Thursday, April 17, 2014

Elvis: The Actor

 It's no surprise that Elvis Presley is one of my all time favorite musicians, but he's also one of my favorite actors, too. I recently went on an Elvis movie-watching binge, and was able to see 29 out of the 33 total movies he made (31 were scripted, two were concert performance documentaries). Though most of his films are considered to be pretty awful (formulaic with bad scripts, cheap sets and throw away music), I really enjoy most of them. They're quirky, fun, and the music is still great (because it's Elvis, and he can do no wrong in my eyes).  I would say the ones that are definitely not worth running out to see are Clambake (except for the bizarre scene in which he sings to children in a schoolyard), Paradise Hawaiian Style, and Harum Scarum. He was obligated to act in at least three movies a year, giving him almost no time to tour which was something he was really loved to do, and hadn't done since before going into the army. Here's a list of my top Elvis picks to see.

1. Live A Little, Love A Little (1968), Directed by Norman Taurog

Elvis played a photographer, who was lured into living with a crazy, bohemian woman and her dog. Elvis was in top form when he filmed this, partly because he was preparing for the 1968 Comeback Special (basically the best live show he ever was a part of. Also... leather suit. Enough said.) He had energy, looked excited to be part of it, and his acting/comedy were genius. I also love the psychedelic scene where he sang "Edge of Reality" (which involved him falling down a rabbit hole and a talking dog), as well as the party scene where he sang "A Little Less Conversation" (be sure to keep your eyes peeled for the goofiest red headed guy, dancing in the background). I can't get enough of this movie. I'll admit I've probably seen it 20 times, and it never gets old. To me, it's unlike any of his other movies because in this one, the story actually had a plot, the characters were dynamic, the music was great, and Elvis was at his best. It was one of the more "adult" films that he worked on, and I totally love that about it. As fun as it is to watch all the silly, vacant Elvis films, it's nice to see him in something he could really sink his teeth into. You can tell from watching that he took this role very seriously, and I can safely say it's my favorite Elvis movie.


 2. Viva Las Vegas (1964), Directed by George Sidney

 This is basically the quintessential musical comedy that Elvis starred in. It's a film that most people have heard of, and was the most successful at the box office. But there's definitely a reason for it. At this time, Elvis was 29, and was in the midst of those silly, poorly written films, and though this storyline wasn't the strongest of the bunch, it packed the most punch because of his co-star, Ann Margret, who was considered to be the female Elvis of that time. She had the ultimate sex appeal, was wild and crazy, and had incredible charisma. Together, they had sizzling chemistry that you could see and feel when watching them together. Elvis played a race car driver (which was a profession he was to play in many of his films) who fell in love with a swim instructor at the local hotel he was working at part time. I particularly love the song Ann Margret sang, "My Rival" in which she prepared sandwiches while singing and dancing around the kitchen. It's an incredible piece of cinema that sadly did not get the credit it deserved. My favorite dance number would have to be the one below for "C'mon Everybody". You can't help but snap your fingers and wiggle around like Ann did here. I mean, the lady was crazy for Elvis, and who could blame her? (On a side note, my best friend's father who is a dance choreographer was a dancer in this film, which makes it even more exciting for me especially since we've been best friends since we were six and the lightbulb on this only JUST went off recently). The one thing I don't understand, though, is the bizarre ending, which if you don't know what I'm talking about, you'll have to see for yourself.

 3. Blue Hawaii (1961), Directed by Norman Taurog

Elvis, beautiful shots of Hawaii AND Angela Lansbury playing his mom? Genius. It's the perfect setting for an Elvis film. He played a tour guide in this one, and there were many great songs/dance numbers. It's kind of the perfect Elvis film, and I don't know what to say about it other than that. Also, he wore short shorts. My favorite musical number was when Elvis landed in jail. It really reminds me of what Johnny Depp's character did in "Cry Baby" when he was in jail singing his parts for "Please Mr Jailer". In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if John Waters borrowed from Blue Hawaii. It's a great scene, where Elvis is acting pretty simply, and with a great song to go along with it.

4. Tickle Me (1965), Directed by Norman Taurog

Good god. This movie. Well, in a nutshell, it's one of Elvis' campiest movies to date. In it, Elvis played a rodeo rider, who ended up in a small town, and took a job at a spa for women (actresses, models and the like), who were paying to stay there to lose weight. It's a really bizarre concept, and totally ridiculous, but SO fun. Elvis sang to a bunch of women in cool 1960's bikinis, and even ended up in a haunted house in an old western town. I really love it for its stupidity. It's sort of a mockery of the type of movies he did where girls were falling all over him. In this, the "falling all over" thing is to the extreme. He definitely looked like he was having fun, and didn't care that the script was so dumb (well, he probably did, but you can't tell). It did actually have somewhat of a plot, the wardrobe was pretty great (and the songs weren't half bad, either). My favorite scenes were when Elvis was inside the haunted house (or more like, haunted, abandoned motel) because the set is so fun, and Elvis was just being so cool and relaxed throughout the whole thing. Love this one to pieces.


5. Double Trouble (1967), Directed by Norman Taurog

I'll admit it. This is easily one of the stupidest Elvis movies ever made. It is TRULY a bad film. But I think that's why it's so great. The girl who played his co-star had never been in a film before, and I think she was actually pretty charming for having zero experience. But they had little chemistry, and the songs were really trivial. This film did actually have a plot, and it is a rather fun one, at that, because you get to see some action (multuple people following him across Europe to either capture the girl or to steal money from his suitcase). I just think it's a fun ride and there's no reason not to like it if you're prepared to watch something that is pretty horrendous (if you are a big film snob who can't stand campy musical comedies - this is not for you). In this film, Elvis played a touring musician who was dating an underage girl (who had been lying about her age). She traveled with him around Europe as he swore he was going to bring her to her aunt in Sweden because he couldn't be with a girl so young (which is funny, because in real life, Elvis had a thing for young girls). But you know.. he obviously fell for her in the end. Oh and the scene in Antwerp when they were at the carnival.. pretty surreal (and the masks were cool). Oh! And my best friend's dad (who I mentioned earlier into this blog post), made an appearance dancing near Elvis once again (wearing a Pinocchio-like costume). I really shouldn't be showing this scene as an example of why this movie is so bad it's good, but in a way, I can't NOT show this. With an oink oink here, oink oink there...

Honorable Mentions:

 Spinout (Shelley Fabares co-starred in this one as well, and it almost made the list):


Girl Happy (Another fun-loving, easy-breezy Elvis musical co-starring Shelley Fabares):


Change of Habit (co-starring Mary Tyler Moore! His last feature film and most serious role to date as he played a doctor in the ghetto):

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