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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Jailhouse Rock (Blu-ray)
Jailhouse Rock (Blu-ray)
Warner Bros. // Unrated // September 18, 2007 // Region A
List Price: $28.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by John Sinnott | posted October 2, 2007 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Recommended
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P R I N T
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The Movie:

"Before anyone did anything, Elvis did everything."  That old phrase is so true.  People tend to forget how influential Elvis Presley was, but he wasn't called the King of Rock and Roll for nothing.  Not only was he the first rock phenomenon with an incredible amount of hit records (he has 150 gold albums, singles, and EPs) he was also the first rocker to become a star in Hollywood.  One of the most important things he did however was to help turn rock and roll from a fad into an industry, and his third movie, Jailhouse Rock, went a long way towards doing that.  This influential and major film in Elvis' career has now been released on Blu-ray with an impeccable image and impressive sound.

Vince Everett (Elvis Presley) is a construction worker who is nice but brash, and easy to anger.  After getting paid one Friday, Vince buys a round at the local bar and gets into trouble defending a woman.   When her boyfriend starts abusing her Vince intervenes, a fight starts, and the man ends up dying.  Vince is sent to jail for manslaughter, serving 1-10 years.

In jail Vince is assigned a cell with Hunk Houghton (Mickey Shaughnessy), an old country western singer.  Hunk teaches Vince a few cords on his guitar and the younger man takes to it like a fish out of water.  When a TV special featuring the jail's inmates is filmed (to show how good the conditions are) Vince performs a tune and is a hit.  He gets a sack full of fan mail but Hunk bribes the guys in the mail room to withhold them.  The old con, realizing a good thing when he sees it, writes up a contract making him and Vince 50/50 partners.  Vince will get out in a few months and then Hunk will be free a year later.  Together they have plans of storming the entertainment world as a C&W act.

Vince does his time, gets out, and happens to meet Peggy Van Alden (Judy Tyler), a promoter at a record company.  Vince tries to sell Peggy on the idea that he's a singer, but she doesn't buy it.  So Vince jumps up on a restaurant's stage, takes out his guitar, and....bombs.  No one is listening to him and when one man loudly laughs, Vince looses his cool and smashes his guitar.  Peggy seems something in the uncouth young man, and convinces him to tape himself at a recording studio.

When he does Vince doesn't like what he hears.  The song is good, but he sounds stale and lifeless.  He records the song again, and this time gives it his own spin and single handedly invents rock music.  From there the sky's the limit, but all Vince cares about is money and fame.  Will his success ruin the rough and outspoken Vince?

This was Elvis' third movie, and his first real dramatic role.  It's a shame he didn't make more movies like this one, because he did a good job and showed that he does have some acting ability.  Vince comes across as a pretty big ass through most of the film, something that Elvis wasn't by all accounts.  He makes Vince act in a believable manner and it's a bit surprising to see someone of Elvis' stature at the time playing a role that is at least partially unsympathetic.  Since the story of a young nobody who turns into a great star very roughly parallels Presley's own meteoric rise he ran the risk of people thinking that he was like Vince in real life.  Of course it is ironic that Vince in the movie was an astute business man when the real Elvis made some horrible business decisions.  (Such as giving (eventually) life-long manager Colonel Parker 50% of his earnings.)

The songs included in this movie are strong too.  Treat Me Nice and (You're So Square) Baby I Don't Care are featured and both were written by Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller who also penned Hound Dog, Loving You, Yackity Yak and several other hit songs.  The important thing about this movie isn't just the fact that it is filled with good songs, but that the movie itself was built around the music rather than the other way around.  Previous films had rock elements in them, but they were always an after thought and not integral to the plot.  Some kids would go to a dance and a rock song would play, and then afterwards they'd get on with the story.  Jailhouse Rock was different.  It was a movie about rock and roll and its success was one of the reasons that people started taking the music more seriously.

Of course the title song is the highlight of the movie.  Originally choreographed as a standard dance number, when Elvis saw the moves he was supposed to perform he became very nervous.  He wasn't a classically trained dancer, and didn't think he could pull it off.  Eventually he talked to choreographer Alex Romero about it.  Romero took the star back to the dressing room and watched him dance to some of his own records, the way he would on stage.  The next morning Romero presented a routine that incorporated Elvis' own style and flair into the moves.  The singer was easily able to pull off the moves; shaking his hips, jutting his knees out, and even jumping up on his toes decades before Michael Jackson did.  The number was energetic and unlike the traditional Busby Berkeley-like numbers that often popped up in musicals, and it made rock history.

The Blu-ray Disc:


 
Video:

This black and white film is presented with its original aspect ratio of 2.4:1 and it looks absolutely fabulous.  The level of detail is amazing with even the weave of Elvis' suits being discernable.  The contrast is spot-on and the blacks are deep and solid without being crushed.  There're a lot of eye-popping moments, not the least of which is the title song number.  The print used for the transfer had no problems at all; I didn't see a single spot or scratch.

Digitally things look just as good.  There isn't a trace of cross colorization, something that sometimes plagues black and white movies, and other common flaws such as aliasing and posterization are also missing.  All in all this is a great looking disc.

Audio:

For a fifty year old movie, this sounds really good.  Viewers have the choice of screening the film with a Dolby TrueHD lossless track, DD 5.1, or the original mono.  (There are also mono dub tracks in Spanish and French.)  Due to the fact that the multichannel tracks were created from a mono master, there was little use made of the rear speakers, though the front soundstage was put to some use.  The dynamic range was surprisingly wide for a film this old, and while both ends are clipped a bit, it sounds much fuller than I was expecting.  There isn't much discernable difference between the lossless track and the DD 5.1 and they both do a great job of reproducing the songs and dialog.  The tracks were also very clean, with no hiss, pops, or distortion.

Extras:

As with Viva Las Vegas, this disc comes with a commentary track by Elvis author Steve Pond who wrote Elvis in Hollywood.  This is another good track, with Pond discussing the shooting of the movie, relating behind the scenes anecdotes, and telling some fun Elvis tales.  There's also a fun featurette, The Scene that Stole Jailhouse Rock, about the filming of the title song, and how Elvis and the choreographer reworked the dance moves the day before shooting.

Final Thoughts:

This is one of Elvis' best movies.  He does a great job in the dramatic role and showed that he really could act.  The movie is filled with great songs, but the energetic title number steals the show.  This Blu-ray disc has a wonderful picture and excellent sound.  It looks and sounds much better than you would expect from a 50 year old movie.  This disc gets a strong recommendation.
 

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