Lone Wolf Sullivan is a writer, songwriter, and studio musician.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

VIVA LAS VEGAS (1964) * * *

Lucky Jackson (Elvis Presley) is a race car driver and singer who goes to Las Vegas to compete in the Las Vegas Grand Prix. His car needs a new motor and the money to pay for it is lost in a swimming pool.

Jackson takes a job in a Casino and romances Rusty Martin (Ann-Margret), a cabaret dancer who turns out to be his rival in the hotel's employee talent contest. The on-screen chemistry between Elvis and Ann-Margret is hot, probably because they were having a real life affair at the time. This romantic musical is perked up by the glitz of Las Vegas and the exciting action of the racing scenes. The other actors, such as Cesare Danova (as Count Elmo Mancini), are quite good.

Lucky: "Good morning, I've been looking for you all night."
Rusty: "You must be desperate to find a model that really needs fixing."
Lucky: "It's what I call a real sport model."
Rusty: "Can you lend me a car until you get mine running again?"
Lucky: "We'll do better than that - I'll be happy to drive you wherever you want to go."
Rusty: "And why should you go to all that bother?"
Lucky: "Cause around here I'm known as your very bothering mechanic."
Rusty: "I'm sure you are."

Lucky: "Oh now I get it, you want me to use my bravado to block for you so you can... come right through."
Mancini: "That's right, I knew you were clever Mr Jackson."
Lucky: "Well just a couple or three things wrong with your proposition. I don't work for anybody, I never come second to anybody, and one small thing: I intend to win."
Mancini: "What difference does it make? Unfortunately you are on your way to Los Angeles and I have to work on my car, therefore we have no time for a beautiful girl."
Lucky: "I guess you're right."
Mancini: "You work on my car, I'll work on your girl."

Also in the cast are: William Demarest (Mr. Martin), Nicky Blair (Shorty Fansworth), Roy Engel (Mr. Baker), Francis Ravel (Francois), Robert Willams (Swanson), Jack Carter (himself), Bob Nash (Gus Olson), Forte Four (themselves), Robert Aiken, Holly Bane, Larry Barton, John Burnside, Carl Carlson, Ruth Carlson, Regina Carrol, Taggart Casey, George Cisar, Howard Curtis, Harry Fleer, Alan Fordney, Teri Garr, Barnaby Hale, Claude Hall, John Hart, Connie Hermida, Larry Kent, Lance LeGault, Rick Murray, Kay Sutton, Red West, and many others. Sally Benson wrote the script. George Sidney directed.

VIVA LAS VEGAS is one of the best Elvis Presley movies and the most successful. Between 1961 and 1969 Elvis made 2 or 3 formula movies per year, and most aren't considered very good. Except for JAILHOUSE ROCK (1957), VIVA LAS VEGAS is the only other bona fide Elvis Musical. The songs actually advance the plot, instead of just padding the movie as they do in his other films.

With very few exceptions, songs in Elvis movies are crap compared to his recorded music in the 1950's. This tends to be true for most film musicals, but in Elvis' case I suspect that inferior songs were chosen by manager Colonel Parker in business deals that ripped off songwriters to financially benefit Elvis.

"Viva Las Vegas" is the best song in the movie, and is used several times. When Elvis sings the title song, the entire performance is filmed live in one uncut take. No other major Hollywood musical can make this claim. Soundtrack songs were recorded in July of 1963 at Radio Recorders in Hollywood. Personnel: Elvis Presley (vocals); Ann-Margret (vocals); Scotty Moore, Tiny Timbrell, Billy Strange, Glen Campbell, Alton Hendrickson (guitar); Bob Moore, Ray Siegal (bass); Floyd Cramer, Artie Cane, Calvin Jackson (piano); Oliver Mitchell, James Zito (trumpets); Boots Randolph, William Green, Steve Douglas (sax); Randall Miller, Herb Taylor (trombones); D.J. Fontana, Buddy Harman, Frank Carlson (drums); Roy Hart (percussion; The Jordanaires, The Jubilee Quartet, The Carol Lombard Quartet (background vocals).

The other songs are: "The Lady Loves Me", "What'd I Say?", "I Need Somebody to Lean on Me", "C'mon, Everybody", "Today, Tomorrow, and Forever", "If You Think I Don't Need You", "Yellow Rose of Texas/The Eyes of Texas", and "Santa Lucia". "The Climb" is performed by The Forte Four. Ann-Margret sings "My Rival" and "Appreciation" and duets with Elvis on "The Lady Loves Me". The only recordings released with the film were the theme song and "What'd I Say?" as singles, plus a few songs on an EP. Additional songs recorded for the film would appear in later album compilations, but the complete soundtrack has never been available.

Three songs, "Night Life", "Do The Vega" and "You're The Boss", were recorded for the film but never used. "You're The Boss" is a duet by Elvis and Ann-Margret. Some of the songs were originally Elvis/Ann-Margret duets, but Colonel Parker removed the Ann-Margret tracks because Elvis is the star. The duet versions are now available on CD.

VIVA LAS VEGAS took 11 weeks to shoot. It cost less than $1 million to make, and brought in over $5 million. The working title was "The Only Girl in Town" and in some countries it is called "Love in Las Vegas".

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