MOVIE REVIEW | Jailhouse Rock (1957)

“No, you ain’t gonna hate me. I ain’t gonna let you hate me.”

Singers acting… Actors singing… I think most people’s default prediction is that if you’re famous for one, you’re probably gonna be a bit shit if you try the other. In the old days, before cinema, if you couldn’t act, sing, dance and do physical comedy, maybe even write and direct, you had no business being on the stage. But by the mid 20th century, as vaudeville became a more and more distant memory, most stars were an actor, or a dancer, or a singer, or a comedian, or a director, or a writer. Less and less were pulling multiple duties. It was also around the middle of the 20th century that the king of Rock n’ roll, Elvis Presley, churned out his first three movies, and he did it in just two years. The third of that trifecta was Jailhouse Rock.

Having your dreamboat hero kill someone with his bare hands and go to the big house for manslaughter is certainly an interesting way to setup a story of redemption. Especially when that story is told via a jukebox musical. But that’s what we get, as Vince Everitt (Presley) is sentenced to more than one, not less than ten years in the pen. His cell mate, Mickey Shaughnessy as Hunk Houghton, teaches him a few chords on the guitar and Vince soon gets to perform on a prison based, TV talent show. ‘Coz that’s a thing.

Once released, Vince pursues a career in music and is rejected at every turn. Until he meets record promoter, Peggy Van Alden (Judy Tyler). She believes in Vince, but even with her industry connections, meets just as much rejection. So they strike out on their own, creating an indie record label and conquering the world. But this leads to more problems, as the ever growing ego of Vince threatens to take down everything he and Peggy have been able to build, professionally and personally.

Singers acting… Actors singing… My default prediction is that if you’re famous for one, you’re probably gonna be a bit shit if you try the other. And I have definitely thought that about Elvis over the years. I’ve seen a handful of his movies and enjoyed them, but usually for their campness. Viva Las Vegas is a perfectly enjoyable movie, but it’s because of its corny, paper thin plot and hammy acting, not in spite of it. But Jailhouse Rock is a serious story, with actual darkness at times. And Elvis plays that serious darkness way better than I ever would have expected.

In the end, this is an Elvis musical, so it’s gonna live and die by its songs. As a song, Jailhouse Rock is a bona fide, unimpeachable classic. And the rest of the soundtrack manages to not get lost in that song’s shadow. So for the music alone, Jailhouse Rock is worth your time. Add to that a surprisingly serious approach to real character development, and you’ve got a breezy 90 minute movie in you hands.

Jailhouse Rock
Directed By – Richard Thorpe
Written By – Guy Trosper

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