Monday, 4 July 2011

Viva Las Vegas (1964)

Viva Las Vegas, was released back in 1964 and is a romantic musical movie that co-starred the King of rock himself, Elvis Presley and the actress and dancer Ann-Margaret. This movie is regarded by many fans of these actors and by film critics as one of Presley's best movies, and it is noted for the apparent on-screen attraction between Mr. Presley and Ms. Ann-Margret. It also presents a strong set of ten musical "song-and-dance scenes" choreographed by David Winters and featuring his dancers, and a reasonably interesting story. Viva Las Vegas was a hit at movie theaters, becoming the number 11 movie in the list of the Top 20 Movie Box Office hits of 1964.
Viva Las Vegas : Hardcover Book : JAT Publishing
Lucky Jackson (Elvis Presley) goes to Las Vegas to participate in the city's first annual Grand Prix Race. However, his race car, an Elva Mk. VI, is in need of a new engine in order to keep running. Lucky raises the necessary money in Las Vegas, but he mislays it when he is distracted by a nubile local swimming instructor, Ms. Rusty Martin (Ann-Margret). Soon, Lucky's main competition arrives in the form of "Count Elmo Mancini", (played by Cesare Danova), who attempts to steal both the auto race and the affections of Rusty.

In Great Britain, both the movie and its soundtrack were sold as Love In Las Vegas, since there was another, different movie called Viva Las Vegas that was being shown in British movie cinemas at the same time that Presley's was released.

The chemistry between the two stars was apparently quite real during the filming of Viva Las Vegas. Presley and Ann-Margret allegedly began an affair, and this received considerable attention from movie & music gossip columnists. This reportedly led to a showdown with Presley's worried girlfriend Priscilla Beaulieau. (Elvis and Priscilla married in 1967.) In her 1985 book Elvis & Me, Priscilla Presley describes the difficulties that she experienced when the gossip columnists erroneously "announced" that Ann-Margret and Presley had become engaged to be married. However, there probably was another reason for this big hullabaloo about the "romance" between Presley and Ann-Margret in 1964. It probably was stirred up to help promote popularity for Ann-Margret, who was then a little-known Hollywood starlet.

In her memoirs, Ann-Margret refers to Elvis Presley as her "soulmate", but there is very little revealed about their supposed romance. In his critical study on the "dream machine" that publicists, tabloid newspapers, journalists, gossip columnists, and TV interviewers use to create semi-fictional icons - often playing tricks with the truth - Joshua Gamson cites a press agent as "saying that his client, Ann-Margret, could initially have been 'sold ... as anything'; She was a new product. We felt there was a need in 'The Industry' for a female Elvis Presley.

In addition, the filming of Viva Las Vegas reportedly produced unusually heated exchanges between the movie's Director and Presley's manager, Colonel Tom Parker, who for once was not credited as a "Technical Advisor" in the credits for this movie (The movie's director was film veteran George Sidney). The arguments reportedly concerned the amount time and effort allotted by the movie's cinematographer, Joseph Biroc, to the music and dancing scenes that featured Ann-Margret, ostensibly on the orders of the director. These scenes in Viva Las Vegasinclude multiple views of Ann-Margret's dancing, taken from many different camera angles, the use of multiple movie cameras for each scene, and several retakes of each of her song-and-dance scenes. David Winters from the original cast of West Side Story, was the film's choreographer and was recommended by Ann-Margret for the job. This was Winters' first job as a choreographer on a feature film and Ann-Margret was his dance student at the time.

Some critics in 1964 disliked Viva Las Vegas, such as one for the New York Times, who wrote: "Viva Las Vegas, the new Elvis Presley vehicle, is about as pleasant and unimportant as a banana split." However, many others deduced the reasons why many members of the North American public liked the movie so much. Variety Magazine stated in its review: "Beyond several flashy musical numbers, a glamorous locale, and one electrifying auto race sequence, the production is a pretty trite and 'heavyhanded' affair..." Critical reaction notwithstanding,"Viva Las Vegas" has become one of Presley's more popular films.

Recording sessions took place on July 9, 10, and 11, 1963, at Radio Recorders in Hollywood, California. By now film and soundtrack obligations were starting to back up on each other, and six weeks after the aborted "lost album" sessions of May 1963, the stable of Presley songwriters were required to come up with another dozen songs for yet another new picture. Song quality took a back seat to the need for volume, and Presley's filming schedule made it difficult for song publishers to live up to obligations. Memphis Mafia pal Red West had written a "Ray Charles Styled" number, but so little good material had surfaced that an extra session was scheduled on August 30 for an actual Ray Charles song, later released as a single to promote the film with its title song.

Twelve songs were recorded for the film, but only six were issued on records. The idea of a full-length soundtrack long playing album was not considered, which has garnered much criticism from various accounts, including Elvis: The Illustrated Record. "Night Rider", "Do the Vega", and a medley "Yellow Rose of Texas" would be released on Elvis Sings Flaming Star in 1969, and the Neapolitan song "Santa Lucia" would be placed on Elvis for everyone "The Lady Loves Me" would be issued on Elvis: A Legendary Performer Volume 4 in 1983, and the duet between Presley and Ann-Margret "You're the Boss" on Elvis Sings Leiber & Stoller in 1991. The other duets between the pair in the film, along with Ann-Margret's solo numbers, would wait until later retrospectives to appear on record.

Elvis Presley signs autographs on the set of Viva Las Vegas. Colonel Parker watches everything.

(Above) On the set of Viva Las Vegas Elvis signs autographs.

Elvis Presley on the set of Viva Las Vegas. Photo from The Elvis Files Vol. 3 1960-1964 : Hardcover Book

(Above) Elvis on the set of Viva Las Vegas

1 comment:

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