Jailhouse Rock (1957)

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In the past, I had unfairly dismissed the Elvis Presley movies, thinking that they would be silly and lightweight–mostly an excuse to showcase Elvis and his music.  And they probably are.  However, I’ve now seen two Elvis films: Viva Las Vegas and Jailhouse Rock.  I love Viva Las Vegas, it is such a fun movie.  Elvis and Ann-Margret’s chemistry is off the charts, I actually wish they’d made more films together.  In fact, I loved Viva Las Vegas so much, that I kept it on my DVR to watch over and over until I got my own copy.  I think I watched it about four times before I got my own DVD copy of it.  Anyway, Elvis definitely is no Spencer Tracy, Edward G. Robinson or even Fred Astaire, but he’s got enough personality and charisma that it makes up for what he’s lacking in the acting department.

Anyway… On to Jailhouse Rock.

I watched this movie last night.  I’d seen the famous scene where Elvis sings the title song in front of the cell doors, but that’s pretty much all I knew of the film.  Apparently, when viewing the “Jailhouse Rock” musical number, I never bothered to notice the fact that the “cells” have no walls, just the door.  I always assumed that Elvis sang this song while in jail–figuring that maybe he led some sort of crazy choreographed jailbreak or something.  I’m glad that this wasn’t the case.  For an Elvis film, this film actually had a somewhat dark storyline.

The plot involves Elvis, a young man who gets off to a rough start when he fights a drunk man in a bar and inadvertently kills him.  The man had been accosting a young woman in the bar and Elvis didn’t like it and punched him, which led to the brawl.  Anyway, Elvis ends up being convicted of manslaughter and is sentenced to 1-10 years in jail.  While in jail, he meets Mickey Shaughnessy (who I immediately recognized from Designing Woman), a has-been country singer who seems to have been in the clink for a while.  Shaughnessy hears Elvis sing and promises to teach him how to play the guitar. He later convinces Elvis to perform in an upcoming inmate variety show which is also televised. After the appearance, Elvis receives gobs of fan letters.  Jealous, Shaughnessy arranges to make sure Elvis doesn’t receive his fan letters.  He then convinces Elvis to sign a “contract” promising to cut him in for 50% of the profits if Elvis becomes a star.

After almost two years, Elvis is released from jail, he gets a job at a nightclub where he meets a beautiful young woman, Judy Tyler.  After hearing Elvis sing onstage (during an impromptu performance), she convinces him to record a demo for a local record studio.  Elvis’ song ends up being stolen by another artist and he and Tyler form their own record label to produce his music.  Elvis’ career takes off and his ego inflates with it.

I thought this was an entertaining film.  Elvis’ character seems to be a bit quick tempered as he hits people frequently throughout the film.  I thought that Tyler’s character somewhat evened out Elvis’ character.  If he had a tendency toward being impulsive, she was more level headed and rational.  I also really liked Tyler’s speaking voice.  It was very elegant and clear, much like Eleanor Parker’s. Shaughnessy’s character was also interesting as he was a bit of a sleaze but you also felt bad for him as well.

The songs in the film were good too, my favorite though being “Jailhouse Rock.”  Which actually isn’t performed in prison–it’s part of a prison-themed performance planned for the television special that Elvis is to appear in.  Elvis “The Pelvis” is shown in all his glory in this musical number.

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Some trivia:

-Just days after completing production on this film, her first big role, Judy Tyler and her husband were killed in a gruesome car accident.  She was only 24.

-Elvis’ apartment (after he makes it big) is simply a redressed version of Lauren Bacall’s apartment from Designing Woman.

-Elvis was so distraught after Judy Tyler’s death, that he couldn’t bring himself to watch the completed version of Jailhouse Rock.

 

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