Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Essential Elvis movies

This continues a week-long series of blogs on Elvis for Elvis Week...

At the Michigan ElvisFest last summer, while listening to an Elvis tribute artist perform songs from what is generally considered The King's weakest period musically -- his movie soundtracks -- my friend David Romas leaned over and asked, "Of all those movies, how many of them would you say are worth watching?"

My answer?

"Ten." (For the casual fan, the count may be a bit lower.)

Now, I'm not counting the two performance documentaries, "That's the Way It Is" and "Elvis On Tour." Both are essential if you are a fan and interesting even if you're just a fan of American music.

But the scripted movies are another story. A handful are must sees for any Elvis fan. A few are fun. Another handful are so bad I can't even make my way through them. Most -- let's face it -- are forgettable.

So, I thought I'd list my choices of 10 essential Elvis movies. These are in no particular order, just 10 flicks I think are fun or worth seeing for one reason or another.

Change of Habit (1969) Elvis as a hip doctor and Mary Tyler Moore as a nun? You had me at hello!

A lot of people hate "Change of Habit." I'm not sure why. The songs are kept at a minimum, but what's there is great -- the title track, "Rubberneckin'" "Let Us Pray" and even -- if you're in the right mood -- "Have a Happy."

A member of Elvis' inner circle (it was either Charlie Hodge or Sonny West) said by this point Elvis knew this was his last movie and he simply had fun with it.

"If you want to see Elvis as he really was, watch that film ('Change of Habit')," he said.

Some say Elvis and Mary have no chemistry together. While sparks don't exactly explode, I think they play off each other pretty well. Both were at the peak of their physical looks. I try to watch it at least once a year.

Live a Little, Love a Little (1968) This is a guilty pleasure. It's silly, bizarre even at times, but a lot of fun. Elvis looks great, co-star Michele Carey sizzles and you're even treated to a great fight scene between Elvis and his buddies/Memphis Mafia cohorts Red and Sonny West. And it's as adult as an Elvis film is going to get. He throws a few "hells" and "dammits" into his speech and even is shown taking photos for a girlie magazine (albeit in G-rated fashion).

Several of the songs are super sweet, including "A Little Less Conversation," which would become a smash remix hit in 2002. Rudy Vallee, Don Porter, Dick "The Later Darren" Sargent and Sterling Holloway round out a good cast.

King Creole (1958) Perhaps Elvis' best film performance is captured in this dark story of a teenage rebel trying desperately to make something of himself. Shot on location in New Orleans, Dolores Hart and
Carolyn Jones costar along with Walter Matthau. The movie was directed by Michael Curtiz, who also helmed "Casablanca."

Jailhouse Rock (1957) You know why this one is here.

Viva Las Vegas (1964) Elvis. Ann-Margret. Vegas. "What'd I Say?" No need to say more.

Flaming Star (1960) A good -- not great -- western sees Elvis play a half-breed caught between a rock and a hard place. Co-starring Steve Forrest and Barbara Eden, this movie gives you a glimpse of what might have been.

Blue Hawaii (1961) This picture is fluff but fun. It's the best of the three movies Elvis shot in Hawaii and features the song that would become his concert closer, "Can't Help Falling in Love."

Wild in the Country (1961) Definitely not your typical Elvis flick, this one again gives you glimpses of the actor Elvis could have become had he been given better scripts. It co-stars Tuesday Weld, Hope Lange and Millie Perkins.

Kid Galahad (1962) This one is a bit of a guilty pleasure, but it co-stars Gig Young and Charles Bronson and I just like it, especially the movie's signature song, "I Got Lucky."

Roustabout (1964) Decent script, fun movie, couple of great songs and Barbara Stanwyck.

Five Elvis films to avoid:

If you can sit through "Harum Scarum," "Paradise Hawaiian Style," "Stay Away Joe," "Clambake" and "Easy Come, Easy Go," more power to you.

What's your favorite Elvis flick?

Host Bradley Reeves and I will be highlighting some of Elvis' lesser-known songs (although probably not many movie tracks) on WDVX-FM's "East Tennessee Quiver" on Thursday, Aug. 15. The show begins at 10 p.m. (Eastern) but the Elvis segment will start about 11. Listen at 89.9 FM or 102.9 FM in Knoxville, TN, or online at www.wdvx.com. Email us your Elvis requests (non-hits only) beginning at 11 p.m. (Eastern) to studio@wdvx.com or call 865-544-1029 #221 or 866-946-9389 #221.

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Blogger TN-Tanuki said...

I have a soft spot for Paradise, Hawaiian Style, having seen it so often as a kid, but Blue Hawaii _is_ the better of the two Hawaii pictures. I totally agree with you on King Creole and how E could have been a contendah given the right script, (ah, what could have been). One of my favorite's, though, has to be Live a Little, Love a Little for no other reason than his co-star: the delicious Michelle Carey! (Well, her and the bizarre 'Edge of Reality' dream sequence/music video).

7:51 AM  

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