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Glen Tyler (Elvis Presley) a down on his luck youth is sent to councilor Irene Sperry (Hope Lange) to begin battling his personal demons while under her tutelage a flair for writing emerges. Can She guide him down the right path or will her interference lead to his demise? Written by
Elvis is excellent, as is everyone else, but the film's a bit ponderous...
This film is a tragedy, to me, in that it basically marks the end of Elvis' aspiration to be a 'serious' actor, an aspiration that he was quite capable of realizing. He'd still display flashes of brilliance in his '60s musical comedies, and he yet had the stellar "Follow That Dream" and the somewhat lesser "Kid Galahad" (as well as some late '60s roles) to come, but this film represents his last successful all-out stab at a dramatic role. Elvis plays a country boy, named Glenn Tyler, who's possessed of an enormous talent for writing -- encouraged by his now-dead mother -- but who lacks formal education and the supportive environment needed to allow that talent to bloom. After a series of run-ins with the law, at least some of them undeserved, Glenn is removed to his uncle's custody and it's when he's assigned a female case worker who recognizes his potential that things really begin to change.
Hope Lange plays the proverbial older woman, a fixture of many Elvis movies. Pouty Tuesday Weld plays a prematurely world-weary teenaged mother who represents the fork in Glenn's road that leads to a life less than what he was capable of. Millie Perkins plays the girl from the 'right' side of the tracks whose father looks down on Glenn and his ilk and who represents a path that would take him firmly into the heart of Middle America (southern style). Hope Lange turns out to be the third path, perhaps propelling Glenn to where he might realize his fullest personal potential. Ironically enough, Tuesday Weld played a woman delivered a kidnapped Elvis in 1988's "Heartbreak Hotel" and Millie Perkins played Elvis' mother in the excellent 1990 TV series, "Elvis - The early Years."
Red West, Elvis' former bodyguard and friend since high-school days, plays Elvis' hood/redneck brother in the film. He acquits himself well, though those of us who don't think that anything could justify his participation in the 1977 'tell-a''' book, "Elvis - What Happened?" might perhaps revel in the sound thrashing that Elvis delivers to Red at the film's beginning. Superathlete Rafer Johnson -- fresh from winning an Olympic gold medal for decathlon -- appeared in this film and Christina Crawford made her film debut here. Other familiar faces include Alan Napier (known to many as Alfred, the butler, in the '60s "Batman" series) and Gary Lockwood (Elvis' partner in "It Happened At The World's Fair"). William Mims is great in his role as the sleazy uncle. Jason Robards, father of Junior, made his last screen appearance in this film. For some reason, the film -- though set in the South -- was shot in the Napa Valley region of Northern California.
This film deals with adult themes and it's perhaps not surprising that both Hope Lange and Tuesday Weld featured in "Peyton Place" properties. I understand that the "Peyton Place" franchise defined the modern soap opera, at least the prime-time kind. "Wild In The Country" is, at heart, a bit of a soap opera. I believe that the film was shot with two or three endings -- at least one had a suicide (can't recall if it was Elvis' or Hope Lange's), but they ended up going with the more upbeat conclusion.
In all, I find this film a bit tedious to watch, perhaps explaining why I've only seen it twice now. I don't have a short attention span, but certain movies make me wonder if I'm developing one and this film falls somewhat into that category. As much as anything, perhaps it's a just a little too soapy for me, though a beautifully-realized film packed with convincing characterizations. Still, to me, it pales beside the excellent "Flaming Star." However, I've seen films far more glacial in pacing and many are lauded as 'art' -- to me they're just boring -- and this one, at least, has Elvis! And, to be fair, it tells a good story and does so in a well-crafted way. The songs separate this one from "Flaming Star," too, though few in number and every one is worked into the script naturally. Two of the songs cut from the film are as perfectly beautiful as the ballad that Elvis sings to Tuesday and were recorded in two versions, one with guitar only (for the film) and the other with added instrumentation and voices. The producers, at least, were trying to get away from the typical 'unrealistic' musical thing wherein music and voices come from nowhere.
In this film Elvis again proved his tremendous potential as an actor, and is totally believable for most of his screen time (he does a great 'drunk' scene with Tuesday Weld, too). The film may not be as solid and tight as "Flaming Star" but Elvis' performance is still very strong and he is again ably supported by an excellent cast. It's nothing short of tragic that Elvis' acting ability would never again be explored to the extent that it was in this and the other 1960 Fox film that Elvis did, "Flaming Star." By the time that Elvis finished the '60s and got around to filming some atypical movies (e.g., "Charro!," "The Trouble With Girls," and "Change Of Habit") the damage was already done and the films were subverted either by substandard scripting or by Elvis' own lack of enthusiasm for what had become, over the preceding seven years or so, increasingly a despised exercise in commercialism. Unfortunately, "Wild In The Country" failed to even live up to the mild box-office reception that "Flaming Star" had generated, and we'll never know how things might have turned out differently had Elvis continued to make high-quality dramas (comedies and adventure yarns, for that matter) instead of the lightweight musical 'vehicles' that largely became the norm. About four months after filming "Wild In The Country" Elvis began work on "Blue Hawaii," quickly to become his most successful film of the 33 that he made, and the rest is history.
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