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DVD Review: Elvis: 75th Anniversary DVD Collection

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I once had a friend who was such an avid Elvis Presley fan she yearned to master the choreography from the iconic jailhouse scene in Jailhouse Rock. Eventually, she got it down so well she could perform it effortlessly, mimicking the King’s every writhe and twitch, while perfecting his trademark sexy sneer.

She chose a great scene: a classic moment in film history, to be sure.

The newly released Elvis: 75th Anniversary DVD Collection box set doesn’t include many of the King’s classic film moments because few of them exist. As Elvis himself would most likely tell you, his film output was quantity over quality, which is the way Colonel Tom Parker, his manager, wanted it.

The fact that Elvis Presley did not often make exceptional films didn’t mean the majority weren’t fun to watch. How could Elvis, a harem of beautiful women, and a dastardly villain named Sinan not make you smile (Harum Scarum)? In Double Trouble, Elvis, a beautiful heiress, and two bumbling jewel thieves cavort through 90 minutes of songs and intrigue. How could that not elicit a chuckle or two?

There is something for every Elvis fan in this 17-disc package.

The two best non-documentary films here are the aforementioned Jailhouse Rock and the 1964 extravaganza Viva Las Vegas. Viva Las Vegas is most notable for the pairing of Elvis with Ann-Margret, who, at the time, was considered the female counterpart of the King. The two had a chemistry which makes this film crackle with energy, and their obvious attraction to one another gives it a brazenly sexy edge. The fact that Elvis loved Vegas and considered it his playground gave him an enthusiasm for this project which shows in his performance. He seems to be totally invested in the production and looks as if he’s really having a great time.

In his wonderful commentary for this film, Steve Pond, the author of Elvis In Hollywood, exhibits an expertise which makes his contribution a valuable part of this set. Pond’s detailed overview of scenes, actors, the relationships between the cast members, and bits of trivia are well researched, and his comments are unbiased, sharp, and interesting.

According to what is printed on the back of the DVD box, Jailhouse Rock was supposed to feature a commentary by Mr. Pond, as well as a retrospective featurette. Sadly, neither was actually included in the set.

ElvisThe inclusion of three excellent documentaries give this release more of an edge than it would have had otherwise. It’s certainly hard to imagine how three overviews of an artist in the same box set would be necessary. But each serves a specific purpose and offers a unique slant on Elvis’s extraordinary career.

Elvis: That’s The Way It Is Special Edition takes an intimate look at Elvis and his band rehearsing for their very first Las Vegas shows. The original version, released in 1970, featured fan interviews intermingled with the rehearsal footage. In this 2001 version, we are given the wheat without the chaff, more music and Elvis at his best — fit, tanned, and totally immersed in his work. The first half of the film was shot in a rehearsal hall where Elvis, band members, and background vocalists are shown working out song arrangements. Their banter and solid musicianship are a joy to behold and the onstage culmination of their efforts is a triumph.

Included on the disc is the short film “Patch It Up: The Reconstruction of Elvis: That’s The Way It Is,” in which producer Rick Schmidlin describes how he went about improving the original version of the film.

The newly restored and remastered 1972 documentary Elvis On Tour is released here for the first time in 5.1 audio. This film ended up being the swan song to Elvis’s cinematic career. It is an occasionally gritty look at life on the road, featuring an Elvis who seems to be tiring of the pace. But the concert footage is lively and exciting, the sound quality is bright and crisp, and the fannish moments are fun.

The theatrical version of This Is Elvis, completes the trio of documentaries. The film was released in 1981 and tells the story of Elvis from his childhood years to his death (with montage sequences supervised by Martin Scorsese). Archival footage is intermingled with dramatic recreations of key moments in Elvis’s life. Sometimes this works but often it comes across looking like a poorly made movie of the week. The disturbing footage of an overweight, pasty-faced Elvis on stage, six weeks prior to his death, is like watching a slow motion car wreck. Certainly these scenes have historical value but it is not the way his fans want to remember him.

Also included on the disc is Behind the Gates of Graceland, a rare mini documentary from the early 1980s put together by Elvis’s pals Jerry Schilling and Joe Esposito. These two members of Elvis’s Memphis Mafia give us a short but exhaustive tour of the King’s home. The video quality is about as good as a public access TV show from the 1970s, but this is an intriguing piece of Presleyana all the same.

Rounding out the set is a memorabilia packet filled with ten reproductions of canceled checks, telegrams, and other documentation Elvis fans may never have had a chance to see otherwise. A 40-page glossy booklet filled with iconic photos and quotes is also included.

Many Elvis completists may already have some of this material. But for those who might like to catch up and enjoy a fairly comprehensive collection of Elvis’s screen work, this is a fine set to add to your collection.

The box set includes the following films: Jailhouse Rock, It Happened At the Worlds Fair, Kissin’ Cousins, Viva Las Vegas, Girl Happy, Tickle Me, Harum Scarum, Spinout, Double Trouble, Stay Away Joe, Speedway, Live A Little, Love A Little, Charro!, The Trouble With Girls, Elvis, That’s the Way It Is Special Edition, Elvis On Tour, This Is Elvis. Theatrical trailers and photo galleries are included, as well.

Check out the official site.

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