Category Archives: Elvis Presley

Happy Birthday, Sam Katzman.

Sam Katzman
(July 7, 1901 – August 4, 1973)

The great B-movie producer Sam Katzman was born 120 years ago today.

In the photo above, Sam’s on the right with (L-R) Priscilla Presley, Elvis Presley and Colonel Tom Parker). This was taken while Kissin’ Cousins (1964) was in production. Katzman produced two Elvis movies, this one and Harum Scarum (1965).

Incidentally, today is also Fred F. Sears’ birthday. He was one of the directors in Katzman’s unit at Columbia. Just recorded a commentary for the Katzman/Sears crime picture Chicago Syndicate (1955). Watch for it coming from Powerhouse in a few months.

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Filed under 1964, Elvis Presley, Fred F. Sears, Sam Katzman

Blu-Ray Review: It Happened At The World’s Fair (1963).

Directed by Norman Taurog
Produced by Ted Richmond
Written by Si Rose & Seaman Jacobs
Cinematography: Joseph Ruttenberg
Film Editor: Fredric Steinkamp
Music by Leith Stevens

Cast: Elvis Presley (Mike Edwards), Joan O’Brien (Diane Warren), Gary Lockwood (Danny Burke), Vicky Tiu (Sue-Lin), Yvonne Craig (Dorothy Johnson), H. M. Wynant (Vince Bradley), Kam Tong (Walter Ling), Kurt Russell

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After Elvis Presley movies like Blue Hawaii (1960) were big hits while more serious stuff such as Flaming Star (1960) underperformed, the King’s move career settled into a pattern. Give Elvis a unique profession — circus performer, race driver, crop-duster (in this one), rodeo cowboy, Navy frogman, etc., throw in a couple of girls, a handful of songs, color and Panavision. The kids’ll love it.

When that routine worked, it really worked. Viva Las Vegas (1964) or Roustabout (1965), for instance. When it didn’t, well, it was Elvis — and for a lot of folks, that was enough. 

Which brings us to It Happened At The World’s Fair (1963). Elvis and Gary Lockwood are crop duster pilots who end up in Seattle. Thanks to a little girl (Vicky Tiu) he’s babysitting, Elvis meets a lovely nurse (Joan O’Brien). As he tries to get involved with the nurse, he ends up involved with some crooks and smuggled furs, too.

What really sets this one off is its location shooting at the 1962 World’s Fair in Seattle, also called the Century 21 Exposition. It was shot in September 1962, a month before the fair ended. The picture’s like a Metrocolor and Panavision time capsule of a pretty amazing time — monorails, the Space Needle, GM’s Firebird III dream car, the Pavilion of Electric Power, computers and some really cool-looking mobile homes. The Fair footage is gorgeous, and the Blu-Ray’s picture incredible quality gives you a chance to really study all that’s going on. It’s surprising you don’t see people gawking at the King as he makes his way from ride to game to food joint to the dispensary.

By this time, the music in Elvis’ movies could be pretty hit or miss. The best tune here is probably “One Broken Heart For Sale,” which with a bit more bite to it, could’ve been a good one. Written by Otis Blackwell and Winfield Scott, it was the first Elvis RCA single to not hit the Top Five (it made it to 11). I’ve always felt the songs hurt Elvis’ movies as much as anything. If every tune was as good as, say, “Mean Woman Blues,” “Viva Las Vegas” or even “A Little Less Conversation,” the pictures would’ve had more life to ’em. Face it, some of that stuff is embarrassing to listen to — imagine having to get up there and sing it like you mean it. Poor Elvis. Plus, not only are some of the songs pretty lacking, but there’s too many of ’em — two or three strong ones is a lot better than 10 forgettable ones. (Remember, when Elvis staged his comeback in ’68, he did it through great music, not another movie.)

Joan O’Brien, Elvis and Norman Taurog.

It’s really easy to slam these movies. There’s not a lot to them. But you can look at them as the last reel of the studio system — Hollywood was a very different place by the time the 70s came along. These pictures were put together by real pros — from director Norman Taurog to cinematographer Joseph Ruttenberg (got an Oscar for ’59’s Gigi). Maybe someone like Ruttenberg was just trying to pay his bills or prepare for retirement (his last picture was Speedway), but he was incapable of making a shabby-looking movie.

Elvis and Yvonne Craig.

And for me, that’s the real benefit of Warner Archive’s Blu-Ray of It Happened At The World’s Fair. The movie just shines. The 1962 World’s Fair was a place of hope and promise for the future, and it comes through perfectly here. This Blu-Ray reminded me how blessed we are to have old movies look this good today. (Do you remember what something like this looked like on your local station’s afternoon movie — or even VHS?) It’s bright and sharp with gorgeous color. The sound rings loud and clear in glorious mono. The DVD looked fine, but this is a whole new level. The only extra is a trailer, which is fun. 

Is It Happened At The World’s Fair Elvis’ best movie? Not even close. I’d put it somewhere in the middle. It’s fun and pretty to look at — and it gives us a great peek at the World’s Fair. And, of course, there’s Elvis. That’s plenty to recommend it.

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Filed under 1963, Elvis Presley, MGM, Warner Archive, Yvonne Craig

Blu-Ray News #345: It Happened At The World’s Fair (1963).

Directed by Norman Taurog
Starring Elvis Presley, Joan O’Brien, Gary Lockwood, Vicky Tiu, Yvonne Craig, Kurt Russell

Warner Archive is bringing Elvis to Blu-Ray this June with Norman Taurog’s It Happened At The World’s Fair (1963). Elvis plays a crop duster pilot named Mike Edwards who ends up at the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair.

This one doesn’t have any of Elvis’ best songs and the plot’s nothing to write home about, but the mobile homes are really swank in a mid-century modern sort of way and the whole thing was shot by Joseph Ruttenburg, who did lots of great-looking movies for MGM. His last was Speedway (1968). It should look terrific on Blu-Ray. Can’t wait!

Dig that original mono copy of the soundtrack LP!

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Filed under 1963, DVD/Blu-ray News, Elvis Presley, MGM, Warner Archive, Yvonne Craig

DVD/Blu-Ray News #303: Elvis – That’s The Way It Is (1970/2001).

Directed by Denis Sanders
Starring Elvis Presley, James Burton, Glen D. Hardin, Charlie Hodge, Jerry Scheff, Ron Tutt, John Wilkinson, The Imperials, The Sweet Inspirations

Warner Archive is bringing back a very cool thing — the original theatrical cut of the Elvis concert movie That’s The Way It Is (1970) on DVD and the 2001 re-edited “Special Edition” on Blu-Ray. This twin-pack came out in 2014 and has been missing for quite a while.

The 1970 theatrical film plays like a documentary, covering the rehearsals and buildup to Elvis’ return to live performance at the International Hotel in Las Vegas (in August of 1970), while the 2001 cut is more of a straight-up concert movie. Both are terrific — Elvis was at the top of his game, his TCB band was incredible and it was all captured in Panavision by the great DP Lucien Ballard, in-between Sam Peckinpah movies.

Highly, highly recommended. (My wife and I named our daughter Presley, which might indicate a bit of a bias where Elvis is concerned.)

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Filed under 1970, Documentary, DVD/Blu-ray News, Elvis Presley, MGM, Warner Archive

Blu-Ray News #289: King Creole (1958).

King_Creole_advertisement_-_Modern_Screen,_August_1958Directed by Michael Curtiz
Starring Elvis Presley, Carolyn Jones, Walter Matthau, Dolores Hart, Dean Jagger, Vic Morrow

Paramount has announced “Paramount Presents,” a new line of Blu-Ray releases and limited theatrical runs. Along with Hitchcock’s To Catch A Thief (1957), they’ll be launching the line with King Creole (1958). One of Elvis’ better films, with one of his best performances (I’d say Flaming Star is his best), King Creole should make for a terrific Blu-Ray. It’s for a great cast — Carolyn Jones, Walter Matthau are both excellent, good songs (“Hard Headed Woman” is awesome) and fabulous B&W cinematography from Russell Harlan.

They’re promising deluxe packaging and a slew of extras. Watch for ’em in April.

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Filed under 1958, Carolyn Jones, DVD/Blu-ray News, Elvis Presley, Paramount, Walter Matthau

Happy Birthday, Sam Katzman.

Sam Katzman
(July 7, 1901 – August 4, 1973)

Here’s producer Sam Katzman with Little Richard on the set of Don’t Knock The Rock (1956). It’s a Rock N Roll picture directed by Fred F. Sears. Little Richard does “Long Tall Sally” and “Tutti-Frutti” in it. You need to see it.

Click it make it legible.

Sam Katzman was born on this day back in 1901. As a little kid, I noticed that his name turned up in the credits of a whole lot of movies I really liked. And for all the joy his cheap little pictures have given the world — everything from the Batman serial to the Jungle Jim movies to The Werewolf (1956) to Harum Scarum (1965) with Elvis, he should have a postage stamp, a national holiday, something. He sure made my world a better place.

Incidentally, today is Fred F. Sears’ birthday, too. Wonder if a great big birthday cake was ever shared on the Columbia lot?

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Filed under 1956, Elvis Presley, Fred F. Sears, Jungle Jim, Sam Katzman

RIP, Michele Carey.

Michele Carey
(February 26, 1943 – November 21, 2018)

Just saw that Michele Carey has passed away. She didn’t make many movies, but when you’ve worked with John Wayne, Howard Hawks and Robert Mitchum (El Dorado, 1967) and Elvis (Live A Little, Love A Little, 1968), not to mention Frank Sinatra (Dirty Dingus Magee, 1970) — what else do you need? Oh, and then there’s How To Stuff A Wild Bikini (1965).

She’s terrific in El Dorado — everyone is. She holds her own up against some real heavyweights, in a movie that relied on Hawks’ typical rambling, improvisational tone. That’s no small task.

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Filed under 1965, 1967, 1968, 1970, AIP, Elvis Presley, Howard Hawks, John Wayne, Robert Mitchum

Screening: The ’68 Comeback Special.

It’s been 50 years since Elvis made his stunning “Comeback Special” — a long, long way from the Christmas special that was the original plan. If you haven’t seen it, I feel sorry for ya.

But all is not lost. It’s being shown in theaters to mark the anniversary. Click the King to find out more.

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Filed under 1968, Elvis Presley, Screenings

RIP, D.J. Fontana.

Dominic Joseph “D.J.” Fontana
(March 15, 1931 – June 13, 2018)

Elvis’ drummer D.J. Fontana has passed away at 87. He was the last of the Blue Moon Boys.

Here’s (above, L-R) Scotty Moore, D.J., Elvis and Bill Black in Loving You (1957), Elvis’ second movie — and certainly one of his best.

To see these guys tearing it up in Technicolor and VistaVision (shot by the great Charles Lang, Jr.) is really something to behold. Elvis even drives a really cool 1929 Ford hot rod (mounted on a ’32 frame). This movie’s got everything.

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Filed under 1957, Elvis Presley, Paramount

Blu-Ray News #81: The TAMI Show (1964)/The Big TNT Show (1966).

tami-show-hs

Shout Factory has announced a twin-bill Blu-Ray of two of the greatest concert films ever made: The T.A.M.I. Show (1964) and The Big T.N.T. Show (1966). Both were shot on videotape and transferred to 35mm for theatrical release by American International. In the 50s and 60s, AIP really had the teenager scene locked down, didn’t they?

The T.A.M.I. Show features The Beach Boys (whose performance was edited out for years), Chuck Berry, James Brown, The Rolling Stones, The Supremes and Jan And Dean (who emcee the event). It was directed by Steve Binder, who also gave us Elvis’ ’68 Comeback Special.

big-tnt-show-lc-byrds

1966’s The Big T.N.T. Show follows the same basic format as The T.A.M.I. Show. Some say the lineup of acts isn’t as good as the first film, but with The Byrds, Roger Miller, Ray Charles and Bo Diddley on hand, I ain’t complaining. Oh, and Frank Zappa can be spotted in the audience!

I’ve always been impressed by how good these look, given they began as 1960s videotape, and am looking forward to the Blu-Ray. Essential stuff.

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Filed under 1964, 1966, 1968, AIP, Elvis Presley, Shout/Scream Factory