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Lucky Jackson arrives in town with his car literally in tow ready for the first Las Vegas Grand Prix - once he has the money to buy an engine. He gets the cash easily enough but mislays it when the pretty swimming pool manageress takes his mind off things. It seems he will lose both race and girl, problems made more difficult by rivalry from Elmo Mancini, fellow racer and womaniser. Perhaps some singing will help. Written by
Jeremy Perkins <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I love this film! Actually, every time that I see it I like it more. I'm biased, of course, being an Elvis fan (hey, isn't everyone?...if you're not, you should give it a try), but it's still an entertaining way to spend a while. The film's not based on the strongest storyline ever created and it relies on the chemistry between foxy mamacita Ann Margret and the King himself, and that's more than enough. The two had some intense off-screen things going on, too, and perhaps that helps the movie. Both Elvis and Ann Margret look great and they trade lines perfectly. Elvis is more engaged in this film than he had been in any since 1961 and the result's one that he could have been proud of. The shame is that the glossy musical formula than began with 1960's "GI Blues" became an endless rerun throughout Elvis' '60s Hollywood career, but "Viva Las Vegas" is perhaps the highlight of these musicals. Perhaps it's no coincidence that this film has less singing than the ones before and after, the songs all fitting well within the plot. The songs are also among the strongest of Elvis' '60s soundtrack offerings -- pretty much all of them are great tunes. This was most definitely not the case even in earlier films and would progressively become less the norm in subsequent years. The cinematography is also first-rate, as are lighting and transitions -- all of the things that add up to 'production value.' Lush colors and effective use of scenery -- natural and manmade -- included. This is obvious right from the opening credits and is stunningly apparent in the musical numbers. It really looks like a lot of thought went into how the songs were staged, lit, and filmed and that alone is a departure from Elvis' norm. Even most of the other of the better '60s films just stick Elvis up there, singing, while they roll film. Not a lot of imagination very evident in that approach. Check out the great presentation work on songs like "C'mon Everybody" and "What'd I Say," as well as the classic "Viva Las Vegas" talent-contest scene and the perfectly-executed "I Need Somebody To Lean On" scene in which onscreen Elvis is double-tracked with a melancholy inner-voice Elvis. Great stuff.
The film's -- to me -- probably the most entertaining and enjoyable of any of Elvis' '60s musicals. In that category I include most of the films that Elvis shot during the '60s except for the two dramas of 1960 ("Flaming Star" being a particularly excellent film), the two song-sparse movies of 1961 ("Kid Galahad" and the great "Follow That Dream"), and some of the late '60s movies that included only one or a few token songs and had stronger storylines ("Live A Little, Love A Little," "Stay Away, Joe," "Charro!," "The Trouble With Girls," and "Change Of Habit"). Actually, "Viva Las Vegas" is even more enjoyable than most of these ones, too.
Among the supporting actors are Cesare Danova, a beatnik-y Nicky Blair, and William Demarest (Uncle Charlie from "My Three Sons"!), all of whom do a great job. Sharp eyes might also catch Terri Garr, especially in the "C'mon Everybody" scene, though she's in at least one or two others in the film. Red West, Elvis' bodyguard (he also wrote a song -- "If You Think I Don't Need You" -- used in this film) is an extra in the scene that included a bunch of Texas rowdies. Lance Le Gault (a blues singer and Elvis' double in '60s films, inadvertently seen in "Kissin' Cousins" and on full display as a tambourine-player in Elvis' sensational leather-clad 1968 'comeback' shows...he was also Colonel Decker on TV's "The A Team") plays a waiter who, ironically enough, is mistaken for Elvis by Ann Margret's character.
But yeah, when it comes down to it this is a film that succeeds primarily on the strengths of its male and female leads. Some great work by supporting actors doesn't hurt, but Elvis seems inspired to do a good job of acting -- not the walk-through that was becoming increasingly tempting in the face of uninspiring and mediocre storylines and production staff and accountants who didn't care about quality as long as the film was completed on time and on budget to result in the predictable crazy profits that Elvis movies generated in the first half of the '60s. The scene with Elvis waiting on the Count and Rusty exploits Elvis' comedic talents and was a nice touch. I'm surprised, really, that the pairing of Elvis and Ann Margret was never attempted again. They could've done "Grease" in '68!
The film also accomplishes its travelogue role and both it and the title song have become inextricably linked with that desert city. For those of us who have only visited Vegas in more recent years, and to those who remember it as it was in the summer of 1963, this film is a handy time capsule to the Vegas of yore. It was a kick for me to see Elvis and Ann Margret at the Sahara's camel statues because I had my picture taken there, atop one of the camels, back in the '80s (without realizing that it had such a direct Elvis connection). Cool!
All in all, if you haven't yet seen this film you might just enjoy it. It's not going to change your life (then again...who knows?) and it's not "Citizen Kane" (it's a lot more fun, though), but it's a classic of its kind. Scratch that -- it's just a classic. Unfortunately, a couple of months after wrapping "Viva Las Vegas" Elvis began production of "Kissin' Cousins," a film from producer Sam Katzman ("King of the Quickies") that was as cheap and nasty as they come and that showed the way to even greater profit (but at what cost?).
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