I have decided that watching every Elvis movie is a good idea. There are 31 movies in total. This project will likely drive me insane.
Jailhouse Rock is one of the few Elvis movies I have seen that was not been ruined for me by academia. (That’s a good story I’m saving for when I write about Blue Hawaii.) Until rewatching this movie, I remembered very little about Jailhouse Rock other than the title musical number.
Jailhouse Rock is similar to Loving You, except it’s better. Instead of playing an aimless young man who longs for a family, Presley plays Vince Everett, a careless young man who discovers his musical talents while serving time for involuntary manslaughter. (Isn’t that how it always happens?) Instead of being discovered by an over-eager publicist, Vince is discovered by his cellmate is Hunk Houghton (Mickey Shaughnessy), a former country music star. Hunk convinces Vince to perform in the inmate talent show that is being broadcast on national television. The performance sets Vince’s career into motion.
After his release, Vince teams up with Peggy Van Alden (Judy Tyler), a record label employee. Peggy manages Vince’s burgeoning career and helps him record a demo.
Vince’s version of “Don’t Leave Me Now” stands out from the typical music of the day but the record executives have other ideas. They have country star Mickey Alba rerecord the record. Upset but not defeated, Peggy and Vince start their own label and release “Treat Me Nice”. The song becomes a massive hit and Vince’s career takes off.
Initially Vince is loyal to Peggy and Hunk, who is now released from jail. But this doesn’t last long. Peggy rejects Vince as a romantic partner. Vince responds by signing artists to their label without consulting Peggy and eventually selling the company against her wishes.
Vince tries to help Hunk restart his career during a television broadcast but Hunk’s style is considered passé and he gets left behind. And so the fame gets to Vince’s head and drives his two and only friends away.
The key difference between Vince Everett and the characters Elvis portrayed in his previous films is that Vince is an unlikeable jerk. As his career skyrockets, not only do his suits become more outlandish but so does his behavior. If there is a reason for Peggy and Hunk’s unwavering support for Vince, I barely saw it.
Vince may never be intentionally malicious but he’s still a terrible person with an uncontrollable ego. He doesn’t understand that he can’t treat people a certain way if he wants to be respected. I suppose Vince Everett was intended to be a scandalous anti-hero. But he mostly comes off as a jackass. It says a lot when it takes Hunk beating the crap out of Vince is a welcomed event. And yet Vince Everett is still impossible to care about.
Something I do enjoy in the Elvis movies are how elements of the backstage musical are incorporated throughout them. Even if the plots, dialogue, and characters are mostly awful and unintentionally humorous, these films show the inside of a recording or television studio and what stardom looked like in 1957. Granted, Elvis (so far) is only playing versions of himself. (Well, not in Love Me Tender. I still don’t know what drugs that movie was on.)
How Jailhouse Rock functions as a modified backstage musical is what makes the “Jailhouse Rock” number stand out. Even if you never want to watch an entire Elvis movie, this is one performance you should watch.
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