Viva Las Vegas

Viva Las Vegas (1963)
Warner Home Video
Cast: Elvis Presley, Ann-Margret, Cesare Danova
Extras: Commentary Track, Featurette

The opening of "Viva Las Vegas" pretty much says it all, the excellent credit sequence is a montage of 1960's Vegas that will enthrall all who have a passion for Sin City. Featuring helicopter shots of the city from above we have a very clear (and now remastered) view if the city during it's hey day. We see famous casinos that have been demolished for years such as The Fremont, The Golden Nugget, the Pioneer Club (with the famous neon cowboy), the Mint, The Golden Nugget, The Horseshoe Hotel…wow! Not to mention Elvis' favorite place to stay, along with the Memphis Mafia (his version of the Rat Pack), The Sahara. This is Vegas when it was really Vegas, not the overly commercialized 'what happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas', all-you-can-eat-buffet, cheesy family friendly land of excess it was destined to and sadly has become. This is the Vegas of Dean Martin; this is the Vegas of Scorsese's "Casino"; this is the real Vegas. And all in crystal clear, high definition clarity for the first time. Not to mention Elvis himself singing the famous title track in Dolby TrueHD. Yes, this release is certainly an event to be celebrated, and it is as much an homage to that once great city as it is to the King himself, who obviously loved that town, eventually passing away there many years later. Now, Vegas and Elvis are almost synonymous in many ways, and it is easy to see why.

Director George Sydney had directed many legendary films before taking on this very appealing project. His career started with the "Our Gang" shorts from the late thirties and eventually he directed some very famous films (mostly musicals) for MGM, including "Annie Get Your Gun", "Kiss Me, Kate" and "Show Boat". He was perfect for this project to say the least; nevertheless conflict did arise between him and Colonel Tom Parker over his eye for detail and obsessive retakes. The Colonel (Elvis' notorious manager) was not at all pleased, after all, time is money. The film, released in 1964, was a huge hit for the time, making five times its 1 million dollar budget, and it's easy to see why it was such a hit, it has all of the ingredients.

The plot is really quite basic, like all Elvis films. Elvis struts into Vegas as Lucky Jackson, a racer in need of an engine to compete in the Grand Prix. He befriends his main competition, Count Elmo Mancini (played with flair and charisma by Cesare Danova). The Count tries to initially persuade the young and naive Jackson to work for him during the race by blocking cars and allowing him to win, an offer Jackson quickly rejects. Still, the two become comrades and end up going out together for some wild and musical adventures in the Vegas clubs. Both of the men have also become somewhat enthralled by a local swim instructor/dancer/singer Rusty Martin played by the positively beautiful Anne-Margret. And from here it is a competition between the two, not just for the race, but for the heart of the lovely Rusty. But the real competition is between Elvis and Ann-Margret, who seem to be trying to outperform each other in some very flirtatious ways. Let me tell you, she really forces the king to perform better than he usually does in most of his films, because her singing and dancing are so wonderful. You can sense the chemistry, not to mention an obvious actual attraction that is reportedly true. Either way, it certainly makes for great entertainment. Also, don't forget to look for Teri Garr, she is also in the film, I will let you find her yourself.

The songs are unusually excellent for his films, which were many times cranked out at too fast a pace to allow any real music ingenuity. This particular film has several memorable numbers, though. Many of the duets with Anne-Margret herself, some of which were notoriously repressed from release by RCA records, probably at the suggestion of Parker. In fact it wasn't until the early nineties until we heard some of the material she actually recorded for this soundtrack. This film has some great musical numbers, including "Lady Loves Me"," If You Think I Don't Need You", even a Ray Charles classic "What'd I Say", not to mention a wonderful and complete version of the title song. This is the perfect Elvis film for high definition because of the colorful musical numbers and like I already mentioned, the very colorful landscape of Vegas and the surrounding area including Hoover Dam.

Which brings us to the transfer and image quality of this release. Warner Brothers has really begun to outdo themselves with recent releases, and this one is certainly no exception. The aspect ratio of this 1080p release is 2.4:1 and it looks great. This transfer is really amazing. The film is forty three years old and has never looked or sounded better, in fact. The most striking thing about the release are the tremendous amounts of color and the wonderful costume design, all are rendered perfectly and shockingly vibrant. And all I can say is I am tremendously impressed with the effort of everyone involved in this project, it is nothing short of a revelation, and if you are going to own only one Elvis film, it simply must be this one. It is extremely sharp, and purists may be offended if it looks 'overly digital', but not myself, I was impressed to no end. This picture simply looks wonderful.

And the sound is certainly nothing to look over either, they even had the consideration to present it in its original mono for purists, but the Dolby TrueHD track sounds just excellent, mainly during the musical sequences, of course. Not only are the surrounds somewhat active but we actually get a very nice subwoofer response from several musical sequences, and that came as a pleasant surprise. Needless to say, including the mono track insures no complaints from either side, and like I said fidelity obsessives will be well pleased, this disc sounds great. Better than ever before.

And the extras are winners also, this is one of those releases where I'm actually happy to watch and listen to the extras. First up is a fascinating, insightful and very entertaining commentary from Steve Pond, author of the definitive Elvis film bio 'Elvis In Hollywood'. This is one of those rare commentaries that are so interesting you just can't stop listening and it is without a doubt a good choice on Warner's to include it. You will fall in love with this film after listening to it, not to mention possibly buy his book. Great stuff.

We even have a brand new featurette 'Kingdom: Elvis In Vegas', which is very well done and just as exciting and informative as the commentary. It's a fascinating realization that he had a love and hate affair with Vegas, not to mention the competition of Dylan, The Beatles and the Rolling Stones, fascinating! I learned a lot by watching it and admired it's frankness by those who are still living. Elvis had such a fascinating life it is impossible not to be thrilled by watching a well made featurette like this. Fantastic. Loved it, even if it only clocks in at 21 minutes and is in non-anamorphic widescreen. I think it could have been much longer and perhaps of a higher quality bit rate, but still, excellent. We also have the original theatrical trailer in all of its widescreen cheesy glory, very nice.

So, it is a wonderful experience to witness a young Elvis (with all of his charisma and charm) having a great time making a film in Vegas in high definition. Not to mention the outstandingly talented and beautiful Ann-Margret. This is really a historical event in home video and one not to be missed, you simply must have this classic in your collection and I can't wait to watch the others. They really went all the way with this one, and The King deserves it. I loved it.