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Film Review: It Happened at the World's Fair
In 1963, Norman Taurog released It Happened at the World’s Fair, which starred Elvis Presley, Joan O’Brien, Gary Lockwood, Vicky Tiu, Yvonne Craig, H. M. Wynant, Kam Tong, Edith Atwater, Guy Raymond, Dorothy Green, Red West, Joe Esposito, and Kurt Russell in his acting debut. The film grossed $2.5 million at the box office.
Pilot Mike Edwards finds that his partner and friend, Danny has gambled away all the money he had set aside to pay their debts as well as gained a debt of $1,200. In response, the local sheriff takes possession of Bessie, their plane and is set to auction it off to the highest bidder if they can’t come up with the money in 12 days. To find the money, the two of them look for work anywhere, eventually finding it in a scam at the Seattle World’s Fair.
Though it presents the standard Presley formula, It Happened at the World’s Fair seems so very much unlike a Presley film. As usual, Presley’s character needs to fight for something and in this case it’s for his beloved crop duster plane, Bessie. However, everything that results from Mike and Danny’s rush to find some sort of money is a stark departure from the feel of a Presley film, such as the side plot where Mike is looking after Walter Ling’s daughter, Sue-Lin. Everything that occurs while the two of them are going around the world’s fair is pointless and only serves to connect Mike with one of his love interests. Even Walter eventually disappearing and leaving the girl with him feels pointlessly tacked on. Further, the method Danny eventually uses to make money, sharking a guy at poker, makes the film seem like it was practically uninspired from the start and only made as a way of getting Presley in yet another film. It’s about two hours for a plot that should have been condensed into less than an hour.
Due to what’s essentially a plot that hangs on longer than it should ever need to, everything really seems to suffer, especially the characterization of the supporting cast. Danny is a hopeless gambler and the reason that he and Mike are in the situation that they’re in. So obviously the way to go about making money and getting that plane back is by more gambling. It’s a wonder as to why Mike goes along with Danny’s idea of continuing his gambling habit because he says it’s going to help them get money back. Ultimately, this makes Mike an enabler more than anything, since he’s letting Danny do the exact same thing that got them into the mess.
Mike and the love interests aren’t any better either. Granted, it’s pretty much a given that a love interest in a Presley film is going to happen, usually through a love triangle. However, usually one of the parties is a girl that Presley’s character has known a while in competition with a girl that’s trying to win his advances. Here, though, Elvis is continually going after a woman that’s clearly not interested and he has to think of “clever” ways to continue to see her. The way the two of them meet is contrived to begin with, seeing as they meet when Mike takes Sue-Lin to get her stomach checked and he fakes an eye problem to get Diane to even look at him. But her rebuffing of his advances doesn’t dampen his spirit as he thinks he just needs to try harder and so he gets Kurt Russell to kick him in the shin. True, this does happen in a lot of movies. The problem with this one is that it’s just so badly done that it’s comically terrible.
At least Presley’s acting is somewhat passable here, though he does his best work at the beginning of the film and it continues getting more and more mediocre as the film goes on. It says something that an actor’s best scene is him running away from a gun toting father and ducking at the gunshot. Still though, it never ends up descending to be as bad as the plot. The other actors in the film are pretty decent as well, but it’s pretty bad that the best acting job comes from a little kid that has a stomach ache.
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