Spinout (1966) in an almost iconically '60s Elvis, filled as it is with most of the components one associates with his pictures. Though it never deviates from the long established formula, Elvis's 22nd movie gets a big shot in the arm from writers Theodore J. Flicker and George Kirgo. Unusual for an Elvis comedy, Spinout is actually funny. Intentionally.
This time Elvis is Mike McCoy, part-time racecar driver and full-time rock'n'roller. Though popular, Mike refuses to join the big-time music scene, preferring to modestly tour the country with band mates Larry (Jimmy Hawkins), Curly (Jack Mullaney), and Les (Deborah Walley), she a drummer long in love with Mike.
Mike races a Cobra 427 (towed around the country by his pristine 1929 Model J Duesenberg; ah, the simple life!) that is nearly wrecked when spoiled but perpetually cheery rich girl Cynthia (Shelley Fabares) runs Mike off the road. Later, Cynthia's father, Howard Foxhugh (Carl Betz), proposes Mike race his new Fox Five Car at the big Santa Fe race, but contrary Mike wants no part of it. Cynthia becomes determined to marry Mike, and meanwhile best-selling author Diana St. Clair (Diane McBain), decides she wants to marry him, too.
All of this is routine stuff, but between director Norman Taurog's sure hand, a half-dozen good performances, and especially Flicker and Kirgo's script, Spinout rises to the occasion. Flicker wrote and directed The President's Analyst the following year, directed episodes of The Dick Van Dyke Show and created Barney Miller with Danny Arnold. Kirgo apparently had an affinity with automobiles, having also penned Red Line 7000 (1965) and two episodes of My Mother the Car, but he also wrote for such fine series as The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Adam's Rib.
Their script has fast, funny dialogue and eccentric characters who move the story in unexpected directions, faintly evoking classic screwball comedies like The Palm Beach Story (1942). Perhaps the best evidence of this is the amusing nature of Elvis's three sidekicks. Jack Mullaney, painfully unfunny in other films (Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine to name one) shines as nitwit Curly (were Flicker and Kirgo fans of The Three Stooges?) and with marginally brighter Larry, Mullaney and Hawkins are like Dumb & Dumber of the cardigan set.
Deborah Walley, too often wasted in Beach Party movies at AIP, has several good scenes with Will Hutchins as a gourmand highway patrolman. Warren Berlinger gives a spirited performance that's a truly frightening genetic morphing of William Shatner and Nathan Lane.
In clunkers like Harum Scarum Elvis walks through all but the musical numbers, probably in part because he doesn't know how to overcome weak material. But here he seems to be in on the joke, and draws from the performances of his supporting cast. His songs are pretty good this time, with "Am I Ready" "Beach Shack" and "I'll Be Back" being highlights. The title tune was one of several for Elvis written by Dolores Fuller, Ed Wood's long-suffering ex-wife.
Video & Audio
As with the other five titles in Warner's current Elvis wave (It Happened at the World's Fair, etc.), Spinout looks fantastic. Filmed in Panavision, the 16:9 enhanced image is nearly flawless, and probably looks far superior to how drive-in audiences saw the film when it was new. The colors and resolution are great, and there's very little edge enhancement or other digital artifacting. The mono sound is crisp and clean. An alternate mono French track is offered, along with lots of subtitle options: English (no subtitles for the songs, though), French, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Korean, and Indonesian. Hopefully this is a trend.
The only extra is an Elvis Trailer Gallery for four later titles, all 16:9 enhanced: Spinout, Double Trouble (1967), Speedway (1968), and The Trouble with Girls (1969). All four are in good shape.
Harry Medved, Randy Dreyfuss and (an uncredited) Michael Medved include Spinout as one of their Fifty Worst Films of All-Time, though the "honor" is quite unjust. Even limited to Elvis's filmography there are movies far worse than Spinout. Looking at the film with modest objectively, one can recognize the comparatively good writing and performances, all of which adds up to perfect escapist fare for Elvis fans, and a film even non-fans might enjoy.
Stuart Galbraith IV is a Los Angeles and Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes The Emperor and the Wolf -- The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune. His new book, Cinema Nippon will be published by Taschen in 2005.