Warner Bros. // 1957 // 96 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Ryan Keefer (Retired) // November 1st, 2007
Elvis in action as never before!
It's been 50 years since Jailhouse Rock appeared in cinemas around the country, and took Elvis Presley from star to superstar. To coincide with the anniversary of the film, Warner Brothers has released a new edition of the film on standard and high definition discs, including the Blu-ray format. So how does it measure up?
Nedrick Young (Inherit the Wind) came up with the story that Richard Thorpe (That Funny Feeling) directed. Elvis plays Vince Everett, a nice, rather unassuming guy who buys a round for his friends at the bar. He starts talking to a woman that sits with him, and the woman's husband gets jealous and takes Vince on in a fight. Vince beats the man up and accidentally kills him, so he's sent to jail (for the often used one to ten year sentence), and is cellmate with Hunk (Mickey Shaughnessy, How the West Was Won), who shows him some things on a guitar. He plays in a talent show in prison that gets him some press, but he doesn't know about it until he's released. When he's released for good behavior, he meets Peggy (Judy Tyler, Bop Girl Goes Calypso), who helps take Vince's star higher.
The star of Elvis Presley could never have been any brighter even before he made Jailhouse Rock. Songs like "Hound Dog" and "Heartbreak Hotel" were staples in any teen girl's music library, and he had already appeared on the Steve Allen and Ed Sullivan TV shows, thrilling and fascinating scores of Americans. So the next logical progression for Elvis' career had to be movies, right? And with Love Me Tender and Loving You, he had become a virtual Jennifer Lopez, decades before the actress ruled the world (OK, that last part I couldn't type without cracking a smile).
But Jailhouse Rock proved to be a departure for Elvis. The film, Elvis' first, was a serious one in tone, but it proved to be an effective marriage of popular music with a story that keeps you somewhat involved for an hour and a half. Compared to other Elvis films, Jailhouse Rock seemed to leave less room to the predictable storybook ending or illogical leap made by the filmmakers. It's no big surprise that Young would later win an Oscar for his career, because the inklings of it were evident early on.
Considering that this is a half-century old film, the 2.40:1 widescreen presentation this sports on Blu-ray is pretty good. The print is in good shape and the blacks look good, albeit not all that deep. On the audio front, the film comes with the original mono track, along with a remastered Dolby 5.1 track and a TrueHD track for next-gen fans. The TrueHD track is well balanced and the musical numbers sound fine, and most of the action is up front like in Viva Las Vegas. No reasons to be angry with this disc.
Unfortunately, there are only two supplements to speak of on Jailhouse Rock. Steve Pond, author of Elvis in Hollywood, provides a commentary track on the film. He also provided a commentary to Viva Las Vegas, and the same kind of jaded humor abounds on this track like it did the last. Maybe jaded humor is too harsh a phrase, but he certainly puts the occasional joke in every so often, the "well, we know what's going to happen here..." kind of phrase. He discusses the production and provides a bit of trivia to it as it goes, and he also talks about the music in and out of the film itself. Pond also observes the "greedy manager" caricature in the film and notes the irony must have been something, considering Elvis had Colonel Parker with him. The parallels of this film to Elvis' life are discussed, along with some interesting opinions on what he could have done to change things in his life to help avoid the ending he met. All in all I liked this track a bit better than Pond's other one. The only other piece here is "The Scene That Stole Jailhouse Rock," which runs for about 15 minutes and provides music journalists a chance to discuss the title song and their thoughts on it, with an occasional on-set story as an accompaniment.
Despite talking about there not being too many leaps in common sense in Jailhouse Rock, there are a few, the biggest one being that someone who kills a guy in a bar fight would never see that type of notoriety today. But the thing I don't really like in these Elvis DVDs is that there's a commentary by a journalist, one small featurette and that's it. I'd hope that someone has got some good stuff in the vault for some "bells and whistles" edition down the road.
Jailhouse Rock combines decent storytelling with music that has stood the test of time over the years. The technical qualities make the film look as good as it ever did, and if your exposure to Elvis films is limited, or if you're a fan of the films, you're definitely in for a treat. Personally, I'd wait until there were more definitive editions of the films released in the future, but you can't go wrong with any of these.
Not guilty. Thankyouverymuch...
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (Widescreen)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Spanish)
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Year: 1957
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Commentary by Author Steve Pond
* Featurette "The Scene That Stole Jailhouse Rock"
* Theatrical Trailer
* Original DVD Verdict Review
* Official Elvis Site