Elvis Presley fans proceed at their own risk once they venture beyond Jailhouse Rock and Viva Las Vegas in the King's acting career. Those who flip past an Elvis movie on TV looking for good, campy fun often wind up gazing in horror as a bloated, sweaty Presley mumbles through songs that Frankie and Annette would've turned down. The deceptively cool-looking DVD box set Lights! Camera! Elvis! Collection contains its share of those duds, like the mean-spirited G.I. Blues, the laughably melodramatic Fun In Acapulco, the painfully unhip Easy Come Easy Go, and the interchangeable Hawaiian melodramas Girls! Girls! Girls! and Paradise Hawaiian Style.
But Lights! Camera! Elvis! also contains three of Presley's most honestly entertaining movies. King Creole is a moody coming-of-age piece directed by Hollywood legend Michael Curtiz. As a high-school dropout who's undermined his singing career via an association with crime boss Walter Matthau, Presley is at his most convincingly haunted. He's pretty good in Roustabout, too, playing a self-centered lout who learns the value of teamwork, thanks to Barbara Stanwyck's traveling carnival. Roustabout also revels delightfully in the arcane details of carny life, just as Presley's most escapist film, Blue Hawaii, dissects the islands' tourist industry. Compared to the morose plots of later Elvis movies, Blue Hawaii is a breezy vacation, and Presley looks appealingly relaxed as every Hawaiian's favorite haole.
The success of Blue Hawaii prompted producers to set more Elvis movies in exotic locales, taking him further from his culture and his music. And his mystique progressively, as a weaker Elvis movie showed up at the local bijou every six months. Still, Presley never lost his presence, even crammed into a helicopter full of dogs in Paradise Hawaiian Style. He retained his rocker charisma, yet because of his Southern drawl and charmingly awkward, non-actorly line readings, he came off as realer than most movie stars. Maybe that was just a byproduct of his diminished confidence, as he went from being king of one realm to jester in another.
Key features: None, though the box set itself is attractively priced, and covered in faux-suede.