Thursday, August 16, 2007

dvd review: elvis: the hollywood collection

Unless you are living under a rock, you know that today is the 30th Anniversary of his death. Many sites and shows are celebrating his life and work. We love Elvis at the Shelf. He represents a lot of things that changed about America and American pop culture. In many ways, he represents pop culture. He is perhaps one of the first celebrities to have really merchandised the way he has been after his death. Heck, we just refer to him by his first name. There is only one Elvis. (Ok- there is Elvis Costello, but he's not the Elvis we're talking about. You know who we're talking about.) Beyond all that, we refer to Elvis as phases of his career and life. There is Vegas Elvis, there's chubby Elvis, there's Elvis, Hawaiian style and young Elvis. No matter how you slice, Elvis pervades out popular culture and has influences how we view and venerate celebrities, for good or ill.

We've received quite a few Elvis flicks here at the Shelf, home office to review for you. And I'm going to be straight with you- not all of them are great. In fact, I don't think I've surprised anyone. We're going to start with the Elvis: The Hollywood Collection first. And since the last few reviews have been rather lengthy and we have a lot of Elvis (and better) to get to in the next few days, we'll try to be concise. What you really want to know is the bottom line. Is it worth your cash? Do you pick up this set or any of the other Elvis DVDs out there? Will it be a Shelf Classic? Read our review of Elvis: The Hollywood Collection and find out.

The Hard Facts:
Elvis: The Hollywood Collection
Six Discs in individual keep cases
Studio: Warner Home Video
Original Studios: MGM, WB, and
National General Pictures
Release Date: Aug. 7, 2007
Rated: PG or NR for All Films
Stars: Elvis

It's freakin' Elvis, man! How much background do you need?
OK, just kidding.
These films cover a span of about 5 years: 1964-69. It represents the fulfillment of Elvis' MGM contract and the period of time in which his popularity was somewhat in decline. He would, in fact, in 1968 regain his popularity and success with his famous comeback concert. By that time he was done with MGM and in a year, done with movies. It would be concerts, Vegas and television from then on until his death in 1977.

Some of the films are among the least of his efforts, and quite frankly among the least of his own favorites. With some exceptions, which we'll expound on later, some involved in these films were cashing in on Elvis' name, the least of which was Col. Mustard... uh, sorry, Tom. (I always do that!) Even Elvis, no great actor, was dialing it in sometimes.

The Films:
There are no special features, aside from theatrical trailers.

Co-Stars: Victor French, Ina Balin and Solomon Sturges.
Reformed gunfighter Jess Wade has been trying separate himself from his past when he was running with the Hackett gang. He's able to get away and stay for a year, but Vince Hackett (a pre-Little House on the Praire French) doesn't let anyone leave him. Vince, his deranged brother Billy Roy (Sturgess), and the rest of the gang steal a ceremonial gold plated cannon from Mexico and leave evidence to place the blame on Jess. The key identification is that one of bandits was shot by the Federales and a mark was left on his neck. Vince kidnaps Jess and uses a hot poker to place a mark on his neck and then let's him loose, telling him that Jess will be hunted down. When Jess gets his strength up he heads to town where his friend Dan, the sheriff and his girl, Tracey (Balin)live. They've seen the wanted posters, but they believe him and attempt to help him. They capture Billy Joe and put him in jail, but the Sheriff is wounded. He places Jess in charge as the deputy. When Vince discovers what happens he gives Jess an ultimatum: Release his brother or he'll turn the cannon on the town.

Elvis songs: This is Elvis's non-musical film so just the title song is featured.

I began with the best flick in the box, and ironically it's the non-musical film. What is interesting to me is that, while not the best western I've ever seen, it is pretty good, and Elvis shows some talent and effort. Unfortunately, it's not his best performance. Victor French makes a excellent bad guy and Solomon Sturgess (the son of director Preston Sturgess) is a pretty standard off his rocker bad guy. The real standout is the beautiful and talented Ina Balin (You've seen her in The Commancheros with John Wayne). You also might recognize a younger James Sikking (Gunner in Charro!), and remember him from his role as Lt. Howard Hunter in Hill Street Blues.

Stay Away, Joe:
Co-Stars: Burgess Meredith, Joan Blondell, Katy Jurado and L.Q. Jones
Joe Lighthorse (Elvis) has talked the government into underwriting his father with a herd of cattle in order to help the local economy, and get the Senator who arranged the deal elected as Governor. The problem is that Joe's dad, Charlie (Meredith) has never really succeeded in anything. And as soon as they get the cattle, they butcher and barbecue the only bull they have at a party. It's up to Joe to find away to get a bull and make a success of the herd before the Senator comes back or his step mom (Jurado) sells off the herd.

Elvis songs: Mostly forgettable songs: Stay Away, Dominic, and Lovely Mamie.

And now I go straight to the worst of the set. Really and truly, this film has a excellent cast, but wastes everything. Elvis is supposed to be Native American, but in one scene his make up is very dark and in the next he's paleface. The plot and contrivances that Joe gets into are very confusing and it's difficult to figure out if Joe really wants to help his dad, because he spends half his time getting in trouble with girls. What is really hard to watch is the characterization of the Native Americans in the film. Indians in westerns in the 30s and 40s were better portrayed than the characters in this film. I'm no PC nut, but it's difficult to watch the obviously over emphasized make-up, the constant drinking and the implication of Indians being lazy and incompetent. It's a formula film and while Elvis looks like he's having fun, it's one time viewing at best. It's compacted by the presence of Joan Blondell, Meredith and Jurado who are all excellent actors, and are utterly wasted here.

Live a Little, Love a Little
Co-Stars: Michele Carey, Dick Sargent and Rudy Vallee (I'm not kidding!)
Greg Nolan (Elvis) is a photographer who meets up with a kooky beach girl (Carey) named Susan, Betty, Alice or Bernice depending on her mood. She manages to get him fired and kicked out of his apartment, even though he tries to get away from her. She also has a parade of guys in and out of her house, including her ex, Harry (Sargent). Nolan is able to find two new jobs: one as a playboy style magazine and the other with a respectable ad firm headed by Mr. Louis Penlow (Vallee- no, really!). Can Elvis keep his jobs and his new place and figure out Bernice?

Elvis songs: Some good ones and a few strange ones. Includes the classic (although not until recently, but I still like it) A Little Less Conversation.

This is one of the formulaic films that Elvis was forced into late in his Hollywood career. And after seeing Charro! and Stay Away, Joe (good advice for that one by the way), essentially the high and low of the set, the rest of the films seem to follow a standard formula, with a few changes in scripts. It almost seems as if MGM didn't really know what to do with Elvis, especially with his popularity waning. In this film it seems as if the are trying to appeal to the late 60s psychedelic crowd with some of the numbers, the swinging lifestyle, etc. The problem is they try too hard. Even Elvis doesn't seem comfortable. The only time he's smiling is in the opening sequence when he's driving the dune buggy across the beach. Not totally bad, but forgettable.

Tickle Me
Co-Stars: Lots of girls.
OK - to save time here's the same formula with some key changes.
Elvis' job and/or shtick: Rodeo wrangler.
Location: Dude Ranch
Girl: Lots of 'em
Twist: The Dude Ranch were he gets a job isn't for dudes! If you know what I mean!
Problem Elvis has to solve: Save the Ranch and the girl from the bad guys after her inheritance which is supposed to be a hidden cache of gold.

Elvis songs: Dirty Dirty Feeling, I'm Yours and a host of others.

This is the prime example of Col. Parker and everyone else cashing in on Elvis for a quick buck. This, like several other films, was made to sell soundtracks.

Kissin' Cousins
Co-Stars: Elvis (I'll explain), Yvonne Craig and Jack Albertson.
OK- here we go again. Same Formula, different cast
Elvis' job: Actually Elvis plays two cousins: Josh Morgan and Jodie Tatum. One is a city slicker and the other a hillbilly. How do you tell them apart? The hillbilly is wearing a blond wig! The dark haired cousin, Josh is in the Air Force and the blond is a hillbilly!
Girls: Cousin Azalea Tatum (Craig- Don't ask) and several others.
Location: The hills
The twist: They are cousins, but look like twins! Both played by Elvis! In a blond wig!
Problem: The Air Force wants to build a missile silo on Pa Tatum's land. So they send Lieutenant Josh Morgan, a cousin of the Tatums, to seal the deal. But the Tatums start to grow on Josh. His cousins I mean, not Taters.

Elvis songs: Title song, Tender Feeling, Echoes of Love and more.

This film wasn't bad, but is another film made to sell an album. It's better than a few of the others and has some funny bits. Yvonne Craig is excellent and the songs are pretty good, but nothing classic. A fun time, but standard stuff.

Girl Happy
Co-Stars: Gary Crosby, Shelley Fabares and Harold J. Stone
Mobster Big Frank (Stone) hires rock and roller, Rusty Wells (Elvis) to look after his daughter Valerie (Fabares) while she goes down to Ft. Lauderdale during spring break. His job isn't easy though,as Valerie falls in love with him until she figures out he's working for her father. Then she falls for an Italian playboy and Rusty has to get her away before it's cement shoes for him.

Elvis songs: Title song, Do The Clam, I've Got to Find My Baby and more.

This one is a favorite with fans, and it's a pretty good film. It's right before he started making the final string of formulaic films (see above). The plot is a little different, and the music is pretty decent with a few exceptions. Bing Crosby's son, Gary, plays a member of Elvis' band in the film.

The films have new digital transfers and look quite good. The audio is excellent as well. Let me also mention the packaging. Each film is packaged with 5 postcards that feature publicity shots and the movie posters. A nice touch and kudos to WHV for adding them.

The Bottom Line:
This set is pretty well put together with films some fans have been asking for appearing in the set. Charro! and Girl Crazy are pretty good, Stay Away Joe is pretty bad and the rest are OK. Fans and completists are going to be buying this set no matter what. Others should check out Charro! and Girl Happy and perhaps rent the others if they want. Fortunately the films will also be sold individually and repackaged late in the year in a special Blue Suede case with about 3 or 4 other films (which we'll be reviewing here later)- so plan accordingly. I may be run out of town by fans, but we call 'em like we see 'em. Besides, we love Elvis here, and we know he's got better out there. Come back to the Shelf, cause we'll be reviewing some of last week's re-releases of some of the better films.

Review Rating:
Individually grading the films, they would earn the following:
Charro!: B-
Girl Happy: C+
Stay Away, Joe : D
Kissin' Cousins: C-
Live a Little, Love a Little: C-
Tickle Me: C-

Overall rating: 2 and 1/2 stars(Groucho Glasses)

The set isn't a Shelf Classic, but it's worth checking out a couple of the films. WHV, like everyone else, has a lot of Elvis coming out this week. I appreciate that WHV is willing to go into the vault and pull out some more obscure or different titles that aren't out in the market. Thanks to them, big time Elvis fans will be happy. For more great Elvis stuff, you should be checking out The Vintage Place with our friend Sallie for some great Elvis music.

Oh, I know it's a penny here and a penny there, but look at me. I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.

If a woman's eyes are blue, she'll be sweet and true to you. But if a woman's eyes are green, she'll turn hot, or cold, or mean!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think most of these films are fun. They aren't exactly the best thing you've ever seen- but they are still fun and the music is good.
I like the earlier films better, but everything Elvis did wasgreat fun.


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