August 13, 2008

Vive Le E!

Elvis with co-star Ann-Margret

Viva Las Vegas (1964) is generally considered to be one of Elvis' "good movies," as opposed to Blue Hawaii (1961) or Clambake (1967), two of his "bad movies." But calling it a good Elvis movie is a little bit like calling skin cancer a good cancer. There really is no such thing as a good Elvis movie. He just didn't make quality films, and pretty clearly he (and/or Colonel Tom Parker) really didn't care too much. Unlike Sinatra, Elvis doesn't have a From Here to Eternity or The Man with the Golden Arm or The Manchurian Candidate or even Suddenly to point to as being significant and serious film work. Viva Las Vegas does nothing to really change that.

Elvis with co-star Ann-Margret's lower half

But it does have Elvis, and it has Vegas as it was in 1964. So, despite being just another Elvis movie (really), Viva Las Vegas is a priceless historical document - preserving both Big E and Vegas in their prime. Regular visitors to this blog might have noticed I have an interest in "old Vegas," and the film provides several, quick glimpses of what it used to be like. Here is the title sequence, quite possibly the best part of the film:

No movie could successfully follow that!

Let's have a longer look at some of that in screencap form. Witness the beautiful neon display that was Fremont Street:

This long shot of Fremont Street comes as the Grand Prix race begins. Here is all that fabulous neon in motion:

By day, at the finish line of the Grand Prix

Glitzy hotels along Las Vegas Blvd., of which only The Flamingo survives. Today, it looks nothing like it did here, so this Flamingo is all but gone:
the eighty-foot neon "Champagne Tower"

Love is now the stardust of yesterday...
The music of the years gone by.

The Sands

The Landmark Hotel is in a couple of shots:


I can't end this post without mentioning the race. Since Elvis is after all "portraying" a race car driver named Lucky (heh) Jackson (heh), so they had to do a race scene, right?

Let me just say, first of all, that the whole concept of a Grand Prix is really kind of ridiculous, if you think about it. It makes sense it originated in France. It's the type of preposterous car race where there is no doubt racers will be maimed and injured, if not killed.

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Ann-Margret reacts to the horrors of Grand Prix racing

Now, I understand that during the auto race, the cars are supposed to be driving across the Hoover Dam from Nevada into Arizona. And maybe it's just me, but it seems slightly implausible that one moment the racers can be here:


And here

To fairly suddenly being here:
And here

Finally returning back to here:
It just seems like somebody wasn't paying attention or something as the movie was being edited to together. More likely, they just assumed the audience wouldn't notice. I don't think I'm exaggerating too much here, either. You rent it and check it out for yourself.

But through it all, no matter what is happening on the screen behind him, Elvis (deep, deep in his character, Lucky Jackson) looks fairly nonplussed and relaxed.....Almost bored, really. Maybe even a little bit sleepy. I guess keeping a calm head is a good idea while racing in a Grand Prix, seeing as the possibility of a catastrophic death or painful, disfiguring injury is constantly near.

Elvis in a helmet just doesn't work. Bad idea.

"Luke! Use the Force."

Wisely, the makers of the Viva Las Vegas decided it would be a good idea to have Elvis remove the helmet during filming of the performance scene featuring the title track. Supposedly this scene is the only one in Elvis' career to depict him performing an entire song, in one uncut take, and as shot by the lens of a single. And he's really good in it:


Michael Suzich said...

Thanks for taking the time to post these great screen caps! With such groovy names as Roustabout, Clambake and Kissin' Cousins, Elvis' movies seemed to ride on his fame alone. Plots were an afterthought! However, I must say that King Creole stands alone as a quality film. Elvis actually does quite a good job of acting in KC. It's a shame. If he had continued in this direction, who knows where his film career would have gone. I must share that, in honor of Elvis, I always refer to the famous "Oyster Bake" here in San Antonio as the "Clam Bake"...Drives people crazy, and not one person has made the connection to Elvis yet!

Chris said...

I think that's exactly right - Elvis' movies did ride on his fame, alone. Without him, they'd completely collapse. King Creole isn't bad. It sure looks like a classic film, anyway. Maybe it's the black and white. I think I've read that he thought it might be a role worthy of James Dean.

Try to call it the "Clam Bake" with a slight sneer next time.