Notes on “Viva Las Vegas”

Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:


“Viva Las Vegas” pulls off a nifty trick: it uses the corporatization of Elvis to augment and comment on his appeal. Elvis plays Lucky Jackson, a racecar driver whose fortunes belie his name. Ann-Margret is the girl who goads him. To say more of the plot would betray its vivifying dopiness. The movie has the bright, primary-color look of mid-century Hollywood — the look imitated by Godard during the ’60s. And like Godard’s work of that era, it reveals the crude mechanics of movies without denigrating them. In form it’s a cheery, crass pastiche, and it has a surprisingly ebullient effect; its tempo and good spiritedness perk you up.

In lewd kewpie Ann-Margret, Elvis has a costar who tests him. Like all worthwhile romantic comedy — and this is a rom-com with quotes around it — “Viva Las Vegas” is an eroticized duel of personality — one in which the female has the natural upper hand. And Elvis gains something — gallantry? — by allowing himself to be outshone. In the movie’s most clever piece of staging, Elvis, framed in the center of the widescreen image, sings while Ann-Margret’s twitching bottom fills the right side of the screen. She’s usurped his role as chief hip wriggler. (This partitioning impulse is again apparent during the end credits sequence, when both stars perform simultaneously in split screen.)

George Sidney, an ace director of large-scale musicals, gives each of the numbers a distinctive look and energy; it helps to camouflage the subpar songs and Ann-Margret’s tinny singing. More importantly, he doesn’t let the picture rest for too long: scenes come and go quickly and casually, generating sparks from the unexpected way in which they bump up against one another. Sidney’s showiest moment is a one-shot musical number in which Ann-Margret cleans and makes breakfast while singing jealously of Lucky’s “baby-blue racing car.” It’s a send-up of consumerism and housewifery that wouldn’t be out of place in a Frank Tashlin movie. The lovably gnomic William Demarest turns up as Ann-Margret’s father. He has quotes around him, too. His mere presence implies the gags the screenplay forgets to give him.

About Fabrizio del Wrongo

Recovering liberal arts major. Unrepentant movie nut. Aspiring boozehound.
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1 Response to Notes on “Viva Las Vegas”

  1. peterike says:

    Ann Margret, Joey Heatherton, Barbie Benton — the hottest women ever. Those were the days.


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