Classic Cinema #14: Jailhouse Rock (1957) – By Jason S. Lockard

My name is Jason S. Lockard and as like the rest of the world I am a fan of Elvis Presley and August being the month of his passing I thought I’d take a look back at one of his iconic movies…. Jailhouse Rock!

Elvis Aaron Presley was born on January 8, 1935 in Tupelo, Mississippi, but moved to Memphis, Tennessee, with his family at the age of 13. He began his career there in 1954 when Sun Records owner Sam Phillips, eager to bring the sound of African American music to a wider audience, he saw in Presley the means to realize his ambition.

RCA Victor acquired his contract in a deal arranged by Colonel Tom Parker, who would manage the singer for over two decades. Presley’s first RCA single, "Heartbreak Hotel", released in January 1956, was a number one hit. He became the leading figure of the newly popular sound of rock and roll with a series of network television appearances and chart-topping records. His energized interpretations of songs, many from African American sources, and his uninhibited style made him hugely controversial and extremely popular. In November 1956, he made his film debut in Love Me Tender.

Than in 1957 Elvis starred in one of his best films Jailhouse Rock directed by Richard Thorpe. This film was Elvis’ third and his MGM debut. Presley plays "Vince Everett," an ex-convict working in the music industry. Vince goes to jail for manslaughter when he sticks up for a woman who is being harassed by a man in the bar. In prison he meets Hunk Houghton and the two men form a bond. Houghton, a washed-up country singer, teaches Everett to play an old guitar, and to sing a few songs.

Upon his release, Everett lands work at night clubs, but not singing. He meets Peggy Van Alden [Judy Tyler], a record company talent scout, who allows Everett to record a song. They bring his demo to an executive at a small record label, who then records the exact arrangement with one of his established stars. Everett and Van Alden then start their own label to bring Everett’s records to the public, and fame, riches, and a film career ensue, but fame soon goes to Everett’s head and he pushes Peggy away and Hunk sees how he hurt Peggy and punches Everett in the throat possibly damaging his voice forever! Does Everett get his voice and career back? You’ll have to watch the film to find out! 

For its time, Jailhouse Rock was considered scandalous. The idea of a convict being a hero, the use of the word hell to swear, and a scene of Presley laying in bed with co-star Judy Tyler were all considered risky for the audience.

MGM initially wanted to title the film The Hard Way before settling on the title of the main song Jailhouse Rock. The first scenes to be shot were for the dance sequence to the song Jailhouse Rock. This erotic, if not homo-erotic, dance sequence is often cited as Elvis’s greatest moment onscreen. Elvis after trying the original choreography by Alex Romero told Alex “I’m not Fred Astaire, I’ll do anything you ask, but I can’t do that!” Alex than asked Elvis to show him what he does on stage, after seeing this Alex choreographed the dance sequence. Later the legendary actor/dancer Gene Kelly paid a visit to the set to watch a run-through of the sequence he applauded when it was performed.

A day after filming began Presley was rushed to hospital after a dental cap became loose and he inhaled it into his lung. After surgery to remove it and a few days in hospital he was released. He was able to return to work a few days later. Filming commenced on May 13 1957 and completed on June 17.

In a tragic note Judy Taylor was killed in an auto accident just a few short weeks after completing this film.

In 2004, this film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

After serving his time the Military, in 1958 Presley quickly re-launched his recording career two years later with some of his most commercially successful work. He staged few concerts, however, and, guided by Parker, proceeded to devote much of the 1960s to making Hollywood movies and soundtrack albums, most of them critically derided.

In 1968, after seven years away from the stage, he returned to live performance in a celebrated comeback television special that led to an extended Las Vegas concert residency and a string of profitable tours. In 1973, Presley staged the first concert broadcast globally via satellite, Aloha from Hawaii, seen by approximately 1.5 billion viewers. Prescription drug abuse severely compromised his health, and he died suddenly on August 16, 1977 at the age of 42.

Presley is one of the most recognizable stars of 20th-century. He had #1 hits in all genres including country, pop ballads, gospel, and blues. He is the best-selling solo artist in popular music history. He was nominated for 14 competitive Grammys, he won three, and received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award at age 36.

While Many consider Elvis’ films just fluff and a guy chasing the girl. Elvis did have acting talent but you can only act in what the studio gives you! Proof of Elvis’ acting chops can be seen in Love me Tender, King Creole and our film this month Jailhouse Rock! Elvis Presley Movie Star but to most of the world Elvis is and always will be simply The King of Rock and Roll

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Moral Rating: Mild Violence
Audience: Teens & Adults
Genre: Drama
Length: 95 min.
Released: 1957
Our Rating: A-