"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:
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.
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.
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.
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.