Just forget the words and sing along

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Fishing in the Discount Bin - Viva Las Vegas

Welcome back to Fishing in the Discount Bin, my weekly rant about one of the many DVDs I possess.  Today, we get to what's generally considered one of Elvis's greatest films, Viva Las Vegas.  This review is originally dated August 27, 2011.

When I first started doing this, I did have a loose plan in place.  I did kind of map out films that compliment each other, so there would be a natural progression from one to the next.  And when I knew that once I did A Hard Day's Night, I'd want to do Viva Las Vegas next.

Elvis movies were quite common in my house growing up.  Mom is a bit of an Elvis fangirl, you see.  She'd frequently rent them from the local video store.  And then, local TV station CFRN briefly started showing Elvis movies Saturday night at midnight, so it became a bit of a ritual for Mom to set the VCR on Saturday night, and then we'd all watch the Elvis movie on Sunday afternoon.  If I may go off on a bit of a tangent, CFRN would follow up the Elvis movie with a daikaiju film, under the loving umbrella title of "the Creature Feature."  Mom would always accidentally record the first half-hour of "the Creature Feature," and that was my first exposure to Godzilla movies.  I started imploring Mom to set the VCR to tape the whole Godzilla movies for me.

So, when I picked up A Hard Day's Night on DVD, I knew I'd eventually want to get an Elvis film to compliment it.  Shortly after I bought my Blu-Ray player, I spotted the Blu-Ray of Viva Las Vegas in a discount bin for just $10.  So I figured, "Why not?"

Viva Las Vegas is considered by Elvis afficianados to be one of the King's greatest.  It is a little different from the other Elvis films.  As I mentioned last week, all of these rock star vehicles tend to follow a formula, and Elvis's management team -- that would be the infamous Col. Tom Parker -- had the formula down to a science.  They tend to be highly contrived romantic comedies.  Our leading lady is the surrogate for the fangirls in the audience.  And the "contrived" part is always that Elvis's character just happens to sing really well, and the plot eventually gets him up on a stage with a guitar in his hand.  Elvis allegedly grew really frustrated with this, because it gave him almost no room to grow as an artist.

Anyway, what made Viva Las Vegas different was the director, George Sidney.  Being a veteran of many movie musicals, Sidney wanted to stage the film like a musical.  That means, that instead of plot contrivances getting Elvis up on a stage, he'd just randomly burst into song to express his inner thoughts.  That also meant that leading lady Ann-Margret would get a few songs to sing.  That really pissed off Col. Parker, as apparently in Elvis's contract, it said that Elvis would be the only one singing in his films.

And of course, Ann-Margret.  Considered to be Elvis's greatest leading lady.  Apparently, she and Elvis had quite the torrid affair during the making of this film, which was ample tabloid fodder back in the day.  Ann-Margret is still with us, and to this very day, she remains very coy about the nature of her relationship with Elvis.  However, in her memoirs, she used words like "soulmate" to describe him.  So, take it as you will.

So, Viva Las Vegas.  Elvis is Lucky Jackson, a mechanic-cum-race-car-driver who's come to Vegas to compete in the very first Las Vegas Grand Prix.  He shows up to drop of his car and registers for the race, but he's got one problem:  his car doesn't have a motor yet.  After he drops off his car, he's going to head to LA to buy it.  In the garage, he meets the Count, an Italian race car driver who's an undisputed champion in Europe, and has come to compete in America.  The Count and Lucky start talking cars, when in comes Rusty Martin, as played by Ann-Margret.  She's having some car trouble, and asks for help.  For Lucky, it's love at first sight, but that darn Count fixes her car and sends her on her way before they got her name and phone number.  Since she's an incredibly hot redhead, and it's Las Vegas, they instantly assume she's a showgirl, and spend the night in Vegas taking in the shows, looking for her.

('Tis a great montage, if hot chicks of the 1960s are your thing.)

The next morning, Lucky is ready to give up and head to LA and buy his motor, when he spots Rusty.  Turns out she's the pool manager/lifeguard at the very hotel he's staying at.  Lucky's first attempt at wooing her doesn't go so well, as she shoves him in the pool...and Lucky loses all his money in the pool drain.  So, then, Lucky gets a job at the hotel to pay off his hotel tab, and raise the money to buy his motor. 

Of course, that puts him into close proximity with Rusty, and he quickly wins her over and they have a whirlwind romance.  They fall madly in love with each other.  And let's not forget, that Ann-Margret was quite renowned as a dancer back when this film was made.  So, as part of the contrivances in this film, turns out she has a second job as a dance instructor at the University of Nevada, so she gets to show off her dancing skills. 

But as we all know, the course to true love is never smooth, and Lucky and Rusty soon run into problems.  It all boils down to their world views.  Rusty believes the best way to make your way in the world is to work hard and save your money.  Lucky, however, is always looking for the next big win, gambling his money away at the craps tables.  And, of course, Rusty tends to worry when this escalates to something as big and dangerous as race car driving.  This eventually leads to them breaking up, and just when it looks like they're about to get back together, Rusty gets upset again when Lucky sets his sights on the next big win:  winning the hotel's employee talent contest.

On a side note, we do get a bit of a motivation for Rusty and why she works so hard.  We learn that her father was one of the construction workers on Hoover Dam, and now lives in the area running a tour boat on Lake Mead.  She hopes to raise enough money so her father can buy his own tour boat and go into business for himself. 

So, before we know it, Rusty and Lucky are competing against each other in the talent show.  Rusty with her dancing, and Lucky with his singing.  (Elvis sings the title track, of course.)  It ends in a tie!  The tie is broken with a coin toss, and Lucky wins.  But instead of big cash money, he wins an all-expense paid 2-week honeymoon in Vegas.

Looking like he's never going to get the money for his motor, Lucky goes to the Count, dejected, and asks for a job on the Count's pit crew.  But then...a miracle!  Lucky's friend Shorty shows up with the motor!  A mysterious benefactor spotted them the money!  It's 12 hours to race time, and Lucky, Shorty, and Rusty's father begin working like mad to get the motor installed in time. 

Of course, this gets Rusty very angry and jealous that all this attention is being lavished on a car.  She gets in the way to hinder their efforts, but soon can't help but get caught up in it all and helps out in getting the car ready. 

The car is ready in time, and we have a climactic car chase!  This climactic car chase is a little bit trippy for me.  Michael Bay used some of the same roads 40 years later to film the car chases for Transformers.  Some of the same camera angles, too.  I half expect Optimus Prime to come rolling through.

So, Lucky wins the race.  Rusty's father is revealed to be the mysterious benefactor.  Lucky gets his gambling out of his system and realizes that the biggest prize he could ever win is Rusty.  They get married and live happily ever after!

And that's Viva Las Vegas.  Formulaic as  hell, very contrived, but a whole lot of fun.

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