Viva Las Vegas (1964)

Viva_Las_Vegas_1964_PosterPreviously, whenever I thought of Elvis and films, my first inclination was to think musical and then secondly because, by some form of osmosis the culture had taught me this, Elvis went with Ann-Margret. In truth, they were astoundingly only ever in this one picture together but what a picture for them to be in. It left an indelible impact on both stars as much as it did their audience.

Sure, it’s at times utterly laughable, light, and saccharine with gaudy color schemes that make Las Vegas the flashiest spectacle known to man (which it might actually conceivably be), but there’s something still so winsome about it.

The story is one of those contrived Hollywood love stories that we know the rhythms of before they have begun.  Boy meets girl. Boy becomes infatuated with girl. Girl keeps him at arm’s length. Girl begins to fall for him. Girl gets turned off because of some trivial misunderstanding. In the end, girl gets boy or vice versa. Whichever you prefer because either way it still proves a formulaic picture.

But gosh darn it, Viva Las Vegas has a vibrant energy that probably makes every man, woman, and child wish they could go back to that era, especially all those rock ‘n rollers and beboppers who grew up with Elvis for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

There’s no doubt that he had a magnetic charisma that went beyond a voice or a look but the very way he shimmies, snaps, and shakes his way into the heart of every gal. However, the real vivacity of the picture comes from the same kinetic friskiness that seems to charge through Ann-Margret as well. Because in most any given equation Elvis Presley is bar none going to be your dominating force commanding the screen as the indisputable Elvis the Pelvis, the King of Rock and Roll. But put him up against Ann-Margret and they tease and prod each other this way and that — the perfect romantic counterpoints.

It’s as if they both have a sense of the game that they are playing — the back and forth — the one-upmanship and playful toying that gives the story a hint of sensuality while still maintaining that squeaky clean sensibility allowing a picture like this to remain more charming than most films we are introduced to today.

And when it’s all said and done, aside from the title track which will undoubtedly be most familiar and exhilarating for audience members in its numerous refrains, there are quite a few truly dynamic sequences that go beyond tedious asides in a musical love story.

They reflect how Hollywood seemed to understand the collective power that musicals could have. Director George Sidney is not necessarily a noted name of great repute but if you look down the list of his directing catalog you see many a diverting musical (ie. Annie Get Your Gun, Kiss Me Kate, Bye Bye Birdie, and a whole slew of others).

With Viva Las Vegas it’s easy to acknowledge that he has a knack for the spectacle that remains light and amusing to the end including the notable Ray Charles tune “What’d I Say” played out on a giant roulette wheel, our leads making eyes at each other, surrounded by a crowd of fellow shimmy and shakers. But also the hip swinging, finger-snapping crowd pleaser “C’mon Everybody” that puts our stars on full display. They even end up making the smaller trifles like “The Lady Loves Me” and “If You Think I Don’t Need You” more than a complete drag.

To top it all off, far from being corny, the final Grand Prix sequence is actually quite marvelous as the cars speed through the desert past Hoover Dam and we see Lucky win out against his good-natured rival. The film truly does benefit from the on location shooting only topped by the breezy chemistry of its leads. More than The Rat Pack or Bond, this film gives me at least an iota of desire to visit Las Vegas. Although that might simply be the fact that Elvis and Ann-Margret, in particular, imbue the lifestyle with so much verve. Anyways there are no qualms in proclaiming, Viva Las Vegas!

3.5/5 Stars

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