Appellate Judge Dan Mancini says this Elvis flick could be worse. It could be Clambake.
Elvis comes out swingin' like you've never seen him before!
Does a musical remake of an Edward G. Robinson/Bette Davis/Humphrey Bogart boxing flick, starring Elvis Presley (Jailhouse Rock), Gig Young (They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, and Charles Bronson (The Magnificent Seven) sound like a good idea to you? Me neither. But that didn't stop producer David Weisbart (Rebel Without a Cause), director Phil Karlson (Walking Tall), and Colonel Tom Parker from putting the King of Rock 'n' Roll's recording career on hold so they could make Kid Galahad. Thanks, guys.
The movie's plot is simple as can be: Walter Gulick (Presley) returns home to Green Valley, New York after a stint in the military. He seeks employment as a mechanic at Grogan's Gaelic Gardens. The failing inn is owned by Willy Grogan, a shifty gambling addict whose fear of commitment has his girlfriend, Dolly (Lola Albright, Lord Love a Duck), living on tenterhooks. Gulick appears to be out of luck on the job front until a fortuitous sparring match reveals that he has an iron jaw and a wicked right cross. Grogan's in debt to a rough mobster and sees Gulick—now nicknamed Kid Galahad—as his shot at financial redemption. Gulick begins training with former pug Lew Nyack (Bronson) for a fight against seasoned pro Ramon "Sugar Boy" Romero. Meanwhile, the kid falls for Grogan's kid sister Rose (Joan Blackman, Blue Hawaii), a development the jaded old gambler doesn't like in the least.
As a light romantic comedy, Kid Galahad ain't so hot. As a musical, it's even worse. Screenwriter William Fay (The Man from U.N.C.L.E.) forgot to include the wit in his witty repartee. Gig Young expends much energy arching his eyebrows in an attempt to sell the jokes, but it's all for naught. Jeff Alexander's (Jailhouse Rock) precious score also works overtime punctuating the lame humor with clichéd string cues, but unfunny is unfunny no matter how hard seasoned professionals try to hide it.
The movie isn't helped by the fact that its star is a rock icon and not an actor. Gig Young and Charles Bronson do their darnedest to carry Elvis, considerably softening the painful impact of his less-than-stellar performance. The King is merely bearable so long as he's playing cool. The minute he has to stretch emotionally—as in one scene in which he nearly decks Young—he becomes as wooden as a hollow-body guitar. But even if Elvis were as good as Olivier, his postmortem ascent into the uppermost tier of pop-culture iconography would still make his every gesture and every syllable look and sound like the overblown antics of the most kickass Elvis impersonator of all time. From the vantage point of the early twenty-first century, it's well-nigh impossible to take the King seriously as anything other than an incredibly charismatic rock 'n' roll singer.
The predictability of the romance between Gulick and Rose is forgivable (all romances in romantic comedies are formulaic and predictable; that's part of the fun), but the lack of chemistry between the Elvis and Joan Blackman isn't. Any viewer who has seen Blue Hawaii (and most viewers who haven't) will know from the start that Blackman and Elvis are going to end up together. That's okay. But the journey to happily-ever-after is a sad drag, and that's not so okay.
Unfortunately, the mob storyline does its best to compete with the romance over the lion's share of our apathy. There's little build-up to Kid Galahad's bout with "Sugar Boy" Romero, and little doubt as to its outcome. Once we get to the big fight, its choreography (if it can be called choreography) is unintentionally hilarious as the Kid and his opponent swing willy-nilly at one another like Rock Em Sock Em Robots. In a clear-cut case of prizefightus interruptus, the bout proceeds with a complete absence of narrative tension and never manages to climax despite ending with a predictable Presley victory.
Given that Kid Galahad features Elvis, it ought to at least work well as a musical, right? Wrong. Each of the half-dozen tunes performed by Presley are forgettable. Phil Karlson and cinematographer Burnett Guffey (Bonnie and Clyde) shoot the numbers with a minimum of flair or imagination. They nearly all feature extremely square extras grinning and snapping their fingers as they sit in a circle around Presley as he croons squeaky-clean imitations of rock 'n' roll like "King of the Whole Wide World" and "This is Living." It would all be unbearably whitebread if not for the modicum of soul infused into the B-grade material by Elvis.
Originally shot in Technicolor, Kid Galahad looks gorgeous on DVD. Colors are bold and accurate, and detail is mostly sharp. Other than some isolated age-related damage in the form of tiny nicks and scratches, the image looks just about perfect. The two-channel mono audio track is clean if unspectacular. Other than some previews for other MGM DVD releases, there are no extras.
Kid Galahad is a poorly executed film, and a nakedly crass attempt to cash in on Elvis's white-hot celebrity. It's difficult to imagine why anyone (other than those completely gaga over the King of Rock 'n' Roll) would want to watch such a tepid piece of entertainment. It's guilty as charged.
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