Grade: B-
Entire family: Yes
1967, 99 min., Color
Musical comedy-romance
Not rated: Would be PG (for smoking, drinking, and some suggestive scenes)
Kino Lorber
Aspect ratio: 2.35:1 widescreen
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 2.0
Bonus features: B- (an audio commentary from Videodrome video rental store)
“Clambake” clip
Amazon link

It started with Jailhouse Rock (1957), the film that established the Elvis film character as a brooding James Dean, often with a chip on his shoulder, but with a good guy hiding under the facade. That character would appear with only minor alterations in most of his 23 films made between 1962 and 1969. By comparison, during that same period John Wayne made 17 films. Both were box-office giants.

Many of the films from this period are “a-go-go” films, and if you’re a fan of the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker spoof Top Secret! you’ll see in the formula Elvis movies what they were making fun of. Today’s families will find these lightweight musical comedy-romances fun to watch, but also fun to make fun of. Some of the dancing, some of the clothes, some of the antics are just plain hilarious now, though they were intended, like the Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello “beach” movies, to be campy and fun even back then. They feature plenty of mod and mini-skirted and bikinied women and goofy guys doing the swim, the frug, the monkey, the jerk, and all those dances that were so cool then but look so silly now. What will seem even sillier to modern audiences are the backgrounds that were clumsily and unapologetically used (like the mountains in the background of this film set in Miami), or the far-fetched ways in which the writers sought to bring Elvis in contact with children.

Yes, children. You see, the Elvis film persona was meant to be everything to women: a bad boy, a nice guy, a singing romantic, a tough guy when he had to be, a clean-living guy who usually refrained from alcohol and tobacco, and a good-looking guy who was so good with kids that women saw him as father material. Despite the attitude, Elvis was the kind of guy you could bring home to meet Mom and Dad.

He’s more modest and unassuming and clean-cut with zero attitude in
Clambake
, a 1967 film that’s probably most famous for its memorable title song and forgettable others—though, to be fair, “Anything But Love” is a pretty
nice ballad, while despite the length (it is, after all, a title-sequence opening song) a duet Elvis does titled “Who Needs Money?” is pretty cute, and country fans will like the cover The King does of Eddy Arnold’s “You Don’t Know Me.” The rest of the songs are pretty meh.

But the film has a lot more going for it than the music. The premise is fun, for one thing. It’s a riff on Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper, where Scott Heyward (Elvis), the son of Texas oilman stops at one of his daddy’s gas stations and runs into Tom Wilson (Will Hutchins, TV’s Sugarfoot). Wilson is a poor guy with a motorcycle on his way to Miami to work as a ski instructor at a resort hotel that’s swarming with rich people. Scott is running away from a father (James Gregory, in an over-the-top role) who wants to make him a vice president, preferring to make it on his own. And when he complains that he wasn’t even sure if the last woman he dated liked him for HIM or for his money, that’s when the idea hits them both to trade identities . . . and vehicles . . . and wardrobes . . . and wallets.

TV fans will also enjoy seeing Bill Bixby (The Incredible Hulk, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, My Favorite Martian) as J.J. Jameson, a rich playboy whose factories churn out “Jameson Jammies” for women. Another draw is Shelley Fabares (One Day at a Time, The Donna Reed Show). Though Girl Happy is the better of the two movies she made with Elvis, audiences loved the pairing, and in this film she’s the “girl” that both guys are after. Will she land the millionaire she came to lure into marriage, or will that poor ski instructor win her over? Audiences then knew the answer just as they will today. The fun lies in seeing how it all comes together.

A side plot about Elvis’ past working in a laboratory on a tough marine varnish becomes the main plot when he meets boat builder Sam Burton (Gary Merrill), whose boat ripped apart in the Orange Regatta last year. By no coincidence, Jameson won the race the last three years and is the favorite again. Will Elvis finish mending the boat in just two weeks, especially when he takes time out to sing and dance with a bevy of girls who help him? Will the “GOOP” hold that he slathers all over the hull? Will true love or gold-digging triumph? Will Duster Heyward showing up spoil everything? There’s enough here to make the formula different enough and entertaining enough, even for contemporary families. And heck, Elvis is a part of American pop culture.

The Blu-ray has less grain than the DVD, there’s a slight upgrade in edge delineation, and there’s also slightly better color saturation. But there are still flickers and imperfections from the original film stock, and the title song mix seems muddied at the beginning and end. Overall, though, it’s an improvement, and worth adding to your Blu-ray collections.

Language: None
Sex: None—just polite kissing
Violence: Nope, not even the customary Elvis nightclub fight
Adult situations: A very polite seduction attempt with no results; drinking and smoking
Takeaway: Clambake isn’t one of my Top 5 Elvis movies, but it makes my Top 10 list

Advertisements