to make it worth viewing. Spinout was also typical of the popular “drive-in” movies at that time, making for a good choice if your movie theme that evening is to re-create a “drive-in” feel.

Top Secret

An “Elvis” movie without Elvis at all...in a sense. This is an odd combination of World War 2 espionage, Elvis musical, and humor straight from the minds who created “Airplane”. Val Kilmer makes his film debut as Nick Rivers, the famous American rock singer with hits like “Skeet Surfin'” and his duet with Tammy Wynette “Your Skeetin' Heart”. Nick has traveled to East Germany (yes kids, Germany was divided into two countries at that time) to participate in a concert/festival but falls into a resistance group determined to fight the controlling Nazi government.

Kilmer is a delight and the film contains several great comedic bits like Nick's escape attempt from prison, his concert in front of screaming teens (a parody of The Beatles “Hard Day's Night”), a scene with a large pigeon statue in a park, and most impressively a scene at a bookstore done in a faux-Swedish language that was shot in peculiar way that only reveals itself at the end.

Despite all the delights, “Top Secret” is an uneven film that suffers from too many ideas that don't blend very well together. Fortunately the short running time helps considerably and the substantial “Elvis” theme makes it a really good choice to view while celebrating the birthday of the King of Rock 'n Roll.

 There you have it, four Elvis films...well, three Elvis films and one close approximation. I hope you enjoyed this brief review and look forward to seeing your comments.

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