4/17/10

The Bugg Goes to Graceland, and Top 10 Elvis (and Elvis Related) Films.

Heya folks. I had time for one last post before I left for vacation, and I wanted to leave you all with something good. The wife and I are taking off for a weeklong trip that will take us to Memphis, TN, home of Graceland and Beale Street, Clarksdale, Miss., where Robert Johnson sold his soul to play the blues, Tupelo, Miss, where the King of Rock and Roll was born, and finally to Atlanta, Ga. where we will celebrate our 11th anniversary with a meal in a swanky restaurant. Needless to say, I’ll be a little busy. So other than the occasional Facebook update, I will be off the grid while I’m gone. Seeing as so much of my trip revolves around Elvis Presley, I thought you might enjoy seeing my Top 10 favorite Elvis or Elvis related films. So without further ado, let’s get on with it.

10. Bye Bye Birdie (1963)- Though there is no Elvis in this adaptation of the stage musical, there can be little doubt that the character of Conrad Birdie was intended to be the King of Rock and Roll. The story follows the Conrad Birdie character as he goes to a small town to make a farewell appearance before he gets drafted into the army. It’s a good look at what folks thought about Elvis-mania in the period before it was washed away by four moptops from Liverpool. There are a couple of fun facts about this one. It starred Ann Margaret who would end up co-starring with the King in Viva Las Vegas. Another fact you won’t find on the internet is that I took part in a stage production of this play in high school. I mostly played background roles (and danced), but I also performed as the voice of Ed Sullivan because, as I recall, I was the only one who knew who he was.

9. Mystery Train (1989) This film was reviewed a while back as a Ladies Night selection so I’m not going to spend too much time on it, but I wanted to give it a mention. While there’s no Elvis in the film, his spirit and music seem to linger over every part of Jarmusch’s film. For anyone who is an Elvis fan or is traveling to Memphis, then this is essential viewing.

8. Speedway (1968)- This film is about the same quality as all the other Elvis films, but thanks to co-star Nancy Sinatra and the fact that I remember this one well from when I was a kid, it has long remained one of my favorite Elvis films. The plot is pretty simple. Elvis is a racecar driver who gets into tax trouble thanks to his degenerate gambler manager played by Bill Bixby. Ms. Sinatra plays the tax auditor and hilarity ensues. There’s a few good songs in this one especially the ode to taxes, He’s Your Uncle Not Your Dad, and most of the jokes are actually funny. It wouldn’t be a good idea talking bad about this film anyway. Bill Bixby might get angry.


7. Elvis (1979) - Only two years after Elvis died, this made for TV film about the King’s life hit the airwaves. If it had only starred Kurt Russell, the film would still be worth mentioning, but add in the involvement of horror director John Carpenter and it goes to a whole different level. Carpenter gives the film a look that denies it’s made for TV roots, and Russell plays Elvis well though at points as more of a caricature than a character. The film also features several great supporting performances such as Shelly Winters as Elvis’ mother Gladys, Elliott Street as bandleader Bill Black, and Charles Cyphers as Sun Studios honcho Sam Phillips. One interesting little note about this film. In his last screen appearance in Change of Habit, Elvis Presley played a character named… John Carpenter.

6. True Romance (1993) In True Romance, Elvis, or Mentor as he is billed, appears several times to Christian Slater’s Clarence Worley to give him advice, and while we are never shown a clear shot of the King, played by Val Kilmer, there is no mistaking the gold lame suit, sideburns, and trademark shades. Tony Scott’s film (from Quentin Tarantino’s script) casts Elvis as Clarence’s essence of confidence and cool, and while he might not always give the best advice, I have to admit that if Elvis was giving me pointers, I’d be hard pressed not to follow them.

5. Elvis (2005) Before Jonathan Rhys Meyers took on the job of playing that wife offing King, Henry the VIII, on Showtime’s The Tudors, he starred in this made for TV bio-pic about the King of Rock and roll. While I enjoy the Russell/Carpenter version, Meyer’s turn is more fully realized with Elvis coming to life not only as a legend but also as a deeply flawed and troubled person. The film, directed by James Steven Sadwith, plumbs deeper depths than any other biographical film of Presley than I’ve seen, and the nearly 3 hour run time is chock full of great scenes and performances. I have to give special mention to Randy Quaid’s sleazy turn as “Colonel” Tom Parker, Robert Patrick’s cold performance as Elvis’ dad, and Rose McGowan as the redhead Ann-Margaret.

4. Jailhouse Rock (1957) Though it was not Elvis’ first film, it is probably easily his best, and from the music to the plot (which shares some notes with Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd from the same year) this film delivers. In a nutshell, Elvis learns how to break into the record industry while in jail serving time for manslaughter (not murder as some folks seem to recall), and once he gets out he becomes a major star while putting his prison past far out of sight and out of mind. Director Richard Thorpe had a career ranging back into the 1920’s, and his experienced eye gives the film a great look. Beyond being a classic Elvis film, Jailhouse Rock deserves to be considered a classic of American cinema.

3. Eddie Presley (1992) Duane Whitaker is probably most recognized for being the pawn shop clerk Maynard from Pulp Fiction, but if life were fair, then he would get recognized from his dramatic turn in Eddie Presley. Essentially the film is a slice of life picture that follows Eddie, an Elvis impersonator, through his day. Don’t go in expecting lots of laughs (though there are some) or action (cause there’s not any), but if you want a near perfect character study, then this if a film you should definitely be checking out. Director Jeff Burr (Puppet Master 4, Night of the Scarecrow) gets some great performances from his cast of mostly unknowns, and he manages to wrangle a few familiar faces to keep on the lookout for Ted Rami, Laurence Tierney, Quentin Tarantino, and Bruce Campbell.

2. Bubba Ho-Tep (2002) Speaking of Mr. Campbell leads me to our number 2 film, Bubba Ho-Tep. Based on a story by horror/thriller writer Joe Lansdale and directed by Phantasm helmer Don Coscarelli, the film stars Campbell as Elvis, or at least a resident of a nursing home who says he is Elvis, and Ozzie Davis as JFK. As most of you probably know, Elvis and JFK must team up to fight an Egyptian mummy on the loose. For such a silly sounding film, it packs an emotional punch that I didn’t see coming, and it hit me especially hard after laughing so steadily throughout the film. Bubba Ho-Tep is a modern classic, and it is a shame that Campbell will not be returning for the planned sequel.

1. Elvis: The ‘68 Comeback Special (uhhh, 1968) After Elvis returned from serving in the Army, he needed a way to reintroduce himself to a world that was entering the Summer of Love with a drug fueled, Beatles influenced haze. That way ended up being the ‘68 comeback special. Every moment of this special exudes the reasons that Elvis was such an incredible performer and why people like me are still making the hajj to Memphis to see his home. I could say more about this one, but why go on when I could let the King take over from here. So that wraps it up. I will see you guys in about a week’s time, and until then enjoy this clip from the King of Rock and Roll.

4 comments:

  1. GREAT LIST!

    There's a couple of movies on your list that I haven't seen, but will now definitely have to see.

    TCB in Memphis!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I love Jailhouse Rock, but I have to argue about it as Elvis's best. I think Flaming Star deserves that one. Elvis never did a better serious performance than in that. Plus, it's a Western directed by Don Siegel. Lotsa goodness.

    Elvis and Godzilla did meet, somewhat: Harum Scarum was released on a double-bill with Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster for their initial U.S. run. The tagline: "The Beast and the Beat!"

    ReplyDelete
  3. We could argue the best movies with Elvis in them. But I definitely loved Carpenter's Elvis(back then I had no idea who Carpenter was).

    Much as I love Bruce Campbell, I just can't get on board for Bubba Ho Tep. Just couldn't get into it. And talk about anticlimactic!

    ReplyDelete
  4. no 3000 Miles To Graceland? You had Elvi robbing casinos and shooting each other. I thought it was a good bit of fun.

    ReplyDelete

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