Hunka Hunka Burnin' Celluloid
To commemorate August's twentieth anniversary of Elvis Presley's death, MGM Home Entertainment has released a video gift set containing all 31 of Elvis's movies in a guitar case. Maybe they should have been packaged in a coffin instead, since the majority of the King's film output has more in common with dead men walking than with music.
Elvis's promising acting career (Jailhouse Rock, Loving You, King Creole) was prematurely snuffed out by "technical adviser" "Col." Tom Parker in favor of some of the shoddiest scripts and hack songs ever inflicted on a paying audience (Harum Scarum, The Trouble with Girls, Kissin' Cousins, et cetera). That said, there are still two good reasons anyone in his right mind would want to sift through this body of cinematic excreta now: the dumb fun of watching the King navigate his way through excruciatingly bad songs, and the even bigger thrill of seeing him slug someone.
Although I intended to watch all 31 Elvis movies to best chronicle the worst song setting and the best setup for a punch, I made it through fewer than half. But it seemed like more. Even my eight-year-old son remarked, "Daddy, didn't we see this one already?" Incidentally, the worst films always seem to have Elvis -- much like future son-in-law Michael Jackson -- singing to small children, so I've included a pedophile alert for concerned parents. Now let's fast-forward through as many celluloid treasures and turds as the King deigned to leave behind. It's now or never!
Loving You (1957)
Most implausible song setting: Some loudmouth in a soda shop figures out how to get singing sensation Deke Rivers to serenade him and his gum-chewing girlfriend free of charge -- keep calling him "Sideburns." The grumbling Elvis then proceeds to invent karaoke by playing with a jukebox recording of "Mean Woman Blues," which mysteriously consists mostly of handclaps.
Reason Elvis has to whup a man's ass: After Elvis tears up the soda shop with that song, he asks the bully what his job is. "Upholstering cars," the bully says. "Well, I usually get paid for what I do, so why don't you go outside and upholster my car," Elvis insists. Job-appreciation day abruptly ends when the bully tells Elvis that his car's color is probably yellow. Whoa! No court in the land would convict Elvis for killing that guy!
Jailhouse Rock (1957)
Most implausible song setting: When jailbird Elvis sings "Young and Beautiful," his cellmate Hunk tells the young hoodlum he has a lot to learn about singing. Later he gets punched in the neck by Hunk and loses his voice. After an emergency operation, he lip-synchs to the same recording of "Young and Beautiful," and everybody's convinced he can resume his successful singing career. Guess money does change everything.
Reason Elvis has to whup a man's ass: Elvis does time in the Big House for second-degree manslaughter. You'd snap and kill a guy too if he spilled a drink on your shirt and said, "Why don't you run along, sonny, before I muss up your hair," wouldn'cha?
Kid Galahad (1962)
Most implausible song setting: What's most implausible to you? That the King is driving around in a Ford Model T? That the backing track to "Riding the Rainbow" is conveniently being broadcast at that very moment? That it's coming through the antiquated radio in perfect stereophonic sound? Or that Charles Bronson is in the back seat, smiling beatifically?
Reason Elvis has to whup a man's ass: Elvis gets his "Galahad" nickname by punching out any guy who gives a girl the incorrect time of day. Yet in his first professional prizefight, it takes 38 lethal jabs to the head and intense bleeding from both nostrils before he remembers that oh, yeah, he's got to hit the guy back!
Girls! Girls! Girls! (1962)
Most implausible song setting: Banging on walls to squelch their noisy neighbors' racket gives Elvis and his gal pal the tango rhythm they need to perform "The Walls Have Ears." With lines such as "Better think before you fling that shoe/If you part my hair with that chair they'll spread the word to Timbuktu," it's not hard to imagine the walls wishing they had fists as well.
Reason Elvis has to whup a man's ass: Elvis is incensed when his boss at the tuna cannery pays him $71.59 instead of the agreed-upon $100. "You don't understand business, Skipper," says the big boss man before meeting all ten of Elvis's knuckles up close and personal. Hmmm, guess when the colonel bamboozled Elvis out of his rightful millions, he had the good sense not to call him "Skipper."
Pedophile alert: After working all day on a shrimp boat with just men, Elvis croons the romantic "Earth Boy" to the Ling sisters, two pigtailed Hawaiian girls who couldn't be older than the catch of the day.
Viva Las Vegas (1964)
Most implausible song setting: Elvis stops a riot at a rowdy Lone Star strip club by breaking into "The Yellow Rose of Texas" and leading the ruffians in a conga line.
Reason Elvis has to whup a man's ass: The closest thing to an altercation in this film is Ann-Margret pushing Elvis and his guitar off a diving board after he sexually harasses her for three and a half minutes with "The Lady Loves Me." In the Elvis canon, Viva Las Vegas would be classified as a "chick flick."
Tickle Me (1965)
Most implausible song setting: The cheapest film Elvis ever made has desert mountain scenery that looks like starving-artist paintings and songs lifted from Elvis albums as far back as 1960. Unfortunately they're playing "reprocessed to simulate stereo" versions drenched with so much echo it sounds as if the King is singing from a well-tiled bathroom.
Reason Elvis has to whup a man's ass: Too many to count. The total number of fistfights is seven! "It happens every once in a while," Pelvis the Pulverizer apologizes early on.
Harum Scarum (1965)
Most implausible song setting: Mary Ann Mobley tosses gold coins in a fountain like a watery jukebox and imagines Elvis's reflection singing (what else?) "Golden Coins" to her. "I'll bring you gifts like you never saw/Persian rugs to enhance your floor." Who wrote this song, Carpet Outlet?
Reason Elvis has to whup a man's ass: Kidnapped Elvis unwisely protests to Sinan, Lord of the Assassins, that his karate skills are for use only in self-defense. To which an extremely understanding Sinan replies, "That's exactly what you will do, defend yourself against a slow and extremely painful death!" After five cloaked henchmen work El over, he is revived in the next scene with three very neatly drawn whiplashes on his back and nary a hair out of place. That's torture?
Pedophile alert: Elvis lasciviously grinds out "Hey little girl, I wanna take you home" to a seven-year-old, and he has the effrontery to do it in the presence of four orphan girls, an elderly gent, and a midget.
Frankie and Johnny (1966)
Most implausible song setting: The King of Rock and Roll singing three songs with Harry Morgan, the future Col. Sherman Potter on M*A*S*H -- that's not implausible enough for you?
Reason Elvis has to whup a man's ass: After Elvis wins a cool million at the craps table, a jealous rival ruins the moment by belting him and croaking, "You're still a loser, winner!" Funny, the same thing can be said about this turkey making money at the box office.
Paradise, Hawaiian Style (1966)
Most implausible song setting: Elvis passes kids making sandcastles -- hmmm, some native just happens to throw him a guitar with painted-on strings. You don't think he's going to sing a song called "Sand Castles," do you?
Reason Elvis has to whup a man's ass: When some meathead at a luau starts manhandling Elvis's secretary, the King serves the lug his steak medium rare, with a knuckle sandwich on the side.
Pedophile alert: Without even waiting for permission, "Uncle Rick" (that's El) shanghais his friend's prepubescent daughter in a helicopter to sing about "Datin'." Here's a sample lyric: "Grownups belong in a baby carriage/They're doing things that will lead to marriage." Yikes.
Most implausible song setting: Shelley Fabares's rich daddy pays $5000 for Elvis and his guitar, bass, and drum combo to travel all the way to Santa Barbara to perform one song for his spoiled-brat daughter's birthday. That song features but a lonesome tinkling piano.
Reason Elvis has to whup a man's ass: No flying fists of fury in this one, although it's inconceivable that Elvis could sing misogynist anthems such as "Adam and Evil" and "Smorgasbord," have a female drummer in his group who cooks and roadies for him, and not have one suffragette step up to the plate and crown him with a vase.
Double Trouble (1967)
Most implausible song setting: Elvis and his band perform an impromptu concert on a huge ocean liner to Brussels in order to find a seventeen-year-old girl onboard. Here's the implausible part: The girl hears a brief guitar lick and shouts, "That's him!" Does she know Scotty Moore, too?
Reason Elvis has to whup a man's ass: Elvis tangles with a professional killer but has the good sense to neatly take off his powder-blue jacket midfight. After the murderer falls down a well, Elvis decides the jacket is ruined and disposes of it in a crumpled heap. Guess the other murderers won't be looking for a guy with powder-blue pants!
Most implausible song setting: Elvis, about to be audited by the IRS, sings the patriotic "He's Your Uncle, Not Your Dad," an odious ode about paying Uncle Sam what you owe him.
Reason Elvis has to whup a man's ass: Some guy's got the nerve to tell an angry Elvis to let Nancy Sinatra go. "Make me," he sneers back, unleashing three air punches that nonetheless knock the creep clear across the room onto a dolly. Better hope that's not one of Frank's friends, punk!
Pedophile alert: Elvis sings "Your Time Hasn't Come Yet, Baby" to a bunch of grade-school kids living with their father in a car.
The Trouble with Girls (1969)
Most implausible song setting: Imagine an Elvis movie in which Buffy from Family Affair, Cindy from The Brady Bunch, mothers, college folk trios, marching bands, and everyone with access to a pitch pipe get to sing songs except Elvis. He doesn't break into tune until midway through, and that's only because the lead singer with the Bible group contracts laryngitis.
Reason Elvis has to whup a man's ass: Maybe because Elvis wears an impeccable white suit throughout (or because this was originally a vehicle for Glenn Ford), no fists fly whatsoever. Elvis does, however, get to slap Sheree North, who's way too drunk to feel it. Although he succeeds in reviving her, his film career isn't so lucky. This movie was released to theaters as a second feature with The Green Slime. Now he could fight!
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