Colonel Tom's Folly

Twenty years after Elvis's death, a guide to his greatest movie "hits" and misses

To commemorate last week's 20th anniversary of Elvis Presley's death, MGM Home Entertainment has released a video gift set containing all 31 of Elvis's movies in a guitar case. Maybe it should have packaged them in a coffin, instead, since the balance of the King's film output has more in common with dead men walking than with music.

Both Elvis's promising acting career and rock credibility (Jailhouse Rock, Loving You, King Creole) were prematurely snuffed out by "technical adviser" Colonel Tom Parker in favor of some of the shoddiest scripts and hack songs ever inflicted on a paying audience (Harum Scarum, The Trouble with Girls, Kissin' Cousins, etc.). That said, there are still two good reasons anyone in his right mind would want to sift through this body of cinematic excreta now: the dumb fun of watching the King navigate his way through excruciatingly bad songs, and the even bigger thrill of seeing him slug someone.

Although I intended to watch all 31 Elvis movies to best chronicle the worst song setting and the best setup for a punch, I only made it through fewer than half. But it seemed like more. Even my eight-year-old son remarked, "Daddy, didn't we see this one already?" Incidentally, the worst films always seem to have Elvis -- much like future son-in-law Michael Jackson -- singing to small children, so I've included a Pedophile Alert for concerned parents. Now let's fast-forward through as many celluloid treasures and turds as the King deigned to leave behind. It's now or never!

Loving You (1957)
Most implausible song setting: Some loudmouth in a soda shop figures out how to get singing sensation Deke Rivers to serenade him and his gum-chewing girlfriend free of charge -- keep calling him "Sideburns." The grumbling Elvis then proceeds to invent karaoke by playing with a jukebox recording of "Mean Woman Blues," which mysteriously consists mostly of handclaps.

Reason Elvis has to whup a man's ass: After Elvis tears up the soda shop with that song, he asks the bully what his job is. "Upholstering cars," he says. "Well, I usually get paid for what I do, so why don't you go outside and upholster my car," Elvis insists. Job-appreciation day abruptly ends when the bully tells Elvis that his car's color is probably yellow! Whoa! No court in the land would convict Elvis for killing that guy!

Jailhouse Rock (1957)
Most implausible song setting: When jailbird Elvis sings "Young and Beautiful," his cellmate Hunk tells the young hoodlum he has a lot to learn about singing. Later, he gets punched in the neck by Hunk and loses his voice. After an emergency operation, he lip-syncs to the same recording of "Young and Beautiful," and everybody's now convinced he can resume his successful singing career. Guess money does change everything.

Reason Elvis has to whup a man's ass: Elvis does time in the Big House for second-degree manslaughter. You'd snap and kill a guy, too, if he spilled a drink on your shirt and said, "Why don't you run along, sonny, before I muss up your hair," wouldn't cha?

Kid Galahad (1962)
Most implausible song setting: What's more implausible to you? That the King is driving around in a Ford Model T? That the backing track to "Riding the Rainbow" is conveniently being broadcast at that very moment? That it's coming through the antiquated radio in perfect stereophonic sound? Or that Charles Bronson is in the back seat, smiling from ear to ear?

Reason Elvis has to whup a man's ass: Elvis gets his "Galahad" nickname by punching out any guy who gives a girl the incorrect time of day. Yet in his first professional prizefight, it takes 38 lethal jabs to the head and intense bleeding from both nostrils before he remembers, oh, yeah, he's got to hit the guy back!

Girls! Girls! Girls! (1962)
Most implausible song setting: Banging on walls to squelch their noisy neighbors' racket gives Elvis and his gal pal the tango rhythm they need to perform "The Walls Have Ears." With lines such as "Better think before you fling that shoe / If you part my hair with that chair they'll spread the word to Timbuktu," it's not hard to imagine the walls wishing they had hands as well.

Reason Elvis has to whup a man's ass: Elvis is incensed when his boss at the tuna cannery pays him $71.59 instead of the agreed-upon $100. "You don't understand business, Skipper," says his big boss man before meeting all ten of Elvis's knuckles up close and personal. Hmmm, guess when the Colonel bamboozled Elvis out of his rightful millions, he had the good sense not to call him "Skipper."

Pedophile alert: After working all day on a shrimp boat with just men, Elvis croons the romantic "Earth Boy" to the Ling sisters, two pigtailed Hawaiian girls who couldn't be older than the catch of the day.

Viva Las Vegas (1964)
Most implausible song setting: Elvis stops a riot at a rowdy Lone Star strip club by breaking into "The Yellow Rose of Texas" and leading the ruffians out in a conga line.

Reason Elvis has to whup a man's ass: The closest thing to an altercation in this film is Ann-Margret pushing Elvis and his guitar off a diving board after he sexually harasses her for three and a half minutes with "The Lady Loves Me." In the Elvis canon, Viva Las Vegas would be classified as a "chick flick."

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