Richard Thorpe's “Jailhouse Rock” captures the young Elvis Presley in his knee-quivering, lip-snarling, screen charisma glory-and amateurish acting. Though this is an early effort, Elvis never developed as a dramatic persona over the course of 33 films.
Elvis's third film, after “Love Me Tender” and “Loving You,” set the standard for the rest of his movies, even if the musical numbers were shot in the old MGM style that reportedly Elvis thought was inappropriate for the music.
Director Thorpe was hired based on his experience in directing costume musicals, such as “The Student Prince,” and while not the best helmer for Elvis's style, he does a serviceable job. If “Jailhouse Rock” looks better than other Elvis pictures it's largely due to firm and proficient control of producer Pandro S. Berman, who had great track record with temperamental stars like Crawford and Hepburn.
Elvis comes across as a musical version of James Dean, playing Vince Everett, a surly good ole boy, who accidentally kills a man while defending a lady's honor in a bar.
This act frames Vince for manslaughter and sends his to jail, which turns out to be not a terrible experience. Vince shares his prison cell with Hunk Houghton (Mickey Shaughnessy), a former singer himself who talks Vince into performing in the upcoming convicts show.
Since he was not much of an actor, the recurrent problem of all of Elvis' movies was to find a vehicle and a story that would enable him to beak into song in a rather natural, if not realistic way.
After Vince is released, he meets Peggy Van Alden (Judy Tyler), with whom he forms a record company. Soon, he is a national star on his way to Hollywood. There are the usual misunderstandings with all the women around him. Hence, Peggy is concerned that Vince may be turning too quickly for his own good into a self-absorbed musician.
Unlike future Elvis outings, the film's romantic angle and the actress who plays the romantic interest are rather weak and charmless. For comparison, see what better and more appealing actresses like Ann-Margret and Hope Lange can do for Elvis, in such 1960s vehicles as “Viva Las Vegas” and “Wild in the Country, respectively.
Fortunately, the movie lives up to its title, and “Jailhouse” really rocks when it comes to music, establishing in the process Elvis as an energetic force, just before he left Hollywood for a military service.
The songs, which are uneven, are mostly by Lieber and Stoller; Stoller also appears as a pianist in the famous “Jailhouse Rock” sequence, which the young King choreographed.
Shot in black-and-white, “Jailhouse Rock” was popular with the public. The title song alone sold 2 million records in two weeks.
With Elvis receiving a high percentage of the profits.
Among the film's other good tuners are: “Treat Me Nice,” “Baby, I Don't Care,” and “Young and Beautiful.”
Vince Everett (Elvis Presley)
Peggy Van Alden (Judy Tyler)
Hunk Houghton (Mickey Shaughnessy)
Sherry Wilson (Jennifer Holden)
Teddy Talbot (Dean Jones)
Laury Jackson (Anne Neyland)
Warden (Hugh Sanders)
Mr. Shores (Vaughn Taylor)
Pianist (Mike Stoller)
Prof. August Van Alden (Gradon Rhodes)
Running time: 96 Minutes
Produced by Pandro S. Berman
Director: Richard Thorpe
Screenplay: Guy Trosper, based on a story by Ned Young
Music: Lieber and Stoller
Camera (b/w): Robert Bronner
Editing: Ralph E. Winters
Art Director: William A. Horning, Randall Duell
F/X: A. Arnold Gillsepie