Elvis’ body of work might be mightily uneven and he became grotesque in his later years, but I can’t look at 1956-1968 Presley and call myself anything other than an Elvis person. There was something infinitely fascinating in Elvis during his prime, with his exceptional good looks, his overflowing charisma and the pure soul he put into every performance. If we’re referring to his live shows of the 1950s and ‘60s, I’m sure many would be of the same opinion as me, but to some degree I’d also extend this to his film work. Granted, most of the films he was involved with were cheesy B-movies, but he always managed to elevate them to a category of their own, the “Elvis flick”. These are not masterpieces, but they always pack in lots of pretty girls, goofy charm and cheerful musical numbers, which is more than what you get from most pictures.
After getting his start in the 1956 western “Love Me Tender”, Presley mostly focused on recording, touring and doing his military service in Germany. Then came the 1960s, and Elvis practically became a full-time Hollywood star, doing 27 movies in the decade. This period of his career concluded with “Change of Habit” in 1969. His recording career having been revived by his 1968 Comeback Special, Presley made that last movie then spent the last years of his life doing countless sold-out concerts.
Love Me Tender (1956)
Loving You (1957)
Jailhouse Rock (1957)
King Creole (1958)
G.I. Blues (1960)
Flaming Star (1960)
Wild in the Country (1961)
Blue Hawaii (1961)
Follow That Dream (1962)
Kid Galahad (1962)
Girls! Girls! Girls! (1962)
It Happened at the World’s Fair (1963)
Fun In Acapulco (1963, Richard Thorpe) 64
WHAT: A hammy but pleasant diversion full of sun, music and beautiful girls.
ELVIS’ CHARACTER: A former circus acrobat working first as a boat hand then as a singer in hotel lounges and restaurants south of the U.S. border.
THE GIRL(S): Elsa Cardenas as a lady bullfighter and the ravishing Ursula Andress as a hotel social manager.
THE MUSIC: Many enjoyable Latin-flavoured tunes where Presley is backed by a Mariachi band. These include songs such as Marguerita, Bossa Nova Baby (which has Elvis hitting the keyboards and bongos) and Guadalajara (sung by Presley in Spanish) as well as a few silly ditties performed by Elvis on a bicycle or in cars (“There’s no room to rhumba in a sports car”!).
WHAT: A dumb, rather dull hillbillysploitation comedy.
ELVIS’ CHARACTER(S): An Air Force officer on a mission to convince a Smoky Mountains family to allow the army to build a missile base on their land AND one of the hillbillies he meets up there.
THE GIRL(S): Yvonne Craig and Pamela Austin as Elvis’ giggly cousins from the mountains, Cynthia Pepper as a female officer, and a whole bunch of horny “Kittyhawks”.
THE MUSIC: Smokey Mountain Boy sung while Elvis is driving a Jeep, One Boy, Two Little Girls and a few others tunes serenaded to the cousins, Barefoot Ballad, Once Is Enough and the title song during the climactic hoedown.
Viva Las Vegas (1964)
WHAT: A beach party film set in Fort Lauderdale during Spring Break.
ELVIS’ CHARACTER: Rusty Wells, the leader of a rock & roll combo hired by a Chicago club owner to chaperon his daughter Valerie.
THE GIRL(S): Shelley Fabares as Val, plus former Miss America Mary Ann Mobley as another girl Rusty has the hots for.
THE MUSIC: The title song is played by Rusty and his musicians in matching yellow jackets at the Chicago club, Spring Fever while they drive to Fort Lauderdale, the enjoyably silly Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce by the motel pool, Startin’ Tonight, Wolf Call, Meanest Girl in Town and I’ve Got to Find My Baby at the Fort Lauderdale club where Rusty’s band performs, the very sexy Do Not Disturb in a motel room late in the evening, Do the Clam on the beach at night, etc.
Tickle Me (1965, Norman Taurog) 44
WHAT: A light-hearted contemporary western with almost as many fisticuffs as musical numbers, that somehow turns into a “Scooby-Doo”-style ghost town treasure hunt.
ELVIS’ CHARACTER: A cowboy who gets a job at a ranch/health spa for women until the rodeo season starts.
THE GIRL(S): Jocelyn Lane as a gorgeous aerobics instructor, Julie Adams as the owner of the ranch/spa, and a whole bunch of horny guests.
THE MUSIC: (It’s A) Long Lonely Highway sung out the window of a moving bus, It Feels So Right performed in a saloon, (Such an) Easy Question under a tree, Dirty, Dirty Feeling while Elvis is feeding horses (one of whom actually joins in to sing the final word of the song!),Put the Blame on Me during a fantasy sequence set in the Old West, I’m Yours during a luau, etc.
Harum Scarum (1965)
Frankie and Johnny (1966)
Paradise, Hawaiian Style (1966)
Easy Come, Easy Go (1967)
Double Trouble (1967)
Stay Away, Joe (1968)
Live a Little, Love a Little (1968, Norman Taurog) 53
WHAT: A dorky but amusing and sexy screwball comedy.
ELVIS’ CHARACTER: A photographer who juggles two full-time jobs.
THE GIRL: Michele Carey as a daffy, manipulative cocktease who owns a big ass dog.
THE MUSIC: Edge of Reality during a dream sequence, A Little Less Conversation during a groovy ’60s party scene, etc.
The Trouble with Girls (1969)
Change of Habit (1969, William A. Graham) 65
WHAT: A cartoonish but well-meaning “message” picture that attempts to channel the spirit of the ’60s counterculture, from women’s lib to the Black Panthers.
ELVIS’ CHARACTER: A caring M.D. who devoted his life to helping the disadvantaged.
THE GIRL: Mary Tyler Moore as a nun who leave the covent and her habits to go help people incognito in an inner-city clinic.
THE MUSIC: A rollicking rendition of the Motown-esque Rubberneckin during a bedroom party, an amusing performance of Have a Happy on a carousel, Elvis singing Let us Pray during a church service.
Elvis: The Miniseries (2005, James Steven Sadwith)
[ Starting backstage at the ’68 Comeback Special with Elvis Presley (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) having doubts before hitting the stage in front of an audience for the first time in 7 years, it then flashbacks to when he was a young man still living with his parents (Camryn Manheim and Robert Patrick), going on to chronicle the cutting of his first records at Sun Studio with Sam Philipps (Tim Guinee), his rapid fire rise to fame thanks in part to the business acumen of Col. Parker (Randy Quaid), his controversial performances in which he drove the girls crazy with his “wiggling”, the buying of Graceland, his stint in the army, his crush on a pretty 14 year old called Priscilla (Antonia Bernath), his years making movies in Hollywood, his affair with Ann-Margret (Rose McGowan), his growing addiction to pills, etc. As you can see, the screenplay is episodic, and the direction doesn’t rise above average network TV miniseries level, but the production values are decent, Elvis’ story is captivating enough on its own and the songs are awesome, natch. Most importantly, JR Meyers is perfectly convincing as the King, conveying both his cocky charisma and his good ol’ boy earnestness, plus how he got all out of control later on in life. All in all, this is pretty much as good and maybe even better than “Ray”, “Walk the Line” and the other recent musical biopics. ]