In honor of the 75th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s birth, Fox has released the Elvis 75th Birthday Collection. Although there doesn’t seem to have been much in the way of remastering on these films, and nothing in the repackaging department (in fact, these are the exact same discs that Fox and MGM have released over years separately), this set will still probably prove to be a welcome addition to any Elvis fan’s accumulation of all things the King.
Elvis Presley appeared in 33 films during his life, 31 of those as an actor playing a scripted role (the other two, Elvis: That’s the Way it Is and Elvis on Tour, were concert films). The seven movies included here span Elvis’s Hollywood career, from his first big screen performance in Love Me Tender (1956) to one of his last in Clambake (1967). There does not seem to be any rhyme or reason as to why these particular flicks were picked, just as there is not any coherence to the way they are sequenced.
The slip cover contains two cases, the first holds four films and the second houses the remaining three. They are not in chronological order, or any other discernible order for that matter. The first case has the discs for Clambake, Follow That Dream, Kid Galahad and Frankie and Johnny, even though they were all preceded by Love Me Tender. It is obvious that this is just a thrown together package to capitalize on the birthday observance, because each of the seven discs has no unifying markings, menus or other signals that signify that they’re part of this set. Follow That Dream does not even have a label, it is just the older, double-sided disc (for standard and wide-screen viewing).
So most people do not care about those things – they just care about Elvis. That’s fair. I am a life-long Elvis fan myself, so I have seen these films many times over the years. Sometimes you watch an Elvis film for the absurdity of the so-called plots or the surreal selection of co-stars. Clambake fulfills both requirements there. It’s just silly, but that’s what makes it such a hoot. Sometimes when watching an Elvis movie, you marvel at the character names (Pacer Burton? Really? That does not sound Kiowa to me). Sometimes, of course, you watch for the songs or for the sheer cinematic presence of Presley himself. This is why Love Me Tender is so enduring, even though there is no real reason for Elvis to play the song in the story.
However, sometimes you actually watch an Elvis movie for the story. Flaming Star (1960) is really one of the best Elvis films. If you have never seen it, I would recommend checking it out, both for its plot and for the King’s performance. The same cannot be said for the scattered and pandering Wild in the Country, unfortunately. I know he is Elvis, but even he cannot be all things to all people.
Kid Galahad is an ill-conceived remake of the 1937 Edward G. Robinson and Humphrey Bogart classic with Elvis in the role of the boxer – the boxer who sings. Frankie and Johnny co-stars Donna Douglas, and it’s the very definition of an “Elvis Presley Film”, with a formulaic set-up and Elvis portraying a singer. Follow That Dream is quite comical, and it’s meant to be that way, so it works. Elvis is funny, the songs are good and the story is, well the story’s forced, but the film is still fun.
There are not any bonus features on any of this discs for any of these films. On one hand, that makes sense because they were made before behind the scenes documentaries were prevalent. On the other hand, a few retrospective features would have been appreciated, even if it was simply newsreel footage of premieres (like what you will find on DVDs of Marilyn Monroe’s movies) or galleries of the publicity stills. However, because Elvis 75th Birthday Collection is just a slap-dash compilation of otherwise unrelated and previously released DVDs, Fox probably felt it was not worth the effort. It’s not a very nice way to celebrate a birthday in my book, especially Elvis’ birthday, but for fans who do not already have these films on DVD, maybe it’s the perfect present.