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The 2007 Elvis Movie DVD releases reviewed (GOLDMINE Mag.)

Fri Jan 11, 2008 8:27 pm

All Things Elvis: Bring the King home to your living room with these DVDs
DVD Review by Gillian G. Gaar, GOLDMINE
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In the late ’70s, producer Andrew Solt and his partner, Malcolm Leo, sold a special to ABC, “Heroes of Rock ‘n’ Roll” (which aired in February 1979).

“We needed the rights to show The Beatles, Stones, Elvis, Dylan, etc.,” explains Solt. “And the hardest nut to crack in those days was the Elvis estate. We were able to have a meeting with Colonel Parker and got him to agree, and Fox negotiated the final deal to include about 10 to 12 minutes of Elvis material and do a mini-bio on him. The Colonel got paid a bunch of money, and he was happy with it.

“We had various meetings with Colonel Parker,” Solt continues. “His office was only two blocks from us. He came to like us and was trusting of us. And I said to him at one point, ‘Colonel, why don’t we one day do Elvis’ story?’ And he said, ‘No, the time is wrong. But that seed was planted.’”

And the ultimate result of that seed was the documentary “This Is Elvis,” released in 1981. The film has been issued on DVD for the first time, part of an ambitious program of new releases and reissues that covers nearly all of Elvis’ films, so you can upgrade or fill in holes in your collection. Here’s a recap, focusing on new-to-DVD releases and new features on the reissues.


Warner Home Video

“Jailhouse Rock” (1957): One of Elvis’ two best films (the other is “King Creole”). Elvis is Vince Everett, an ex-con who becomes a singing sensation, and the production number for the title song is the best of any Elvis film. The film has a remastered soundtrack in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and mono, unenlightening commentary by Steve Pond (author of “Elvis In Hollywood”), and a bonus featurette on the “Jailhouse Rock” number. There’s also a photo booklet.

“Viva Las Vegas” (1964): I’ve always found the plot of this film to be somewhat lackluster (Elvis is Lucky Johnson, a race car driver stuck in Vegas when he loses the money needed to fix his car). But there’s no denying the chemistry Elvis has with one of his best ever co-stars, Ann-Margret, and their dance numbers together (“C’mon Everybody,” “What’d I Say”) are terrifically exciting. Ann-Margret’s “Appreciation” is another high point, as is Elvis’ rendition of the title song. There’s a remastered soundtrack, a commentary track by Steve Pond, and the featurette “Kingdom: Elvis In Vegas.” Also included are five collectible cards, though the ones in my copy were from another film, “Speedway.”

“Elvis: That’s The Way It Is” (1970): This concert film was released in a new edit in 2001 that cut footage of some admittedly eccentric fans in favor of performance footage. But that misses the point that Elvis fandom is as key to the Elvis phenomenon as the music. So, it’s nice that this set includes both the 1970 film and the 2001 edit. Bonus material includes a restoration feature that was on the 2001 DVD and 12 new outtakes, which confirm that the final films did indeed have the best footage. There’s also a photo booklet.

“This Is Elvis” (1981): Despite the occasional re-creations, this is a very engaging documentary that covers the breadth of Elvis’ career with some great clips. But the shambolic “Are You Lonesome Tonight” in the 1981 version was deemed too embarrassing and was cut from the 1983 home-video version — which also included 40 minutes of additional material by way of compensation. This set has both versions, a bonus featurette about Graceland and a photo booklet.

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The following films are new to DVD, available separately and in the set “Elvis: The Hollywood Collection.” No bonus features, but collectible cards are included.

“Kissin’ Cousins” (1964): If you have a taste for kitsch, this is the film for you. Elvis plays Lt. Josh Morgan, sent to convince his kinfolk, the Tatum clan, to let the military build a missile base on their land. The Tatums aren’t too trusting of them “gummint” folks, which leads to skirmishes. Adding to the hilarity is Morgan’s lookalike cousin, Jodie Tatum (played by Elvis, in a blonde wig he hated), and a gaggle of sex-crazed mountain gals, the Kittyhawks. Too bad the songs aren’t stronger, but this version does include the “Smokey Mountain Boy” number, cut from earlier releases.

“Girl Happy” (1965): There isn’t much to recommend about this film. The plot (Elvis is Rusty Wells, a bandleader sent to Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., to keep his eye on a Chicago mobster’s daughter during spring break) is hackneyed.

The co-stars, aside from love interest Shelley Fabares, are blander than usual — as are the songs. This was the last film in Elvis’ 1961 MGM contract; he should’ve given serious thought before signing a new one.
“Tickle Me” (1965): This film has the distinction of having the worst — and most inexplicable — title of any Elvis film. And then there’s the plot…. Elvis is rodeo rider Lonnie Beal who takes a temporary job at a dude ranch/health spa for women. A haunted house with hidden gold and a dream sequence are added to pad out the 90 minutes. At least some better-than-average songs lurk in the soundtrack (and thankfully there’s no title song): “It Feels So Right,” “Night Rider” and especially Leiber and Stoller’s “Dirty Dirty Feeling.”

“Stay Away, Joe” (1968): By the end of Elvis’ film career, there was a move toward a more “adult” vein. Elvis is Joe Lightcloud, an American Indian trying to score big bucks through cattle herding. There’s a scant four songs, including the most embarrassing of Elvis’ film tunes, “Dominick,” sung in the hopes of getting a reluctant bull to do the matin’ thing. Good co-stars (including Burgess Meredith and Joan Blondell) but a directionless script makes this film a lost opportunity.

"LIve a Little, Love A Little” is surely the strangest of Elvis’ films. Elvis is photographer Greg Nolan, whose life is taken over by the kooky Bernice (Michele Carey). In a switch, it’s Elvis who’s dominated throughout the film, at the mercy of his girlfriend’s whims. But again, it’s a grown-up milieu; one of Greg’s jobs is taking cheesecake shots (and I don’t mean confectionary), there are a few epithets like “hell,” and Greg even gets to bed his girl before marriage. Only four songs, including the bizarre neo-psychedelic “Edge Of Reality” (used in a dream sequence, natch) and “A Little Less Conversation,” remixed into a worldwide hit some 24 years later.

“Charro!” (1969): This Spaghetti Western came far too late to rejuvenate Elvis’ film career or spin it in another, more interesting direction.

Elvis is Jess Wade, a former outlaw trying to turn over a new leaf who gets re-entangled with his old gang. A tighter, punchier script would’ve given the film a much-needed dose of energy. The only music is in the title song.

Warner has also reissued “Double Trouble,” “Harum Scarum,” “It Happened At The World’s Fair,” “Speedway,” “Spinout” and “The Trouble With Girls” in new packaging to match the new releases.


Paramount Home Video

These films are available separately and in the “Lights! Camera! Elvis!” Collection. In the set, the films are presented as “two-fers” (two films per DVD) and packaged in a nifty blue faux-suede box.
There are no bonus features, but the movies all have Dolby Digital 5.1 and mono soundtracks.

If you don’t want them all, “King Creole,” “Blue Hawaii” and “Roustabout” are the best of the bunch; “G.I. Blues” and “Fun In Acapulco” are somewhere in the middle, and “Girls! Girls! Girls!,” “Paradise Hawaiian Style” and “Easy Come, Easy Go” are for completists only.


MGM Home Video

Not to be outdone, MGM Home Video has reissued “Follow That Dream,” “Kid Galahad,” “Frankie And Johnny” and “Clambake” in “Elvis: MGM Movie Legends Collection.” There is no bonus material.


Gillian Gaar
1122 E. Pike St. #897
Seattle, WA 98122-3916
gaarski@hotmail.com

Re: The 2007 Elvis Movie DVD releases reviewed (GOLDMINE Mag.)

Wed Feb 20, 2008 12:12 pm

Not the most substantive reviews but ok nonetheless. I actually like Girl Happy a bit as a piece of adolescent wish fulfillment.

Gaar should have mentioned the video and sound quality on these videos which are terrific. Also they have insert cards.

Pond was a poor choice to do the audio commentary on these. He can't even bring himself to call "Viva Las Vegas" a good song. His main credential for being chosen to do the commentary was his book "Elvis in Hollywood" which is a picture about the making of Love Me Tender. It does not deal at all with Elvis' subsequent films. He spends most of his time condemning the film. His praise is heaped on the studio sessions that followed. The book lacks purpose as does his perfunctory audio commentary on these discs.

Re: The 2007 Elvis Movie DVD releases reviewed (GOLDMINE Mag.)

Mon Mar 10, 2008 5:43 am

Lucky Johnson?? oh brother, if these people are gonna bother to write these discs up at least get the main character name right! man!