Viva Las Vegas (1964) / Love in Las Vegas ***

Screen chemistry, a great racing sequence and some good songs set alight this typical Presley vehicle. Unlike previous recording giants Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby, Elvis Presley had not made much attempt to be anything other than himself on screen, nor elevated his status by taking on adaptations of hit Broadway shows, so his movies tended to need a certain extra something to set them apart, if only from his other pictures  – he was churning them out at the rate of three or four a year. The certain something, a whole bag of je ne sais quoi, came in the shape of Ann-Margret.

Garage mechanic Lucky (Elvis Presley), a racing driver wannabe, gets the hots for Rusty (Ann-Margret) after he tunes up her car. Chasing her to Las Vegas where she is a swimming instructor rather than a hot-shot performer, he takes a job as a hotel waiter. He has a rival, both in driving and romance, in Count Emo Mancini (Cesare Danova). Initially, Rusty  brushes Lucky and even when they get closer she fears getting too close since the consequences of falling in love with a man who chases danger are obvious.

There’s no danger of a picture like this straying from the most obvious path and helping fill in the screen time are nods to tourism, excerpts from Vegas shows, some water ski-ing and a helicopter ride over the Boulder Dam (Rusty supplying an earnest educational lecture). There is some lackluster comedy and not much in the way of subplot.

The race is well done for the times (i.e. pre-Grand Prix, 1966) with plenty of crashes, and it looks realistic enough although probably the cars were speeded up in the cameras.

But the pairing is dynamite. Rusty, all sizzle, smoky eyes and pout, dances Presley off the screen. She has the curves and she has the moves. Not a great deal of acting is required by either – they were in the early throes of an affair – but Rusty, a homely girl after all, keeps her sexuality in check long enough to hook her suitor.

The title song – shot in one take – is a winner but what lingers in the memory is the dazzling choreography (involving multiple camera) for Lucky’s dance numbers. And Lucky dancing. Only so many ways to say that that woman can shake her booty, but she shakes it in so many different ways the outcome is sensational.

But in the end just as dancing in an Ann-Margret picture was never enough to hit the box office heights so singing, except in his first screen forays, was not enough to create the longest queues for a Presley picture. Although previous Presley movies had featured the likes of Ursula Andress (Fun in Acapulco, 1963) and Stella Stevens (Girls! Girls! Girls!, 1963) none had the impact of Ann-Margret.

Perhaps fearful that audiences might respond more to his co-star, Ann-Margret’s musical contribution was limited. The pair performed a duet on one number, “The Lady Loves Me” – two other duets were recorded but dropped from the film – and she contributed two solo songs. By comparison, Presley was accorded eight solos. The theory being, I suppose, that audiences had come to hear Presley sing. And that might have been correct, in theory, but once the public saw Ann-Margret on screen they would surely have been calling for more.

It was both the shortest film of Presley’s career and the highest grossing. While Ann-Margret was entitled to have her name above the title – not equal billing as some would have it since his name came first (equal would have put them in alphabetical order) – some cinemas took matters into their own hands and on the marquees, over which studios could exert no contractual control, put Ann-Margret’s name first.

Perhaps more interesting was the question of career development. Presley kept on doing the same old stuff until Charro (1969) by which point it was too late to save his career. Within a year, however, she was moving on to more serious roles such as Once a Thief (1965) and The Cincinnati Kid (1965).   

Taking the helm was veteran George Sidney who had directed Ann-Margret in Bye Bye Birdie (1962) and was also responsible for Pal Joey (1957), Show Boat (1951)  and Anchors Aweigh (1945). He could have done this kind of picture in his sleep, so all credit to him that he brought it to such life.

Author: Brian Hannan

I am a published author of books about film - over a dozen to my name, the latest being "When Women Ruled Hollywood." As the title of the blog suggests, this is a site devoted to movies of the 1960s but since I go to the movies twice a week - an old-fashioned double-bill of my own choosing - I might occasionally slip in a review of a contemporary picture.

4 thoughts on “Viva Las Vegas (1964) / Love in Las Vegas ***”

    1. Most actors can usually hide their dislike of a co-star because they are too professional/good not to, but I don’t think Elvis fell into that class and because he made so many films I doubt he had any say in his co-star.

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