During the 2017 holiday season, I got a great deal on the Best of Warner Bros. 100 Film Collection. Diane and I haven’t seen most of these movies, but we are committed to watching one a week and writing a short review.
“Viva Las Vegas” is a resoundingly fun Elvis Presley vehicle. Referenced countless times, it is, to me, a musical personification of the city. Despite overuse, I still feel it stands up to this day. However, “Viva Las Vegas” the song stands in sharp contrast to the movie for which it was birthed. The movie, also starring the vocals of Elvis Presley and celebrating the wiles of Las Vegas, does not stand up.
On our DVD copy of 1964’s “Viva Las Vegas”, the disc opens with three back-to-back-to-back trailers for other Elvis movies. I get no vote of confidence when a movie (in a collection, may I remind you, that opens with zero other trailers on any of the other discs) goes out of its way to remind me that I could be watching other movies instead. Worse, showcasing the acting chops of Elvis in rapid succession does the man no favors, especially when he plays the same Elvis-adjacent character in every film, only with a change of occupation (like a male Barbie). You’ve never seen Elvis, but you will in “TICKLE ME”!
Elvis was not a bad actor, but because he was such a charismatic singer and performer, there was no point in trying to make a good movie around him. Sadly, with time, Elvis is more an idea in pop culture than a man, and one long tired by parody and homage to the point that there’s little buy-in from someone like me for a movie such as this.
“Viva Las Vegas” starts off surprisingly strong. In the opening act, we are introduced to Lucky Jackson (Elvis Presley), a talented young race car driver in need of money for a motor to participate in the Las Vegas Grand Prix. We meet his rival in the race, Italian racer Count Elmo Mancini (played by Cesare Danova, an actual Italian). Finally, we meet Ann-Margret’s Rusty, a woman.
That last one was a bit of a joke. Rusty is by no means a bad idea for a character, especially in the first act of the movie where she has some agency, but she is ruined by the latter half of the film. There, Rusty bounces around with no real character progression and a mood that changes faster than the racers can drive. I think she is mad at Elvis’s Lucky Jackson because he won’t give up racing for her, but he liked racing before he met her and they don’t even bother showing him racing, but its too dangerous, to setup that tension. Much like the plot of this movie, it is dumb, and I am dumber for watching it.
That said, this is a watchable film. Mostly due to Elvis and his performances which are, as you can imagine, pretty spot on. I genuinely enjoyed the song, “The Lady Loves Me”, and I loved the chemistry in the back-and-forth between Elvis and Ann-Margret. Some of Ann-Margret’s dance sequences are especially “Caucasian” by modern standards, so they have an unintended laugh-out-loud charm to them. The film is also shot competently, including gorgeous shots of Las Vegas, and a great race sequence in the movie’s climax.
Of all the movies we’ve seen in this grouping, “Viva Las Vegas” is the weakest yet. Culturally, I am grateful for its inclusion since Elvis was such a major milestone. As a fan of movies looking to expand my movie IQ, I don’t feel any smarter knowing this one existed. By no means bad, it is far from good.
For other reviews, make sure to check out the Warner Brother’s Top 100 Film’s page.