Film Review: Jailhouse Rock
In 1957, Richard Thorpe released Jailhouse Rock, named after the hit song of the same name sung by Elvis Presley. Starring Presley, Judy Tyler, Mickey Shaughnessy, Vaughn Taylor, Jennifer Holden, Dean Jones, Mike Stoller, Scotty Moore, Bill Black and D. J. Fontana, the film grossed $4.28 million at the box office, peaking at #3 on the charts and reaching #14 for the year. The titular song won the ASCAP Award for Most Performed Feature Film Standards and Empire Magazine named it #459 on its list of 500 Greatest Movies of All Time.
After construction worker Vince Everett kills a man in a barroom brawl, he’s sentenced between one and 10 years in the state penitentiary. There, he learns to sing and play the guitar, which he strives for as a career once he’s freed.
A pretty good film, Jailhouse Rock presents a theme similar to that of Presley’s previous movie, namely that a nobody rises to become a highly talented musician. However, that’s pretty much the only similarity this film has to the other as here, Vince must start from the ground up as he doesn’t know how to sing or play the guitar until he goes to prison and he is initially met with criticism before finding a musical promoter who kick starts his career, rather than immediately being found and getting a contract. But the contrast is actually pretty good as it shows that not every singer is going to be found by chance in a small town and some have to really work for it. In this case, Vince taking a job as a bar boy and then being laughed at while singing before the promoter he meets decides to try and sell a song. And later, his song, “Treat Me Nice” is rejected until a disc jockey is convinced to air it. In this case it’s Elvis’ character working to make himself known rather than his character just being pointed out as someone who can sing for an event.
Further the film presents another really interesting problem that someone such as Presley might have had to contend with early on in a singing career. The music label manager steals Vince’s song, which is what prompts Vince and Peggy to start their own record label. It’s a fascinating situation, especially in Vince’s response which involves yelling that his “everything” was stolen and slapping the manager around. But it also demonstrates an attitude of tenacity in Vince when he decides that he’s not going to make the same mistake again and instead creates said record label. Again, with someone like Presley in the lead, it comes off like it could have been something that actually did happen with him. And even if it didn’t, it’s something that Presley could imagine happening quite easily.
There’s also the inflated ego Vince starts getting, which also comes off as well made. He starts having a large amount of success and because he’s not used to it, Vince beings to think that everything’s about him. Naturally it affects his relationships, such as Peggy not speaking to him. His arrogance also causes him to sign a contract purchasing the record label which Peggy is against, furthering the notion that he’s only started to really think about himself. This part of the plot is a great inclusion as well, as it can be seen that Presley might be drawing on what he didn’t want to become this early in his career. Either that or he had already flirted with it and realized his errors.
But the most memorable part of the film comes from the sequence where Vince rehearses “Jailhouse Rock” prior to a TV taping. It’s choreographed very well and is an all-around entertaining and engaging sequence, fun to just sit back and watch everything that’s happening during the song. And not only is it considered a prototype to modern music videos, but it’s really easy to see that Chicago took a bit of inspiration from the sequence.
However, while the above makes for a great film, it seems that Presley’s acting is all over the place. In some scenes, like when he’s kissing Peggy for the first time, his charisma and fiery personality really shine through. But in others, such as the beginning in jail, it’s really just sort of bland and mediocre.
There’s also a noticeable lack of scarring from the supposed tracheotomy.
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