Friday, 3 September 2010
Viva Las Vegas
Viva Las Vegas (1964) dir. George Sidney
Starring: Elvis Presley, Ann-Margret, Cesare Davona, William Demarest and Jack Carter
By Greg Klymkiw
Elvis Presley made 31 movies as an actor, but you need only one hand to count the number of good movies he appeared in. One more hand will allow you to count five movies that are not especially good, but still manage to deliver some solid entertainment value. As for the rest, mangy dogs all. Some of them have a decent number or two, and The King's undeniable charisma, but they're really a sad waste of his considerable gifts as an actor.
Three years ago, I reviewed a DVD box set entitled Lights! Camera! Elvis! that featured eight Elvis pictures adorned in a fancy (I kid you not!) blue suede box. That year featured a glut of Elvis DVDs that were issued to exploit/commemorate the 30th anniversary of The King's fatal slide off his porcelain bathroom throne. Out of eight movies in the collection, one (King Creole) represented his best picture and another (Roustabout) fell into the category of mediocre, but entertaining.
The other pictures stunk out loud.
Part of me was hoping that even the bad titles might offer some nostalgic appeal, a bit of melancholic magic that’d bring me back to those halcyon days when I first saw them as a kid attending Saturday matinees at a neighbourhood cinema. In fact, through the gentle haze of childhood memories, I recalled that many of the pictures were really wonderful. Alas, they simply didn't hold up to adult scrutiny.
All feelings of bygone warm and fuzziness dissipated pretty quickly once I watched them on the blue suede DVD again. Aside from the nifty packaging and the inclusion of King Creole, all the collection provided was an interesting look at how a brilliant young actor was used, abused and wasted – especially in light of the great work he displayed in a handful of pictures.
Happily, the new Warners Home Entertainment Blu-ray release of Viva Las Vegas is cause for celebration. If King Creole is The King's best picture and Jailhouse Rock is pretty much tied for that honour, but is also his best musical, then Viva Las Vegas which is only a pubic hair or two below Jailhouse Rock as a great musical, then it's safe to say all three pictures tie for the accolade of Best Elvis Movies Ever!!!
Viva Las Vegas features Elvis as singing sensation and stock car racer Lucky Jackson who comes to Vegas in search of stardom on both fronts. He meets and falls head over heels in love with the gorgeous and talented Rusty Martin (Ann-Margret) while the charming, but dastardly Count Elmo Mancini (Cesare Danova) provides the conflict as he too vies for stock car superiority and Rusty's affections. Lucky, of course, wins the race, gets the girl and achieve singing stardom. This, by the way, is no spoiler - it's the only way the picture could go.
Elvis is, of course, cooler than cool, but for once he is evenly matched in a picture with an actress/performer who holds her own magnificently with The King. Ann-Margret blows you away with both her beauty and singing talent. Their chemistry is pure electric and with both of them burning every frame of this picture with their virtuosity.
Viva Las Vegas is a musical that's simply too good to miss.
Able direction from George Sidney (Pal Joey, Kiss Me Kate and Annie Get Your Gun), a fun script by Sally Benson (Meet Me in St. Louis), a great song score and a terrific supporting cast that includes two of my favourite old reprobates William Demarest (as Rusty's Dad) and Jack Carter as the talent show emcee, Viva Las Vegas rightfully takes its throne alongside the best of the best.
Viva Las Vegas is newly released on the Warner Home Video with a stunning high definition transfer.