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HTF DVD REVIEW: Elvis 75th Birthday Collection



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#1 of 3 Matt Hough

Matt Hough

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Posted June 06 2010 - 02:18 PM

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Elvis 75th Birthday Collection
Love Me Tender/Wild in the Country/Flaming Star/Follow That Dream/Kid Galahad/Frankie and Johnny/Clambake

Directed by Robert D. Webb et al

Studio: Twentieth Century Fox/MGM/UA
Year: 1956-1967
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1 nonanamorphic; 1.85:1 anamorphic; 2.35:1 anamorphic/nonanamorphic
Running Time: 691 minutes
Rating: NR
Audio: Dolby Digital 1.0, 2.0 mono, stereo, 4.0 English; 1.0 Spanish
Subtitles: SDH, Spanish

MSRP: $ 39.99


Release Date: June 1, 2010

Review Date:  June 6, 2010



The Films


Overview


After a string of million selling records and several highly publicized television appearances, rock and roll star Elvis Presley was signed for his first film appearance, a supporting role in the Fox Civil War-era melodrama Love Me Tender. For the next fifteen years, a steady string of Elvis films was cranked out for his eager public who with their support vaulted him seven times into the Quigley list of the top ten box-office stars (peaking at #4 in 1957). As time passed, the films became wickedly formulaic, and it became obvious that even Elvis’ heart wasn’t in them. Still, the seven films in this 75th birthday package include the three he made for Twentieth Century-Fox (including his screen debut) and four of the pictures he made for United Artists. It’s interesting to see Elvis’ acting and singing transform during the eleven year interval these films span.



Love Me Tender – 3/5


Reno brothers Vance (Richard Egan), Brett (William Campbell), and Ray (James Drury) are part of a Confederate squad that captures a Union payroll of $12,000 a few days after Lee has surrendered to Grant to end the Civil War. Not knowing that the war was already over, the soldiers believe the money is theirs as spoils of war. Returning home with their windfall, Vance is crushed to learn that his longtime sweetheart Cathy (Debra Paget), hearing that Vance had died in the war, has married his younger brother Clint (Elvis Presley). Though their attraction is still very strong, Vance decides the honorable thing to do is to leave the homestead and try his luck in California, but a railroad insurance agent (Robert Middleton) comes looking for the stolen money and isn’t going to let the boys rest until the money is returned.


Elvis’ movie debut is clearly a supporting role, and his first attempts at acting are stilted and somewhat unsettling, but there’s no denying his charisma before the camera. Though his debut performance wasn’t originally meant to feature any singing, the producers wisely realized what their strongest draw was and thus Elvis performs four numbers in the movie: the title song which he does with suitable restraint, and “Poor Boy,” “Let Me,” and “We’re Gonna Move” in which he anachronistically gyrates his hips and does his leg pops in his then-contemporary singing style. Robert Buckner’s undemanding screenplay gives Richard Egan a gregarious, big-hearted big brother character to play, and he’s the most appealing performer in the movie. Mildred Dunnock does well with her loving mother, but Debra Paget barely registers as the love interest both brothers are mad about.



Wild in the Country – 3/5


After being granted parole from prison for car theft that he didn’t commit, rebellious Glenn Tyler (Elvis Presley) goes to work for distiller Rolfe Braxton (William Mims). Rolfe is eager for Glenn to fall for his daughter Noreen (Tuesday Weld) who’s an unwed mother. But Noreen is only one of three women with an intense interest in the young man. His old school sweetheart Betty Lee Parsons (Millie Perkins) is still very much in the picture, and one of the parole board’s members Irene Sperry (Hope Lange), a psychiatrist who wants to understand Glenn’s restless spirit better, takes an interest in the lad who has a keen way with words and is eager to become a writer. But with Glenn’s lack of social status, the town where he lives makes it very difficult for him to attempt to rise above his lowly station.


Star Elvis Presley and prize-winning writer Clifford Odets: they seem an odd couple indeed though Odets, who wrote many plays featuring angry young men wistful for something better, here has adapted someone else’s story, the novel The Lost Country by J.R. Salamanca. What begins as a promising melodrama churns discouragingly into turgid soap opera by the end with ridiculous emotional extremes by all of the featured players and a climactic trial right out of Peyton Place (produced by Jerry Wald who also produced this film). They manage to shoehorn into the film two songs in addition to the title number: “Stumbled and Fell” and “I’ll Be True in My Way,” neither very necessary to the story. Millie Perkins does her usual forgettable job (and she’s an afterthought as the picture runs toward the two hour mark). Tuesday Weld goes for broke with the soapy nonsense, but she surprisingly doesn’t embarrass herself. Hope Lange tries her best to fashion a believable, reasonable human being out of the melodramatic claptrap of a script, but it ultimately defeats her. Elvis likewise goes down after a valiant effort early on. John Ireland and Gary Lockwood make notable villains, but Olympic star Rafer Johnson is simply awful in a couple of brief appearances.



Flaming Star – 4/5


The Texas range wars between the Kiowa Indians and the white settlers form the backdrop of this intense domestic drama involving a mixed race marriage between Sam Burton (John McIntire) and his Indian wife Neddy (Dolores del Rio). His older son Clint (Steve Forrest) by his first marriage and his second son by Neddy, Pacer (Elvis Presley), are looked on with suspicion by townsfolk, especially after a local family is massacred by the Kiowas but the nearby Burton ranch is left untouched. As hostile feelings continue to escalate, Pacer feels drawn to his Indian people causing the first rift between him and his older brother.


By far the best film in this collection and the one that features the finest performance Elvis Presley ever gave in a movie, Flaming Star has excellent but unshowy Don Siegel direction, a tight script by Clair Huffaker and Nunnally Johnson, and a genuinely affecting look at the depths of prejudice inherent on both sides of the warring nations. After the main title song, there’s only one other tune “A Cane and a High Starched Collar,” and it’s dispensed with very early leaving the remainder of the film to concentrate on its gripping story. All of the actors display some of their best work ever before the camera, but special mention needs to be made of Dolores del Rio whose gallant performance as a woman disowned by her people and disheartened by their cold, unwavering hatred is especially impressive. Richard Jaeckel and Barbara Eden make early appearances in the picture and both come off well, too.



Clambake – 2.5/5


Heir to an oil fortune, Scott Hayward (Elvis Presley) is tired of every girl he dates wanting him only for his father’s millions, so on a vacation to Miami, he arranges to swap identities with broke water skiing instructor Tom Wilson (Will Hutchins). At the Miami hotel, he meets the sweet but gold digging Dianne Carter (Shelley Fabares) who feels an immediate attraction to her skiing instructor but nevertheless sets her sights initially on wealthy playboy James J. Jamison III (Bill Bixby). Scott discovers a damaged power boat belonging to a boating magnate (Gary Merrill) and asks the childless widower if he can work on fixing it up to get it ready for the Orange Bowl Regatta to be held in two weeks. They quickly establish a more open rapport than Scott ever shared with his grumpy, money-making father (James Gregory).


Typical of the fluffy, hackneyed musicals that sank his movie career, the Elvis of Clambake is purely coasting through the film on charisma alone. He hides his expanding waistline with a succession of jackets (which he wears even when water skiing) and performs a selection of mostly forgettable pop songs in an easy croon which is worlds away from the raw, vital vocals he built his reputation on. (To be fair, the title song and “You Don’t Know Me” are a cut above the norm.) His three young co-stars (Shelley Fabres, Bill Bixby, Will Hutchins) seem to be biding their time before their next television series are picked up, and the entire enterprise seems lazy and uninspired, the boat race here as predictable as the car race which climaxed Viva Las Vegas a few years earlier.



Frankie and Johnny – 2/5


Inveterate gambler and riverboat entertainer Johnny (Elvis Presley) is a crowd favorite with his leading lady on stage and off Frankie (Donna Douglas). Their performance of the catchy song “Frankie and Johnny,” written by their buddy Cully (Harry Morgan), catches the eye of a Broadway producer, but with Frankie’s gambling debts, they have no money to get to the Great White Way. After consulting a gypsy fortuneteller who tells him a red-headed woman will be his lucky charm, Johnny latches on to his boss’ (Anthony Eisley) red-headed showgirl sweetheart Nellie Bly (Nancy Kovack) who does bring him luck but who also induces the green-eyed monster into their significant others.


Among the poorest of Elvis’ starring vehicles, Frankie and Johnny is weighed down with a tiresome jealousy scenario (courtesy of screenwriter Alex Gottlieb) and a completely inadequate leading lady. Donna Douglas looks divine in all of the waist cinching antebellum costumes, but her acting is so awkward that it’s hard to believe all those years on The Beverly Hillbillies hadn’t taught her anything about comedy timing or acting with a co-star. She’s furnished a singing voice courtesy of professional vocal double Eileen Wilson, but the help stops there, and director Frederick de Cordova doesn’t seem to have been able to disguise her terrible insufficiencies as the female lead. Her amateurishness is further complicated by the superb ease of comedienne Sue Ann Langdon who plays many scenes with her. Veterans Harry Morgan (dubbed by Larry Roberts) and Audrey Christie as his spouse also bring professionalism to the movie. The show is crammed with song numbers, but apart from the title song, there’s only one that’s really worthy: “Shout It Out!”



Kid Galahad – 3/5


Fresh out of the army, Walter Gulick (Elvis Presley) ambles into Grogan’s Gaelic Gardens, a training camp for professional boxers, looking for work as a mechanic. Owner Willy Grogan (Gig Young) isn’t all that anxious to keep him around, but when a promising young heavyweight contender (Michael Dante) needs a sparring partner, Walter volunteers and decks the far more experienced fighter with a huge right hand. Dubbed “Kid Galahad” by Willy’s longtime fiancée Dolly Fletcher (Lola Albright) due to his sweetness and courtesy, Walter quickly rises in the heavyweight ranks. But he has problems to overcome. Willy isn’t too keen on his sister (Joan Blackman) falling for a man who wants to leave the fight game and become a mechanic, and naturally a local mob boss (George Mitchell) wants to make sure that the Kid’s last fight with his young heavyweight sensation leaves no doubt about the eventual victor.


Though the movie shares the title with the 1937 Kid Galahad which starred Bette Davis and Edward G. Robinson (and Wayne Morris as the title character), it’s not technically a remake with the sport of boxing as the only real link between the two pictures. Although Elvis was an experienced expert in karate and held a black belt in the martial art, boxing was clearly not his forte, and he looks especially unconvincing in most of the sparring sessions and the couple of brief fight sequences in the movie. (Ironically, Charles Bronson who plays the Kid’s trainer appeared as a very convincing fighter in several films and television programs; no doubt this is why he later disparaged Presley’s inadequacies acting the role of a boxer.) The six songs also seem desperately out of place in this otherwise stale drama (the other boxers gather around Elvis to join in a song after he scores his first knockout in the training camp) though “Home Is Where the Heart Is” is a lovely ballad which might have worked more effectively in another movie. The writing is pretty trite with Gig Young, a hopeless gambler who’s constantly in debt, lecturing Presley about his unworthiness to date his sister. Lola Albright (who made a much better impression in a far better boxing movie years before  - Champion) is still the best performer in the film, and Bronson, Robert Emhardt as the cantankerous camp cook, and Ned Glass as a town businessman all add life to the predictable script.



Follow That Dream – 3/5


The eccentric father and son team of Pop and Toby Kwimper (Arthur O’Connell, Elvis Presley) along with young adult orphan Holly (Anne Helm) and three younger children decide they’re going to cease taking government assistance to live and instead pitch a homestead on some state owned land in Florida and open up their own fishing business. When they get the best of government official H. Arthur King (Alan Hewitt), he moves heaven and earth to get the Kwimpers evicted from the land. They find further trouble when the mob led by Nick (Simon Oakland) and Carmine (Jack Kruschen) moves into the police-free area to begin their own gambling operation.


A sort of anemic second cousin to the award-winning You Can’t Take It With You which featured its own unconventional family whose very innocence and truth outwitted more educated and calculating authority figures, Follow That Dream does give Elvis a naïve and total innocent to play in what is probably his best comic performance. While there’s never a doubt as to how it will end and Charles Lederer’s script plays out the one joke premise of the piece long past its effectiveness, there’s no denying that great sense of satisfaction when the stuffed shirts and criminal types get continually outwitted by the family’s sweetness and purity. The four songs in the film don’t intrude too badly during the otherwise gently farcical proceedings, and it’s a pleasure seeing such wonderful veterans as Alan Hewitt, Joanna Moore (as a state welfare inspector), Jack Kruschen, Simon Oakland, Howard McNear (as a terrified bank loan officer), and Roland Winters (as a judge at the public hearing who sorts everything out once the film abruptly turns serious) get some spotlight moments where their talents rise to the surface.



Video Quality


Love Me Tender – 4/5


The 2.35:1 Cinemascope picture has been anamorphically enhanced for widescreen televisions. There’s a slight sepia tinge to the image, and while there are random dust specks and a scratch or two, the image on the whole looks sharp and appealing. Black levels are very good (while not reaching maximum depth), and details overall are nicely represented. The film has been divided into 24 chapters.


Wild in the Country – 3/5


The 2.35:1 Cinemascope aspect ratio is faithfully delivered in a transfer that’s anamorphically enhanced for widescreen televisions. There are plenty of dirt specks and debris on display, and the image seesaws in quality with some of it looking sharp and nicely colored and other portions looking dated and a bit pale. Black levels are generally excellent, however. The movie has been divided into 32 chapters.


Flaming Star – 4/5


The Cinemascope 2.35:1 aspect ratio is delivered in an anamorphically enhanced widescreen transfer. Long shots often tend to look soft, but otherwise, the picture quality is very good with excellent flesh tones and nice color saturation. There are some dust specks, but they aren’t prominent enough to be a distraction. The film has been divided into 24 chapters.


Clambake – 2.5/5


The 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio is presented in a non-anamorphic letterboxed presentation. Needless to say, the lack of anamorphic enhancement contributes to the extremely mediocre quality of the image on this disc. Colors are flat and uninspired, sharpness is never better than average, and there are frequent problems with aliasing and color fringing. There is also quite a bit of dirt and debris on the image  as well as a few scratches, and the presence of reel change markers seems to indicate this was an old video master used in the preparation of this DVD. The film has been divided into 16 chapters.


Frankie and Johnny – 3.5/5


The film is presented in its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.66:1, but there is no anamorphic enhancement. That’s a pity because it would likely have made the film among the best looking ones in this set. Colors are rich and nicely saturated, and sharpness is excellent, especially for a transfer lacking the anamorphic touch. Black levels are good, but there are dust specks and some damage present and one yellow vertical scratch also makes an ugly appearance. The movie has been divided into 16 chapters.


Kid Galahad – 3/5


The film’s 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio is presented in a transfer that’s anamorphically enhanced for widescreen televisions. The picture is littered with dust specks and the boldest reds bloom pretty noticeably. Sharpness is usually average though close-ups show a somewhat better than average amount of detail. The movie has been divided into 12 chapters.


Follow That Dream – 2.5/5


The film’s 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio is faithfully presented but is not anamorphically enhanced leading to an image that’s loaded with irritating and distracting aliasing and moiré patterns. Sometimes the color and image quality looks very dated, but there are occasional close-ups that feature some decent detail and adequate sharpness. There is certainly some minor print damage, dust specks, and debris to contend with, too. The film has been divided into 20 chapters. (There is a 1.33:1 pan and scan transfer on the reverse side of the disc, but I didn’t watch it.)



Audio Quality


Love Me Tender – 3/5


The disc offers Dolby Digital 1.0 and 2.0 stereo English audio choices. The mono sound is clear and typical for the era, but the stereo track features a nice spread across the front soundstage with the vocal music and the background score. While fidelity isn’t terrific (gunshots sound pretty anemic) and there is occasional shrillness to some of the high voices in dialogue exchanges, the audio track is deficient of audio artifacts such as hiss, crackle, pops, and flutter.


Wild in the Country – 3/5


The Dolby Digital 4.0 surround audio track does move much past the front channels. Even within those limitations, it’s an erratic mix with volume levels varying considerably throughout and dialogue sometimes muffled. Sequences where ADR was applied are very noticeable.


Flaming Star – 3.5/5


The Dolby Digital 4.0 audio track features some very noticeable directionalized dialogue that’s sometimes very effective but other times seems not quite channeled correctly. There’s some decent body to the recording of the music and sound effects, but there’s next to nothing going to the rear channels.


Clambake – 3/5



The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track is decoded by Dolby Prologic into the center channel. The sound quality has some heft to it though the volume can sometimes lead to the low end sounding boomy, and the musical numbers come across rather well even with the limited fidelity of the recording. The track is devoid of typical audio artifacts like hiss, pops, crackle, and flutter often associated with older soundtracks.


Frankie and Johnny – 3/5


The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono audio track is decoded properly by Dolby Prologic into the center channel. The after effects of ADR are noticeable throughout the movie, but otherwise the sound is clear in the midrange with upper registers of the music and sound effects a trifle brittle.


Kid Galahad – 3/5


The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono audio track is decoded by Dolby Prologic into the center channel. Fidelity is slightly above average in a sound recording that’s quite typical for its era. The track is mercifully free from artifacts like hiss, crackle, and pops, but otherwise it’s completely undistinguished.


Follow That Dream – 3/5


This disc likewise contains a Dolby Digital 2.0 mono audio track which is decoded by Dolby Prologic into the center channel. The mix doesn’t feature any glaring artifacts, but fidelity is also quite limited by the sound recording of the era. Dialogue is certainly clear and adequately recorded, and the additional mix or music and sound effects never overpowers the talking. Some gunfire and an explosion late in the film sound rather anemic.



Special Features


Love Me Tender – 3.5/5


There is an audio commentary by Elvis’ close friend, documentary producer Jerry Schilling. Though useless as a research tool on the making of the film, Schilling speaks from the heart about Elvis’ life and his contribution to show business though there are many long gaps and several stories about the King are repeated.


“Elvis Hits Hollywood” is a 12 ¾-minute summary of Elvis’ deal to make a movie with interviews featuring friends of Elvis and historians of the period. It’s in anamorphic widescreen.


“The Colonel and the King” is a too-brief but quite fascinating mini biography of Colonel Tom Parker who became Elvis’ manager and the primary forger of his career. The anamorphic widescreen featurette runs 11 minutes.


Love Me Tender: The Birth and Boom of the Elvis Hit” gives the background story of the writing of the song (based on the old Civil War classic tune “Aura Lee”) and the other tunes used in the movie. This runs 8 ¼ minutes in anamorphic widescreen.


The stills gallery features 99 black and white photographs, mostly behind the scenes shots of the cast and crew of the movie.


The theatrical trailer runs 2 ½ minutes in anamorphic widescreen. The Spanish language version of the same trailer runs 2 minutes.


Also included are trailers for Flaming Star (2 ½ minutes) and Wild in the Country (2 ½ minutes).


Wild in the Country – 1/5


The disc offers the theatrical trailer which runs 2 ½ minutes as well as trailers for Love Me Tender ( 2 ¼ minutes) and Flaming Star (2 ½ minutes). All are in anamorphic widescreen.


Flaming Star – 1/5


The same array of three trailers is also included on this disc. Also added is the Portuguese language version of the theatrical trailer which also runs 2 ½ minutes.


Clambake – 1/5


The film’s theatrical trailer is presented in nonanamorphic letterbox and runs for 2 ¾ minutes.


Frankie and Johnny – 1/5


The movie’s theatrical trailer is presented in nonanamorphic letterbox and runs for 2 ¾ minutes.


Kid Galahad – ½ /5


There are really no bonus features on the disc, but there are preview trailers for the Rocky anthology, Sueño, The Gospel, and West Side Story.


Follow That Dream – 1/5


The theatrical trailer for the film runs 2 ½ minutes but like the feature transfer is presented in nonanamorphic letterbox.



In Conclusion

3/5 (not an average)


A 75th birthday celebratory DVD box set release for the legendary Elvis Presley was in theory a fine idea, but this indifferent, unexceptional recycling of seven old transfers from Elvis’ Fox/UA filmography doesn’t do the man justice. Though his first film and his best film are both a part of the package, the remainder of the discs in the set have not received the care or attention which would warrant even fervent Elvis fans to repurchase them. A real disappointment.




Matt Hough

Charlotte, NC

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#2 of 3 Joe Karlosi

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Posted June 06 2010 - 10:56 PM

It's absolutely unbelievable that the video quality of CLAMBAKE is still atrocious, judging by your review. They have the nerve to re-re-re-cycle these movies on DVD again and again and yet in many cases use the same old tired masters. I think this may be the third time CLAMBAKE has been issued, and each time with the same terrible transfer.


#3 of 3 Mark Edward Heuck

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Posted June 07 2010 - 05:12 PM

They're clearly just using the same DVDs from previous pressings.  The KID GALAHAD DVD has trailers for Sony product that Fox would probably prefer not be on there, were it not too expensive to repress (and remaster) it to remove them.


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