Once and squandered-future King

Elvis: Blue Suede Collection

There are always two sides to Elvis Presley—that which was and that which could have been. For all of the King’s endurance as a musical legend, the majority of his career was devoted to cranking out fans-only dreck. Yet he also left behind enough genuine classics to make one wonder how much farther he could have gone.

This extends to his film career, as evidenced by the motley Elvis: Blue Suede Collection. The set contains his only two great movies—Jailhouse Rock and Viva Las Vegas, both brilliant showcases for Presley’s unrealized potential in film—as well as four fans-only features that coast on the star’s drawling charm and surfboard hair.

Despite the black-and-white photography and grittier locale, 1957’s Jailhouse Rock is as corny as any Elvis musical. Presley plays an angry youth who becomes a jailbird rock star before tragically losing his voice. The reason Jailhouse Rock endures is the great music and the revelation that Elvis could once convincingly play “dangerous.”

Presley originally longed for a serious acting career, and was modeled as a pop version of the sensitive young savage type practiced by Brando and Dean. Those ambitions were long since dashed by the time of 1964’s Viva Las Vegas, which is pure sublime fluff. For once, Presley gets a worthy co-star (Titian fox Ann-Margret), as well as a talented director (George Sidney) and consistently good songs. It was one of the few times MGM shelled out the bucks for an Elvis vehicle; when the grosses didn’t rise accordingly, cheap formula came to reign.

Thus the rest of the collection—Kissin’ Cousins, Girl Happy, It Happened at the World’s Fair and Live a Little, Love a Little. If you’re in the mood, they’re all utterly lighthearted time-capsule entertainments; if not, God help you.