Tuesday, 28 August 2007
LIGHTS! CAMERA! ELVIS!
Blue Hawaii - Easy Come Easy Go - GI Blues - Girls Girls Girls - King Creole - Fun in Acapulco – Roustabout - Paradise Hawaiian Style
Starring: Elvis Presley
Guest review by Greg Klymkiw
Paramount Home Video’s contribution to the recent glut of Presley celluloid is a nicely packaged box set entitled: “Lights! Camera! Elvis! Collection”. It is precisely the packaging – a fancy blue suede box that holds the eight movies – which counts as one of two reasons to recommend picking up this title that exploits (I mean, commemorates) the 30th anniversary of the King’s deadly slide off the porcelain throne onto the cool slab of Memphis marble adorning the second floor of Graceland.
The second reason to pick up the box is the inclusion of Mr. Presley’s best movie – the just-short-of-great "King Creole". Based upon Harold Robbins’s best-selling pot-boiling trash-lit and serving, not surprisingly, as a fine structural coat-hanger to the fashionably stylish dark fabric of late-noir, this Michael Curtiz-helmed studio picture tells the tale of poor-boy Danny Fisher and his rise from the gutter and ultimate acceptance of his loving Dad while battling a sleazy gangster and having to choose between a life of crime and a life of song.
Featuring a terrific supporting cast, "King Creole" features the delectably sleazy Walter Matthau as the gangster-club-owner who makes Danny’s and pretty much everyone else’s life miserable, a sad and sexy Carolyn Jones as Matthau’s Madonna-whore moll with a heart of gold, a suitably pathetic Dean Jagger as Danny’s loser Dad and the radiant and utterly magical Dolores Hart as Presley’s main love interest. Better yet is Presley’s fine performance. His smouldering screen presence is palpable and he displays a wide range of emotion. If Col. Tom Parker had not so horribly bungled Elvis’s motion picture career, the King might well have joined the ranks of James Dean, Paul Newman and Marlon Brando as one of the truly great angry young men of 50s and 60s celluloid rather than the popular, but ultimately cartoon-like joke he became in later pictures.
The rest of the package is a woeful collection of some of Presley’s worst screen offences – some more risible than others, but risible nonetheless. From the standpoint of picture quality, this collection offers transfers ranging from adequate to first-rate. The lack of extra features (save for original theatrical trailers) is a bit annoying, but only "King Creole" really suffers from having no additional tidbits to add some informational cherries to the ample and tasty treat of the picture itself. It’d be great to try and score a commentary track (or even extensive interview) from Dolores Hart who, at the age of 25, left the fame and glamour of the movie business to become a nun in the Catholic Church. Even now, she apparently holds the distinction of being the only nun who is a voting member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. I also think a scholarly commentary would be great with this picture especially since Curtiz’s direction is so first-rate and the late-noir style would also deserve some in-depth analysis.
The other movies in this box include one of Elvis’s biggest hits, the utterly ludicrous travelogue "Blue Hawaii" which has the dubious distinction of virtually no plot and an annoyingly over-the-top Angela Lansbury offering support. "G.I. Blues" is a plodding attempt to present Presley’s service experience in an entertaining fashion. Stella Stevens is mouth-wateringly gorgeous in "Girls! Girls! Girls!" but her character is such a sourball that one is not surprised that Elvis’s eyes may occasionally roam around at the constant bevy of beauties around him. "Fun in Acapulco" and "Paradise Hawaiian Style" are both dull and silly travelogues, while "Easy Come Easy Go" tries to mix it up with some deep-sea diving action to liven up the stale proceedings.
These titles are pretty woeful, but for some they might offer enough nostalgia appeal to warrant sitting through more than once. I, for one, was kind of hoping for at least some melancholic magic that’d bring me back to those halcyon days when I first saw many of these movies as a kid attending the Saturday matinees at a little neighbourhood cinema in my old hometown. Through the gentle haze of childhood recollection, I thought many of these pictures were really wonderful. Alas, they do not hold up to adult scrutiny. Elvis is always cool in the pictures, but it’s alternately depressing seeing this brilliant young actor in material that is so below his talents that all feelings of bygone warm and fuzzies dissipate pretty quickly.
Other than the terrific "King Creole", the only other picture in this collection that might warrant more than one viewing is the solid, though unexceptional "Roustabout" that tells a tale of Elvis amidst some old-time carnies played with classic verve by Barbara Stanwyck and Leif Erickson. This is one movie that might have benefited from having someone or something resembling a director behind the lens as opposed to the dull-as-dishwater competence of John Rich who is, not surprisingly, a veteran television director. He’s a decent enough camera jockey, but it might have been nice to imagine this picture in the hands of someone like Don Siegel or Sam Peckinpah.
Now, I am sure that some might argue that the whole point of the Elvis pictures is to showcase the songs and the King performing them in a variety of locations. This might have been fine in the day, but it’s awfully hard to watch most of what’s in this box set after watching "King Creole". It’s not only a good movie with a genuinely good Elvis performance, but the music is presented in a context that does not detract from the noir-ish world Curtiz creates, but actually works within it, not unlike the musical sequences in something like the classic Rita Hayworth picture "Gilda". Among a whole mess o’ tuneful crawfish ditties crooned by everyone’s fave lipster, my personal delights were his renditions of the title track, “Trouble” and the get-up-and-boogie “Hard Headed Woman”.
And while this may be hard to believe, many of the other movies don’t actually feature Elvis’s best numbers. They’re always beautifully performed – his voice is smoother than smooth, but tinged with those occasional wild-man highs and lows that can send us to truly orgasmic places – however, many of the songs themselves just plain suck. There’s no polite way of saying it, so allow me to reiterate – they just plain suck! For example, the "Blue Hawaii" soundtrack features one – count ‘em – one truly legendary song (“Can’t Help Falling In Love”), but I am sure my life will be full if I never again have to hear “Rock-a-Hula Baby”. And yes, I know the album from this picture was probably one of the biggest albums of all-time, but that doesn’t mean most of the songs on it were any good. In G.I. Blues we get to see Elvis sing “Blue Suede Shoes”, but we also have to suffer through numerous musical mediocrities. This is pretty much the case for the rest of the pictures in this box set.
In summation, the “Lights! Camera! Elvis! Collection” presents an interesting look at how a brilliant young actor was used, abused and wasted – especially in light of the great work he displayed in "King Creole". If you must own the blue suede box that houses the abovementioned titles, then feel free to pick this collection up. Otherwise, you might do better by just renting "Roustabout" and purchasing "King Creole" on its own or waiting until someone issues a special edition of this fine picture. Art thou listening Paramount Home Video? Do Elvis and his fans proud and get cracking on a tasty DVD gumbo of this fabulous movie.
Buy it here: Lights! Camera! Elvis! Collection (Blue Hawaii/Easy Come, Easy Go/Fun in Acapulco/G.I. Blues/Girls! Girls! Girls!/King Creole/Roustabout/Paradise Hawaiian Style)