Jailhouse Rock Reviews
"Jailhouse Rock", his third film and his first for Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer, is a black-and-white musical drama that hardly paints its lead star as a saint. The majority of Elvis' movies altered their then-controversial star into an ersatz Southern gentleman, a good guy so incapable of doing any wrong that all we could do is sit back, appreciate his presence, and savor his musical abilities. "Jailhouse Rock" all but shifts every preconceived notion regarding the star's cinematic persona - here, he is a rough-and-tumble punk with a mean streak and a short attention span when it comes to women. It's easier not to root for him here than it was in "Viva Las Vegas", and that's a problem when a film is so in love with its protagonist that every single character seems to wait on them hand and foot.
Missing from "Jailhouse Rock" is the sense of fun his other films carried on their shoulders; his best, 1964's "Viva Las Vegas", was so irresistibly colorful and spry it was impossible not to want to take a vacation in Elvis' Vegas. And even his worst moments (most of his films were bad, so it's best not to talk about them), were frothy, delectable pieces of escapist fluff that turned our frown upside down as they sneakily took George Washingtons out of our wallets. Since "Jailhouse Rock" plays it straight, with its borderline soap operatic drama, we find ourselves less chirpy and more down in dumps, wondering how our beloved King of Rock 'N' Roll can really be a youth capable of manslaughter, how he can be capable of beating up every man who does him wrong, how he can ignore Judy Tyler as she gives him her love and a record deal. I would dramatically cry if I cared more; but a movie as clichéd and hard-bitten as this one doesn't allow such emotions to pour out.
Elvis never had much talent as an actor, unlike Frank Sinatra, the previous generation's go-to musical sex fiend, so most of his projects centered on his strengths - and as an actor, those said strengths were limited. He only seemed to shine with a mic in hand or when an Ann-Margret wannabe fell into his arms without much hesitation. Since "Jailhouse Rock" was only his third movie, Elvis' inexperience in the film industry is more clear than it should be; he's so stiff in his non-musical scenes that one can only wish there was a way to give talented people more of a personality when it came to selling themselves onscreen. But the musical sequences, as few and far between as they are, burn in the memory. We've all seen the number the film has become famous for, and, in the context of the movie, it harnesses nostalgic power unseen by his other films. I was entertained by "Jailhouse Rock", but, in the end, it pays more attention to its star than the audience interested in its star. It's too bad the star isn't much of an actor. Then we'd have something.
In Jailhouse Rock, Elvis plays Vince Everett, a young, tough, and "dangerous" country boy who ends up in prison after accidentally killing a man in self-defense. In prison, Vince develops a bond with cellmate and former country singer Hunk Houghton (Mickey Shaughnessy), who suggests Vince that he should perform in the prison show. When that goes over well, Vince decides to perform for a living, and after being released from jail sentence, he teams up with music expert and attractive Peggy Van Alden (Judy Tyler) to achieve success in the music industry. After a failed attempt at making a hit, the two decide to form their own record company, and there, Vince goes huge in the market, but his fame cause Vince to go overboard in his wealth and attitude.
Obviously we know how the story is going to end, cause the film stars the great Elvis Presley, where he becomes a singing sensation and becomes a nicer man. This is a very predictable story, and in a couple of places, becomes very goofy at times, especially in a scene involving Elvis in a "life-threatening" situation with his voice. I didn't feel moved here cause I already knew how it was going to end even without watching it. But why do I still give it a fresh score? Well, it's the personality of the great rock icon that makes Jailhouse Rock an enjoyable film and not a disappointing failure like Kissin' Cousins was.
When watching Jailhouse Rock. I was surprised at the rough side of Elvis in this one. When watching some of his other films, like Kissin' Cousins, Elvis portrayed a nice man who has plenty of charm to impress women and always sung in places of love. Here, Elvis plays a selfish and greedy man who takes advantage of women, is obsessed with money, and only cares about himself. What fascinated me about Elvis's performance is that while he played a rude and selfish celebrity, I was still impressed with Elvis's personality and charisma presented on screen. Also impressive is Judy Tyler's role as the love interest. She may not be the greatest actress in the world, like Ingrid Bergman or Judy Garland, but Tyler managed to act well with Elvis in the cheesy, predictable moments I mentioned earlier. It's sad that she died not too long after production cause I felt she would have had a strong career after this film.
What makes Jailhouse Rock different from other musicals, particularly Elvis films, is that all the songs are performed either on stage or in the studio, kind of similar to the musical numbers in the even more excellent film Yankee Doodle Dandy. It's these songs that makes Jailhouse Rock worth watching, and make Jailhouse Rock the entertaining film it is. Songs include the catchy "Treat Me Nice", the fun "You're So Square", the awesome ballad "Don't Leave Me Now", and of coarse, the excellent title number, "Jailhouse Rock", featuring awesome choreography that Elvis staged himself! It's easily the most fun sequence in the whole movie, and makes the whole film worthwhile, even for non-Elvis fans who can't stand the lip-motions, the hip-shaking, or the vocals.
While the story is very goofy in places and extremely predictable about a man's rise to stardom after serving time in prison, Elvis's surprisingly rough and "dangerous" side performance and the musical numbers makes Jailhouse Rock one of the more entertaining Elvis films out there. If you're wondering why Elvis was the excellent entertainer he was, then Jailhouse Rock is the proof of discovery.
"That ain't tactics, honey. That's just the beast in me"
All the other Elvis movies seem to be very formulaic to me, and while this one contains some of those elements, it's packaged in a way that makes it much fresher to me.
This is probably to do with Mickey Shaughnessy's solid performance, and the killer soundtrack, which contains some of my favourite songs from the King.