Warner Bros. // 1964 // 85 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Ryan Keefer (Retired) // November 1st, 2007
It's that "go-go" guy and that "bye-bye" gal in the fun capital of the world!
Thirty years ago Elvis Presley died at his home in Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee. The world has never been quite the same since, with many stories and urban legends floating around the iconic figure since he departed. Upon this sad anniversary, Warner has released several of Presley's films as larger Deluxe Editions on standard definition, and a couple of these have been simultaneously released on Blu-ray. How they look, yo?
Transparent as it may be, I'll recap it because I didn't necessarily know some of the finer points of the film. Written by Sally Benson (The Singing Nun) and directed by George Sidney (Bye Bye Birdie), Viva Las Vegas stars Elvis as Lucky Jackson, a young guy who comes to Vegas and hopes to race in the Vegas Grand Prix race, and brought a car to race with. But he is still lacking the money to buy an engine to make the car go vroom vroom. So he enters a talent contest at a local Vegas Hotel with the goal of winning the cash award and buying said engine. In the meantime, he manages to develop a bit of a crush on a pool manager named Rusty (Ann-Margret, The Break-Up). Rusty is also being courted by an Italian racer named Fancini (Cesare Danova, Animal House). Will Lucky win the contest, and/or find money to buy the motor he wants? Will Lucky win the race? Will Lucky get the girl? Will Lucky sing a bunch of songs in the process? These questions and many more will be answered in the film.
I never have seen an Elvis film before, but if I know that Elvis' manager Colonel Parker was basically having these movies made to serve as star vehicles for his only client, then I'd presume the rest of the world did. So I tried to look for things that didn't fall within the norm of a situation like this and found a couple of surprises. The first was that a few of the lyrics were definitely surprising to hear in a film like this. The first song, where Lucky and Rusty start to flirt with one another, produces a beauty where Rusty talks about Lucky: "both of his heads must have flipped." Wait a second. Did I hear that in a sugary sweet movie with Elvis? Maybe Elvis and others involved with the film weren't as PG as I would have thought.
Then there was the chemistry between Elvis and Ann-Margret, so much so that the latter half of the duo was hamstrung by Parker, with her musical numbers being reduced into duets (or songs that Elvis would sing) in an attempt to keep the attention on the main attraction. But the chemistry apparently escalated off set, and it proved for some interesting moments in Elvis' life. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised with how lighthearted the film was, and Elvis really didn't do anything in the film that embarrassed himself in any way.
From a technical point of view, the VC-1 encoded 2.35:1 transfer brings out the life in the material, that's for sure. There's not a lot of depth in the image, but everything stands out rather well and is sharp. I was expecting some blurring or a general fuzzy image when it came to the Vegas lights, but it looked better than I was expecting. Warner has done well in the few older catalog titles they've released on high definition, and this one is another praiseworthy accomplishment. In the "Sonic Youth" area, there's a TrueHD track to go with the 5.1 Surround track, and the film's mono track is here too. I only sampled the TrueHD track and everything sounded fine, with an occasional toe dip into the pool of low end activity, but the action is focused pretty squarely on the front channels without any surrounds or panning.
Extras wise, there's not too much here, although it is a little bit substantial. Steve Pond, author of Elvis in Hollywood, provides a commentary for the film. Pond discusses the film's place in Elvis' career, and he provides trivia on some of the supporting cast. But at the end of the day, it is about all things Presley, as he discusses who sung what, and does kind of look at (and embrace) the kitschiness of the film. The "Kingdom: Elvis in Vegas" piece that accompanies the disc is a little over 20 minutes and provides some more history from Pond and Rolling Stone editor Joe Levy, along with some of Elvis' friends and confidants. The piece really is what it says, discussing Elvis' time in Vegas, both during the making of this film, and his subsequent Vegas concert dates after his comeback special, and a lot of clips from That's the Way It Is are included too. I could have done without the dramatically re-enacted Elvis and Colonel Parker, but what can you do?
There are some leaps of logic to be made in the film. Ideally, the way Lucky acts as a hotel employee would have gotten him thrown on his peanut butter and banana sandwiches a long time ago, but the creepier thing is that Danova never seems to lose his smile. He smiles even during scenes where he's supposed to be provoked, and in the final race where he is involved in an apparently serious car crash, he not only walks out without a scratch, but is smiling. It's a little bit creepy, but maybe he was worried on that "zoo fraternity of yours."
If you're going to watch this Elvis film, or any Elvis film for that matter, suspension of disbelief and logic are things you really have to focus on over the course of an hour and a half. But I have to admit, I was entertained without being annoyed, and I think I would have even seen an Elvis film in the theater if I was, you know, alive back then.
Considering how light they are, the court acquits those involved with the project and will resume consuming heavier fare with their hot dog buns and ice cream sundaes shortly.
Review content copyright © 2007 Ryan Keefer; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
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: 85 Minutes
Release Year: 1964
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Commentary by Steve Pond, Author of "Elvis in Hollywood"
* "Kingdom: Elvis in Vegas" Featurette
* Theatrical Trailer
* Original DVD Verdict Review
* Official Elvis Site