Elvis plays Clint Reno, one of the Reno brothers who stayed home while his brother went to fight in the Civil War for the Confederate army. When his brother Vance comes back from the war, ... See full summary »
I have never understood, and probably will never understand, the Elvis Presley cult. I can't see how anybody could watch this show and not see that Frank Sinatra had more talent in his toenail than Elvis had in his entire body. When Elvis stuck to the stripped-down rock 'n' roll represented on his Sun recordings and his first two years on RCA Victor (1956-1957), he was good (though other white rockers of the 1950's -- Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly -- were better); when he tried anything else, he was totally out of his depth. The contrast is vividly displayed here in the song "Witchcraft," which Sinatra and Elvis sing on separate parts of the program. Sinatra's is eloquent, musicianly, sensitively phrased in a way that brings home the dramatic point (albeit of a rather silly lyric); Elvis's is straight-ahead, musically insensitive and totally without any sense of phrasing or the rhythmic looseness needed for a song like this to work. Elvis looks like an amateur of promise up against a seasoned professional like Sinatra, and as Elvis biographer Al Goldman pointed out, in their scenes together (especially when they harmonize on "Love Me Tender") they look like a Gay couple, with Sinatra the butch one and Elvis the femme.
The rest of the show is a fascinating curio, a real time capsule of what was considered state-of-the-art entertainment in 1960. Four of the Rat Packers appear (Dean Martin is the only one missing), and Sammy Davis, Jr.'s singing of "There's a Boat That's Leaving Soon for New York" is excessively mannered (did he sing it that badly in the "Porgy and Bess" movie? I don't remember and I'm not likely to have a chance to find out, since the film itself has been suppressed by the Gershwin estate), but his musical impressions (especially of Louis Armstrong) are marvelous. Sinatra's solo songs are the high point; the low point is the ridiculous Alvin and the Chipmunks knock-off to which the Tom Hansen dancers perform. It's also nice to have the original Timex commercials on the DVD, though not so nice that the only surviving source for the show is a lousy kinescope and the DVD wasn't digitally remastered to clean up the image quality.
More on Sinatra vs. Elvis: Sinatra lived as long (82 years) as Elvis and John Lennon combined. He remained popular over five decades. He was able to have hit movies in which he didn't sing (Elvis tried twice -- "Flaming Star" and "Charro" -- and both were flops). He won an Academy Award. He was able to adjust his style to changing musical times while retaining his individuality. And he was a strong and assertive enough personality to run his own career instead of letting a super-manager like Col. Tom Parker make all his decisions for him. Sinatra drew on the contributions of African-American singers (notably Billie Holiday) but formed his own unique style; Elvis slavishly imitated African-Americans like Little Richard, Clyde McPhatter and Roy Brown and added nothing but a white face to their music. Sinatra was a great talent; Elvis was a novelty act.
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