Jailhouse Rock: Deluxe Edition
Studio: Warner Home Video/MGM
Rated: Not Rated
Length: 96 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen
Black & White
Languages: English Dolby Digital 5.1, English Mono
Subtitles: English (for the hearing impaired), French
The warden threw a party in the county jail.
The prison band was there and they began to wail.
The band was jumpin' and the joint began to swing.
You should've heard those knocked out jailbirds sing.
Let's rock, everybody, let's rock.
Everybody in the whole cell block
Was dancin' to the Jailhouse Rock
The title tune to Elvis Presley’s third movie, Jailhouse Rock, was one of four songs written for the film by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller in a single afternoon in the spring of 1957. Warner Home Video, which previously issued Jailhouse Rock on DVD in 2000, has now released a “Deluxe Edition” DVD. While I do not have a copy of the 2000 release for comparison, this one looks and sounds terrific. The “deluxe” features include a commentary by “Elvis in Hollywood” author Steve Pond, a 15-minute featurette about the film’s famous dance scene, a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack (the original mono soundtrack is included as well), the theatrical trailer and trailers to three other Elvis films. The extras are discussed in detail below.
Elvis plays Vince Everett, a spirited young man who celebrates payday by buying drinks for the house at a local bar. When an older woman comes on to Vince, her boyfriend takes offense and pours a drink on Vince’s shirt. A fight breaks out and the man dies when Vince drops him with a hard right to the jaw. Vince is convicted of manslaughter and is sentenced to 1-10 years in the state penitentiary.
After an unpleasant introduction to the warden, Vince is assigned to share a cell with Hunk Houghton (Mickey Shaughnessy), who, as it turns out, pretty much runs the prison from the inside. Hunk had at one time been a successful country and western singer, but when his career went on the skids he made the mistake of committing an unsuccessful bank robbery. Hunk offers Vince the opportunity to avoid hard labor by becoming one of his flunkies, but Vince decides to remain on his own. He changes his mind only when Hunk offers him the opportunity to sing in a televised prison talent show. When, after the show, fan mail begins to pour in for Vince, Hunk realizes that his cellmate has talent and he sees an opportunity to hitch his wagon to Vince’s potential star power.
When Vince is released from prison, he is rebuffed in his attempts to get a job singing at a strip club. However, while there he meets Peggy Van Alden (Judy Tyler), who does “exploitation” work for a record company – i.e., she plugs records to disc jockeys, juke box owners, etc. When Vince sings a song, Peggy observes that he has no discernible style but she recognizes that he does have talent. Before long Vince finds his style, after which he and Peggy establish their own record company and release a single, “Treat Me Nice,” which becomes a smash hit. However, success goes to Vince’s head and he nearly forgets about Peggy when he heads to Hollywood to become a movie star.
As movies go, Jailhouse Rock is not exceptional. The plot is fairly predictable and the direction by Richard Thorpe is rather perfunctory. However, it is perhaps Elvis’ finest film performance and gives a hint of what he could have become in Hollywood if he had been given the opportunity to play edgy anti-heroes. Vince Everett is, in fact, not a very nice guy. He is rude, inconsiderate, and at times condescending to his friends. Onstage, however, he is positively electric.
In one of the film’s best scenes, Vince has an argument with Peggy and then grabs her and gives her a passionate kiss. She pulls away from him.
“How dare you think such cheap tactics would work with me?” demands Peggy.
Vince kisses her again, as forcefully as before.
“That ain’t tactics,” he snarls. “That’s just the beast in me.”
Musically, the high point is the famous “Jailhouse Rock” dance sequence, which never grows old. During the studio sessions Vince is backed by Elvis’ regular band, including guitarist Scotty Moore, Bill Black on upright bass, and D.J. Fontana on drums. Mike Stoller also appears as Vince’s pianist.
A trivia note: When Vince receives an offer to sell his record company, both he and his attorney appear to be fixated on the point that the proceeds will be treated as capital gains. That is because in 1958 the marginal tax rate on income in excess of $400,000 was 91%. The tax rate on capital gains, on the other hand, was 25%.
Elvis’ co-star, Judy Tyler, was killed in an automobile accident shortly after the filming wrapped. Although she and Elvis were not involved romantically, they became good friends and Elvis was so devastated when he learned of her death that he thought that he would never be able to watch Jailhouse Rock, which had not yet been released. Judy Tyler appeared in only one other film, Bop Girl Goes Calypso. Older baby boomers may remember her as “Princess Summerfall Winterspring” on The Howdy Doody Show.
The black and white image is absolutely pristine. The picture is sharp, the contrasts are excellent and there is little or no visible grain. I observed no dirt, specks, splices or any other signs of damage. It is difficult to believe that it has ever looked better, although I should qualify that by pointing out that it is also being released on HD DVD and Blu-Ray.
As noted, the soundtrack is available both in the original mono and in remixed Dolby Digital 5.1. The Dolby Digital soundtrack adds separation to the musical numbers, and it seems to me to be a bit fuller than the mono soundtrack. However, those who prefer to hear the film in its original form will find nothing to complain about. The mono sounds just fine, with no noise, hiss or other distractions.
The commentary by author Steve Pond starts off slowly, but he does make some interesting points about Elvis’ career in Hollywood. As expected, he blames Elvis’ appearances in a string of mediocre musicals on his manager, “Colonel” Tom Parker. He also contributes some interesting trivia. For example, the studio wanted Jerry Leiber to play the part of Vince’s pianist, even though Leiber did not play the piano, because he had a better “look” for the part than Mike Stoller. Leiber, however, turned down the part and it is in fact Stoller who appears in the film.
A 15-minute featurette entitled “The Scene That Stole Jailhouse Rock” covers the famous dance scene in some detail. Leiber and Stoller appear in the featurette and discuss the fact that they did not much care for Elvis’ version of “Hound Dog” -- until it sold 7 million copies, that is. They were not terribly enthusiastic about writing songs for Jailhouse Rock, and they did not really get to work on it until a studio executive showed up and read the riot act to them. Choreographer Alex Romero was hired to develop the dance scene, but Elvis was uncomfortable with the moves which Romero had designed for him. Romero then asked Elvis to show him how he moved when he sang on stage. Elvis played a few of his records and went through his gyrations. Romero then re-choreographed the scene overnight, utilizing the dance moves which were natural to Elvis. Elvis also got some dancing tips from Russ Tamblyn (West Side Story), whom he had recently befriended. It is clear from Elvis' facial expressions that he thoroughly enjoyed making the dance scene.
The extras include the theatrical trailer to Jailhouse Rock. Also available are the trailers to Viva Las Vegas, Girl Happy and Clambake. Curiously, the latter three trailers can be seen only when the DVD starts up. They are not accessible from the menu. Viewers can skip over them and go directly to the main menu by pressing the menu key.
The main menu is straightforward. Viewers can play the movie, select scenes, view the extras and set up the audio from the menu. However, if there is a way to access the trailers for the three 60s Elvis films from the menu, I was unable to figure it out. There are 26 chapter stops.
The single platter comes in a standard keepcase inside a cardboard sleeve. Also included is a 22-page booklet of black and white still photos and production photos. The description of the film on the back of the keepcase misspells Jerry Leiber’s name.
The Final Analysis
Jailhouse Rock is a must for Elvis fans and for anyone who enjoys 50s rock ‘n’ roll. For those who only know Elvis’ acting from some of the turkeys he made in the 60s, take a look at this one and you will begin to understand what all the fuss was about.
Equipment used for this review:
Cambridge Audio DVD-89 DVD player
Sharp LC-42D62U LCD display
Yamaha HTR-5890 THX Surround Receiver
BIC Acoustech speakers
Interconnects: Monster Cable
Release Date: August 7, 2007