Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: The title song, Elvis singing
Cons: Thin plot and characters
The Bottom Line:
With thin plot and characters
Saved by his singing
Ex-Con Makes Good
There are giant holes in my American pop culture knowledge. At this point in my life, I only have myself to blame. One of them is the career of Elvis Presley. Oh sure, I’ve heard recordings of him singing, but I had never watched any of his movies. Thanks to TCM, I fixed that with Jailhouse Rock.
This movie tells the story of Vince Everett (Elvis Presley), a young man who finds himself in jail for manslaughter thanks to a bar fight. While there, his cellmate is Hank Houghton (Mickey Shaughnessy), a former singer who winds up teaching Vince everything he knows about surviving in jail and singing. When Vince gets out, he decides to try to turn his new found musical talent into a career. He meets Peggy Van Alden (Judy Tyler), and the two set about trying to make him into a star. Will they succeed?
Let’s be honest here, the plot doesn’t hold any surprises. While I didn’t have all the plot points figured out early on, I was usually one or two plot points ahead of the movie. As a result, I felt like the movie was slow, but considering it runs just over an hour and a half, it’s probably more me than anything else.
And, as long as we are being honest, the movie is really just an excuse to see Elvis singing. This was as close as we got to music videos in 1957, so I can see why people would have rushed to the theater to see it. Unlike some musicals, the songs in this movie all make sense since they are songs that Vince is singing as part of his career, either recording them or performing them somewhere. There also aren’t really any dance numbers since Elvis is usually recording something as his character is singing. The exception to that is the “Jailhouse Rock” sequence, which we get as a rehearsal for a TV special. It is easily a highlight of the movie, and it is easy to see why Elvis had such a fan base at the time and why his legacy has been so lasting.
With the film being so short, character development is sacrificed in the script. The characters are just developed enough for us to care, but that is it. I’m not blaming the actors at all; it is the script they are working with. No, Elvis isn’t the strongest actor, but he does a reasonable job here.
As I hinted about a minute ago, the film came out in 1957, and is still in black and white. I know for some that is a complete turn off, but once the movie gets going, it didn’t bother me at all.
I think what I found most interesting was the warning about tempers that flow through the movie. It may not have been intentional, but several events in the film are a direct result of someone attacking others in a fight when they’ve lost their temper. And it always had bad results. Of course, it helps make Vince an ex-con we can root for and not a hardened criminal, but it keeps being a repeated theme as the movie progresses.
I’m not sure how much Jailhouse Rock will appeal to the casual movie viewer, but fans of Elvis will definitely be glad they watched it.