Jailhouse Rock (1957)
(out of 5)
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Elvis Presley films have always been showpieces for the Mississippi-native, and Jailhouse Rocks delivers in that regard, as it features Elvis at his very best as an entertainer — suave yet sensational, masterful but moving, energetic and enchanting. The prison dance, in particular, with The King singing, shimmying, and sashaying in a prison cell, is a certified classic, and fittingly ranked by Time as one of the very best dance scenes in film history. Even more, Elvis belting out “Young and Beautiful” and “Don’t Leave Me Now” like only he can is a true auditory delight.
Unfortunately, not even Elvis’s beguiling singing and palpable charisma could save this film, which, while entertaining to some degree, is actually more mediocre than magnificent. Its hackneyed narrative of a nobody making it big, turning egotistical, then finding redemption and true love in the end is predictable, and lacks interesting plot twists, let alone any sort of depth. Worse, the story focuses way too much on Vince Everett (Elvis’s character), to the point that the other characters, notably Peggy Van Alden (Judy Tyler) and Hunk Houghton (played by Mickey Shaughnessy), fade into relative obscurity, like mere puppets pulled by the strings of Everett’s narcissistic and self-serving ways. Even the entire characterization of Everett — impetuous, prone to fits of violence, and self-centered — is problematic, especially when juxtaposed with his eventual catharsis at the end of the film. Then there is Elvis’s acting, which can be best described as bland, especially for someone playing the lead role.
But then again, the film does entertain, and that might be all that matters, especially for Elvis fans all around the world who have kept the legacy of their idol burning long after he passed away in 1977. Movies like Jailhouse Rock give these fans something else to talk about apart from The King’s enviable catalog of hits. It helps, too, that Elvis has long been part of popular culture, with references to the famed singer pretty much everywhere. Elvis has appeared in everything from videogames to the lead hero of dystopia novels. To many people he perfectly represents the USA, and his hairstyle, elaborate costumes, and signature dance moves are as symbolic to the country as the eagle. The online slot game Elvis by Foxy Casino captures both Elvis the singer and the America icon that took the nation by storm, demonstrating that no matter what form the entertainer is presented in, he is still The King. Unfortunately, acting was not his greatest skill and Jailhouse Rock happens to be Exhibit A of that fact. Elvis fans will surely digress, but that is the cold, hard truth.
Bottom line, Jailhouse Rock does not exactly rock, but it is not necessarily one of the worst movies ever made. It does have authentic entertainment value, especially in scenes where Elvis belts out his soul-soothing hits, but pretty much nothing else in regards to production values, acting, and plot. In the Elvis film continuum, though, Jailhouse Rock is probably one of his best, which is the main reason why it was added to the National Film Registry.
Directed by Richard Thorpe
Screenplay by Guy Trosper based on a story by Nedrick Young
Cinematography by Robert J. Bronner
Produced by Pandro S. Berman
Music by Jeff Alexander
Film Editing by Ralph E. Winters
Cast Tags Elvis Presley, Judy Tyler, Mickey Shaughnessy, Vaughn Taylor, Jennifer Holden, Dean Jones, Anne Neyland