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Jailhouse Rock Review

Tue Jun 28, 2005 2:47 pm

'Jailhouse Rock' is Elvis' best, bar none

By Matthew Towner
CONTRIBUTING CULTURE CRITIC

Tue, Jun. 28, 2005


Elvis Presley was a bigger star in life than he could ever be in Hollywood. He was so good at being Elvis -- on stage and off -- that no fictional role could measure up.

The King persona was better suited for home movies than big motion pictures, and that's why his lesser concerts hold up better than the better films. In the later films, it seemed that even Elvis knew he was betraying his music.

So he quit Hollywood after starring in 31 movies, and when you look back at some of them, it was the right choice.

Jailhouse Rock is one of the exceptions. The King's third film was the best showcase of his musical talents and, just as importantly, the best camouflage of his acting weaknesses.

As Vince Everett, the moody young man who finds music while in jail, Elvis mirrors the handsome portrait that hangs on history's walls. The raw charisma, perfect hair and slender physique are all there. It's the Elvis everyone wants to remember.

And an audience is there to hear the voice that never left, too. Whenever possible, the script smartly manufactures a way to put Vince in front of screaming fans. He even performs on TV while in the stir, and after that he's everywhere.

Perhaps The King's movies never matched his music because he preferred the instant feedback of a live audience instead of a director's counsel. As the brief narrative interludes between numbers remind us, he wasn't much of a technical actor.

But his brilliant musical performance in Jailhouse Rock, particularly on the title number, is worthy of any Elvis concert compilation. Even when the audience is composed of paid extras, he knows when to stop to acknowledge the response.

Watching the film today, the campy contrivances to get Elvis out of his shirt or onto a stage are obvious. But while the story might be forgettable, Jailhouse Rock is an important part of the interesting and unforgettable story that was Elvis Presley's life.


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Tue Jun 28, 2005 5:46 pm

An excellent and fair review by a man who seems to respect Elvis and too know what he's talking about, thanks Melanie!

Tue Jun 28, 2005 6:42 pm

Personally I do not share the opinion that this is an excellent review of Jailhouse Rock. Neither is it fair since it doesn't really give the film a break . I don't even think of it as a review. Anyhow, IMO it conflicts with about everything we know about Elvis the actor today. This is something that could well have been published years ago but not in 2005. By stating that "the story might be forgettable" and reducing Elvis to a puppet that was not able to do anything but sing or "get out of his shirt" :? (whatever that's supposed to mean) this "review" really fails to capture one of Elvis' best performances as an actor ever. Also the script is tight and it has some of the sharpest lines in an Elvis movie and more than that, too. It's an extremly well directed and produced picture of 1950ies music business and youth movement and does NOT live from its music alone like maybe Blue Hawaii did. With only three or four songs that are actually performed you can't even call it a typical musical or Elvis film.

The Library Of Congress didn't add it to the National Film Registry of only 400 titles for nothing. IMO it's an extremly good drama. Probably focussing on rock music and an upcoming "star" - but still it is a drama.

Tue Jun 28, 2005 6:56 pm

I don’t think the story is ‘forgettable’, so those comments are not a good way to end what was a generally positive article.

For me the point the writer is trying to make in his criticisms is that given Elvis’ level of fame, it would be hard for anyone to accept Elvis on the screen as anything other than himself, and ultimately the films became a vehicle through which fans around the world could watch Elvis’ performing.

That said watching Elvis singing live to an audience, is much more exciting than watching Elvis lip synching to a pre recorded tape, and I think the article touches on this too.

Tue Jun 28, 2005 8:28 pm

As the first few musical performances are intentionally bad and songs are used sparingly in the remainder of the film, the review seems a little off. For me, Elvis did display considerable acting talent in this film. He was very believable as the cocky and arrogant guy driven by money in the middle part of the film. Look at his body language and facial expressions in the opening scenes and compare with the later scenes when he has grown in confidence and taken on undesirable character traits. An excellent and very convincing performance IMO.

But if the reviewer thinks that JR stands out as the best Elvis movie, perhaps he hasn't seen King Creole. It's a far more complex script and stronger performance from Elvis.

Tue Jun 28, 2005 8:51 pm

For me he acted very well in this movie..and for sure he had a big talent that was never explored as it had to be...

Wed Jun 29, 2005 6:50 am

Elvis' acting in Jailhouse Rock was excellent for a guy who never took lessons. King Creole was a notch better, IMHO.

Jus watch sum of those scenes in Jailhouse, when he's moody and pissed, he's totally believable. one of my favorite parts in this film is when he meets Peggy at that diner at 7:00 and he walks in late. she tells him she sold his record and he replies "swell. that could turn into a great steak.." LOL

or how about when Peggy says..."well if it's alright with you I'll pay for the meal" and Vince replies "You will if we eat!" :shock: :lol: AWESOME!!!

Wed Jun 29, 2005 11:25 am

minkahed wrote:Elvis' acting in Jailhouse Rock was excellent for a guy who never took lessons. King Creole was a notch better, IMHO.

Jus watch sum of those scenes in Jailhouse, when he's moody and pissed, he's totally believable. one of my favorite parts in this film is when he meets Peggy at that diner at 7:00 and he walks in late. she tells him she sold his record and he replies "swell. that could turn into a great steak.." LOL!!!


I don't have it to hand to check, but I think what he says is more like "I sure could tear into a steak". Excuse the pedantry :) It works nicely. She is excited about telling him how things are progressing and he can't be bothered to show the slightest enthusiasm for anything but feeding his face.

Wed Jun 29, 2005 4:39 pm

TJ wrote:
minkahed wrote:Elvis' acting in Jailhouse Rock was excellent for a guy who never took lessons. King Creole was a notch better, IMHO.

Jus watch sum of those scenes in Jailhouse, when he's moody and pissed, he's totally believable. one of my favorite parts in this film is when he meets Peggy at that diner at 7:00 and he walks in late. she tells him she sold his record and he replies "swell. that could turn into a great steak.." LOL!!!


I don't have it to hand to check, but I think what he says is more like "I sure could tear into a steak". Excuse the pedantry :) It works nicely. She is excited about telling him how things are progressing and he can't be bothered to show the slightest enthusiasm for anything but feeding his face.


Great stuff T.J., thanks. I also loved the scene when he just gets out of jail and checks into a room and the house cleaning lady comes in. Anybody remember the classic verbal exchange from this particular scene? You know where he asks about a pawn shop.

Wed Jun 29, 2005 4:44 pm

see-see-rider wrote:Personally I do not share the opinion that this is an excellent review of Jailhouse Rock. Neither is it fair since it doesn't really give the film a break . I don't even think of it as a review. Anyhow, IMO it conflicts with about everything we know about Elvis the actor today. This is something that could well have been published years ago but not in 2005. By stating that "the story might be forgettable" and reducing Elvis to a puppet that was not able to do anything but sing or "get out of his shirt" :? (whatever that's supposed to mean) this "review" really fails to capture one of Elvis' best performances as an actor ever. Also the script is tight and it has some of the sharpest lines in an Elvis movie and more than that, too. It's an extremly well directed and produced picture of 1950ies music business and youth movement and does NOT live from its music alone like maybe Blue Hawaii did. With only three or four songs that are actually performed you can't even call it a typical musical or Elvis film.

The Library Of Congress didn't add it to the National Film Registry of only 400 titles for nothing. IMO it's an extremly good drama. Probably focussing on rock music and an upcoming "star" - but still it is a drama.

see see Rider, well said!

Wed Jun 29, 2005 5:03 pm

see-see-rider wrote:The Library Of Congress didn't add it to the National Film Registry of only 400 titles for nothing.


Is there a jury ?
Did they give reasons ?

If only this would guarantee a 2-disc Special Edition.

Wed Jun 29, 2005 5:16 pm

Melanie wrote:
see-see-rider wrote:The Library Of Congress didn't add it to the National Film Registry of only 400 titles for nothing.


Is there a jury ?
Did they give reasons ?

For further information regarding the list check the website of the National Film Preservation Board, if you like.

Thu Jun 30, 2005 8:30 am

I will go to my grave believing that Elvis was a good actor. Unfortunately much of the proof lies in bad movies like "Stay Away Joe" or unseen movies like "The Trouble With Girls". Of course the proof is there in varying degrees in "Follow That Dream", "King Creole", "Jailhouse Rock", "Flaming Star" and even the overheated "Wild in the Country". When you go in expecting- wanting- Elvis to be bad though you can see through anything.

In "Jailhouse Rock" you can see some of Elvis' technical limitations as an actor in some of his line readings particularly in the somewhat softer moments. However, you can also see his tremendous emotional strengths, his charisma and his comfort level on screen. In later performances like "Flaming Star" or "Follow That Dream" I defy anyone to tell me what he could have or should have done better in those movies.

Plus, he also had some singular gifts. Few actors were as convincing at a quick flash of anger and defensiveness. It's just that he never worked with a director or a script that attempted to get the maximum mileage out of those gifts.

I watched "Seconds" recently and on the audio commentary John Frankenheimer recalls how he went to town to get a performance out of Rock Hudson. He rehearsed, he improvised, did extensive motivation and made situations seem as real as possible to the actor. Hudson, to me a lesser actor than Elvis although underrated in his own right, gave an absolutely remarkable performance. If only someone had given Elvis such attention.

I do not buy the idea that a person is too famous to play a part. Otherwise you couldn't cast a Hollywood actor after one role. The challenge of forgetting a larger than life star has existed as long as there were movie stars. It wasn't like John Wayne and Marlon Brando weren't larger than life icons.

Thu Jun 30, 2005 3:36 pm

I recently saw "Rio Bravo". If Ricky Nelson could play Colorado Ryan, Elvis could have done it. Is Frankie Avalon's acting any better ? No.

What made Elvis agree to do those light comedies ? Money may have been a contributing factor. Would he have rather been a good actor on a mediocre salary than a mediocre actor on a good salary?

His first movies were all serious attempts. Growing actor, enjoying the craft and Hollywood. "Flaming Star" served as a return to serious acting and the film bombed at the box office. So return to the winning "Blue Hawaii" formula with lots of songs. This is what the fans wanted to see. It didn't ruin his superstar status, but his satisfaction to a degree where he would get physically sick.

Most of the movies might have been the worst of all time, but not his acting.
"Follow That Dream": the courtroom delivery is perfect. Some great facial expressions. "Now, you know what I do for an encore." Flawless. Would James Dean have done it better? I doubt it. He is always good at playing pissed, that fire in his eyes.

One thing why his characters aren't entirely believable is he is too much Elvis for the part. Early in his career he said something along the line of 'If you start acting, you are dead.'

There are scenes in all movies where his acting abilities shine through. He would have needed lessons and direction on subtlety, anyone can benefit from that. I can't picture him as a method actor. He's a movie star, because he has charisma and screen presence. He wasn't a critical acclaimed actor. Did he wish to be?

There are times when he actually makes dumb lines worse and I get embarrassed for him. And I am glad he didn't put his all into movies like "Easy Come, Easy Go." But Hollywood doesn't care if you can act or not as long as you make a profit.

The potential was there, he had the ability to not only memorize his own parts but everyone elses as well. He had a versitile personality. But no matter how good Elvis could have gotten, his fame as a singer would still overwrite any acting abilities. Can you ever see Whitney Houston as a great actress? I suspect his worldwide fame would have prevented him from being taken seriously as an actor.

Elvis could not have been bigger than he already was but he could have sustained his artistic qualities at a higher level longer. But who can say what might have been?