Combustible Celluloid
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With: Elvis Presley, Ann-Margret, Cesare Danova, William Demarest, Nicky Blair, Jack Carter
Written by: Sally Benson
Directed by: George Sidney
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 85
Date: 05/20/1964

Viva Las Vegas (1964)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Lucky in Love

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Elvis Presley's career is a thing of lost opportunity. On screen, the King could have been a decent actor, as evidenced by his expert performance in Don Siegel's Flaming Star (1960), or had he saved his energy for bigger, more sporadic releases, he could have been an event-worthy star. Instead, he saturated the market by cranking out a huge quantity of half-baked, forgettable films over a relatively short period of time. Of these, Jailhouse Rock (1957) is probably the most respected, but Viva Las Vegas (1964) is the most fun, and no film kicks off with a cooler theme song blasting across the screen.

For once Elvis is paired with a worthy co-star. Feisty sex kitten Ann-Margaret could shake it as well as Elvis, and could match his physical allure inch for inch.

Elvis plays "Lucky," a race-car driver, who can always fall back on singing if he needs to. Lucky befriends a veteran racer, Count Elmo Mancini (Cesare Danova), and they both set their sights on Rusty (Ann-Margaret), a swimming instructor at a big Vegas hotel. Despite the fact that he's trying to raise money to buy an engine to enter a big race, Lucky seems to have plenty of time to try to seduce Rusty, take her on dates, and argue with her. They also both enter a singing contest, where Elvis's "Viva Las Vegas" and Rusty's "Appreciation" both bury the needle on the applause meter.

William Demarest, a veteran of Preston Sturges comedies, co-stars as Rusty's dad, and Nicky Blair plays Lucky's "sidekick" Shorty, though they don't really pal around together too much. Director George Sidney was a veteran musical-maker at MGM (and had directed Ann-Margaret in Bye Bye Birdy, and though he keeps the pace quick and the energy high, he doesn't seem to know what to do with the plot. Nonetheless, it was a big hit, and apparently even outgrossed A Hard Day's Night, which was released the same year.

Elvis and Ann-Margaret perform the terrific "The Lady Loves Me" together, and Elvis also does a cover of Ray Charles' "What'd I Say." Ann-Margaret performs a slightly less interesting tune called "My Rival" (and, impressively, makes lunch while singing), and for some reason Elvis sings "The Yellow Rose of Texas" to help settle a rowdy redneck bar.

In 2014, Warner Home Video released a spiffy new Blu-ray Book edition, including photos. The disc itself comes with a commentary track by Steve Pond, a featurette, and a trailer, though the menus don't appear to have been updated since the old DVD release. The picture and sound quality are, if not quite top-notch, then perfectly serviceable for this movie. The image is bright and cheerful, and the music is exciting.

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