Judge Brett Cullum doesn't like to talk about his time in musical theatre jail, so we don't push him.
Peggy Van Alden: I think I'm going to just hate you!
The back cover of the DVD claims Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide named Jailhouse Rock Elvis "Presley's best film." Certainly it does have six great songs, a pretty leading lady, and a darker toned drama than you'd expect that had a lot of Elvis woven into the story. From intimate ballads on a solo guitar to the big titular production number, fans will have a lot to love in this story of a kid who escapes jail and becomes a star. Seems Warner Brothers has been double dipping from the Elvis well, and this new Jailhouse Rock: Deluxe Edition adds extras and a remastered picture and sound to the mix. The remastering was done for this DVD as well as the HD DVD and Bluray editions which were also released with the same extras.
Facts of the Case
Vince Everett (Presley) goes to prison for manslaughter after a bar room fight ends in tragedy. In jail he learns that he can sing, and finds an ex country singer (Mickey Shaughnessy, From Here to Eternity) who mentors him on the business. Once out he follows his cell mate's advice, and ends up teaming with a young music industry professional named Peggy (Jennifer Holden, Bop Girl Goes Calypso). Vince becomes a star, and the question is will he ever do right by the people who got him there?
What makes Jailhouse Rock interesting is what it is not. It doesn't deal with the jail plot for very long, and quickly becomes a rock melodrama about a kid trying to make it in the music business. There are many parallels to Elvis' own life, and the film allows him to draw on his own story and persona. Typical to Elvis movies it is designed solely with the rabid fan in mind. We get moments where Elvis is shirtless that feel exploitative as if the scene was only there to shed his top. He is objectified and worshipped by the camera, asked not to do much by the script, and comes alive every time he has to perform a musical number. It's peculiar that these movies aren't much more than vehicles to see Elvis rock, dance, and sing. Prince stole the idea for Purple Rain, and proved that the idea still worked thirty years later.
The film stays true to the Elvis Presley movie formula by making its lead stick close to his own persona and bump out a half dozen songs before its all over. The budget for Jailhouse Rock was four hundred thousand, and the film made four million in 1957. It was shot on the cheap in one month during 1957 by Richard Thorpe (Ivanhoe), a filmmaker known for being under budget and on time. It was the third Elvis movie, and it was a rock and roll melodrama aimed at the teen audience that comprised the singer's main audience. It's famous for the Alex Romero "Jailhouse Rock" production which features Presley doing his own natural dance moves with a troop of professional dancers. Hollywood lore has it that Gene Kelly was on set watching over the cellblock boogie proceedings while it was filmed. You can see most all of Presley's band (save for the piano player) performing with him in the various studio and live performances. The film starred Jennifer Holden who was killed in a car crash three days after filming wrapped, and it was said Elvis didn't watch it because he liked her so much. The two were never an item, but he certainly thought of her as a good friend.
The six numbers we get to see Elvis perform are:
Jailhouse Rock: Deluxe Edition differs from the previous bare bones releases. New to this deluxe edition are a commentary by Steve Pond (author of Elvis in Hollywood), a featurette, vintage trailer, and a twenty-four page booklet. The commentary is a nice addition including quite a bit of trivia about Elvis and his entire career in relation to the story of Jailhouse Rock. "The Scene that Stole Jailhouse Rock" is a fifteen minute featurette talking about the movie, and what it's significance is in rock history. The concentration is on the "Jailhouse Rock" number, but there's a lot more than that discussed. Also included is a vintage trailer which shows how they marketed the film. The included photo book is just made up some black and white publicity shots, and it's nice but nothing to write home about. This is a new transfer which looks cleaner than what has come before. It has a crisp look, and the black and white print is clear. It is an improvement over the previous DVD release, but there's only so far a picture from 1957 can be scrubbed and doctored. Also new to this version is five channel mix which sounds very forced, and has a different quality between the dialogue and music. The songs kick in louder and better reproduced in the new format.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
This is the third time Jailhouse Rock has hit the DVD market, and I'm not sure these extras and this new transfer demands a double dip. This is certainly the best the film has looked, and it's the first time we have extras. If you haven't owned it before then this is the way to make an initial purchase. The transfer is better, the features are informative, but none of that makes this a definitive must have upgrade.
Jailhouse Rock is one of the best Elvis movies, and it features one of his best dance sequences. The half dozen songs are strong, and the character of Vince Everett parallels Presley enough to make the acting natural. This new Jailhouse Rock: Deluxe Edition offers a cleaner transfer and a couple of informative extras. It's definitely the way to go, if you've held out on buying this one until now. But if you've got the original release there's not too much to sway you to an upgrade unless you're a completist or big fan.
Guilty of being a solid Elvis movie, Jailhouse Rock: Deluxe Edition is the perfect disc if you're trapped in the cellblock and dreaming of being a rock star.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Commentary by Author Steve Pond
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