Thursday, August 19, 2010

Shoot out the TV: I've seen every Elvis movie

Thank you. Thank you very much - for renting one of my eight, good films.

I can die now.

I just watched Jailhouse Rock. It wasn't so much a Blockbuster night as it was (cue movie-guy voice) "the end of an odyssey of self-discovery 15 years in the making!"

Now, when I walk down Corydon on my way to buy Spider-Man Pez at Sugar Mountain, I can proudly hold my head up high, tip my hat to passersby, and confidently say:
"Out of my way, peasants! For I have seen every Elvis Presley movie ever made!"
Cultural touchstone, showbiz legend

It's true that "you're either a Beatles person or an Elvis person," and I've made no secret of my obsession with all things John, Paul, George, and Ringo on this blog. Did I get the names and order right?

So, I'm not a person who will ever likely feel the urge to go to Graceland, put a rock on Elvis' grave, or rent a spangled jumpsuit (though I'm not ruling it out for later in life).

But Elvis' movies are the stuff of which showbiz legends are made, as these examples show:
  • Eddie Murphy: "They let him do movies, and he couldn't act!"

  • Jay Leno/David Letterman (at 1:03) "Is the character played by Elvis in every movie named Rick?"

  • Tom Hanks (3:40) - "If there's an Elvis Presley movie on Saturday afternoon, I don't care how long the kids sit in the car - we're not going to Disneyland. I'm watching Clambake!"

The good, the bad, and the ugly. Mostly the ugly.

The thing is: most Elvis movies are really, really bad. As you see in my one-line reviews/encapsulations, below, there are really only eight that I think are worth watching.

Some of the most-remembered Elvis flicks are painfully bad: Blue Hawaii, Viva Las Vegas, and Girls! Girls! Girls!, which is really just a good title and precious little else.

When you start your foray into Elvis films, you can fool yourself into thinking that you're being entertained, because it's equally jarring and bizarre to see that famous, dead guy "up there and alive," singing and dancing.

But watch too many Elvis movies in a row, and you very quickly lose your movie-reviewer compass, your very morality, sense of right and wrong, good and evil.

Compared to Elvis movies, any "normal" movie looks good. Compared to other Elvis movies, Jailhouse Rock is a classic!

So, I watched these films slowly, one or two a year over the last decade, spanning VHS tapes, DVDs, HD, Blu-ray, and digital downloads, making very sure that I didn't lose touch with the real world, like Elvis did, or lay in bed too long, like Brian Wilson and the Barenaked Ladies did.

After shooting out five or six TV sets with six guns and eating my weight in fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches, I broke down the films of Elvis Presley into three categories: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

The results:

The good:

Loving You (1957) - Lots of energy, and Elvis's parents have a cameo! One of the finest.

Jailhouse Rock (1957) - Con becomes a singer. The famous musical number is worth the price of admission alone, though I've never seen inmates dance like that in real life.

King Creole (1958) - From the director of Casablanca, so you can't go wrong.

Flaming Star (1960) - Watered-down Western version of the same-old Elvis template and the first sign that Elvis is really bored. Still, it's not an altogether bad morality tale.

Wild in the Country (1961) - Elvis is a believable writer!

Kid Galahad (1962) - Remake of a Humphrey Bogart boxing movie.

Elvis: That's the Way it is (1970) - Great concert documentary.

Elvis on Tour (1972) - Another great concert documentary.

The bad:

Love Me Tender (1957) - "Love Me Tender" was written during the Civil War? Ugh.

Blue Hawaii (1961) - His biggest box-office hit features Elvis, Hawaii, and Mrs. Potts herself, Angela Lansbury.

Follow That Dream (1962) - Elvis is a homesteader moving to Florida. Oh, no...

Fun in Acapulco (1963) - Just like every other Elvis film...but in Acapulco!

Viva Las Vegas (1964) - Elvis drives race cars in Vegas. The soundtrack saves this one...sort of.

Roustabout (1964) - "It's not a's a carnival!" - Barbara Stanwyck. Elvis - and we - aren't convinced.

Charro! (1969) - Another western with just ONE Elvis song. What gives? Boo.

The Trouble with Girls (And How to Get Into it) (1969) - Terrible title and film in which Elvis runs a Chautauqua and has less screen time than most of the other actors. That's right: Chautauqua.

Change of Habit (1970) - Mary Tyler Moore herself has to choose between being a nun and doing it with Elvis. Get it? Habit?

The ugly

GI Blues (1960) - One of the worst; a shameless and lame attempt to cash in on Elvis' fame as America's most celebrated draftee.

Girls! Girls! Girls! (1962) - Our fishing guide is torn between two lovers. Should be called "More girls than plot."

It Happened at the World's Fair (1963) - Elvis hitchhikes to the Seattle World's Fair, where nothing happens.

Kissin' Cousins (1964) - Elvis tries to convince his lookalike relative - played by Elvis! - to convert his farm into a missile site. What?!

Girl Happy (1965) - Elvis chaperones a girl whose dad is a mobster. And that's "girl happy?"

Tickle Me (1965) - Yet another ranch, where Elvis runs into yet more wealthy, glamorous babes.

Harum Scarum (1965) - Elvis goes to the Middle East to assassinate an Arab king. Isn't that the plot of the latest Sex and the City movie?

Frankie and Johnny (1966) - Elvis is a riverboat captain with a big gambling problem. Is there any other kind?

Paradise, Hawaiian Style (1966) - Another movie in Hawaii? This time Elvis is a helicopter pilot.

Spinout (1966) - Will Elvis get married or drive a race car in the big race? Who cares?

Easy Come, Easy Go (1967) - Elvis stars as a frogman, later inspiring O.J. in more ways than one.

Double Trouble (1967) - Elvis does his best Austin Powers impression as a hip swinger on the loose in England.

Clambake (1967) - Elvis is an heir to a fortune doubling as a water-ski instructor who wishes that girls would like him "for himself." Noooo!

Stay Away, Joe (1968) - An "Indian rights" movie in the worst sense - it exploits American Indians at the same it pats itself on the back for being so open-minded. Embarrassing!

Speedway (1968) - Another racing movie in which Elvis gets Nancy Sinatra and Bill Bixby?! "Don't make me angry, Mr. Presley. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry."

Live a Little, Love a Little (1968) - Elvis gets two jobs and has trouble holding them down. That's it.

Now I know how Elvis felt:

Kenton has left the building.


  1. I'm more of a Beatles person as well.

    I've never seen an Elvis movie, but from his persona, I gather that it must be very difficult to see Elvis as a character, rather than just Elvis. I've never been interested in watching any of his movies.

    As my dad said this week upon seeing coverage of the memorial at Graceland: "he died over 30 years ago. It's time to let him go."

  2. I'm neither a Beatles or Elvis person, but I am thrilled to see 'Kissin' Cousins' on the Ugly list. It will forever remind me of when I was about 11 years old and went to a sleepover birthday party at my friend's house.

    Said friend instructed her mother to go out and rent us some "good" movies and her hopelessly out of touch mother came back with a handful of Elvis movies. I can still remember us watching 'Kissin' Cousins' and just thinking, "What the Hell is going on in this movie?".

  3. Jennifer: Elvis is Elvis in every movie! Sometimes he's really Elvis, because he's bored and can't summon the energy to act.

    Sam: I wasn't sure if I should put Kissin' Cousins on the "good" list - it's a terrible movie buy insanely bizarre. Did David Lynch direct it?!


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