Take Five Really Swings!


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There's a few new articles up there already, including a look at why television producers in the eighties insisted on using Dave Brubeck tracks as the theme music for utterly terrible programmes, which you can find here.

62-39 Was His Number


According to Smash Hits, Elvis Presley made about three million films, all of which were called either Elvis Has A Kiss-Up In Hawaii or Elvis Says It's Swinging, Pops. And, if you watched BBC1 during the school holidays, didn't you just know it.

Presumably as much on account of their cheapness and indeed sheer volume as it was due to tweedy old shirts behind desks thinking that Elvis was what 'young people' liked, Double Trouble, Fun In Acapulco, Girls! Girls! Girls! and all two thousand nine hundred and ninety nine thousand nine hundred and ninety seven others of them, some of which Elvis probably didn't even realise he'd actually made, rolled round again and again and again alongside Why Don't You...?, The Monkees, King Of The Rocket Men and all of the other decidedly convenient holiday morning entertainment staples. Oh and Play Chess.

You'd be forgiven for assuming that youngsters came to resent this hip-swivelling intrusion into the schedules where the cheap swines could at least have put on Help!... It's The Hair Bear Bunch! or something, but actually they proved quite popular; hardly surprising when you consider that the movies had the same sort of combination of pop-fuelled hi-jinks and exotic retro allure as The Monkees and The Banana Splits. They were of course especially prevalent around the Christmas holidays, to the extend that an entire generation now associate sleigh bells and tinsel with a glorious technicolor Elvis in a loud Hawaiian shirt even by Hawaiian shirt standards being comforted by some youngsters on the stairs after momentarily losing the girl of his dreams.

There was, however, one very notable exception to this. Jailhouse Rock never seemed to find its way into these repeat seasons, presumably due to a combination of its black and white nature (not that this ever stopped them flinging out endless Edgar Kennedy 'shorts' nobody asked for), the slightly violent theme underpinning the storyline, and the fact that it was somehow seen as more serious and 'worthy', and the preserve of brow-furrowed Whistle Test spin-off 'Rock Goes To The Movies' theme nights. As absurd as it may sound, you usually had to ask to 'stay up' to watch Elvis Presley's most famous film.


Now, however, you can just roll up to the cinema to see it. Jailhouse Rock is a staggering sixty years old - although, weirdly, now seeming far less culturally remote than it did back when Elvis films were a school holidays staple - and to mark this occasion has just been re-released in a restored and staggeringly high quality print which makes those crumbly photocopy-esque bits of footage they used to use in things like The Rock'n'Roll Years feel like they came from another film entirely. What's more, you can get an authentic flavour of those tabloid-alarming dancing-in-the-aisles times by watching it in a packed auditorium full of so many over-excited first-time-around Elvis fans that you start to worry that you're about to see a re-enactment of Monty Python's 'Hell's Grannies' sketch; fortunately there were no vicious gangs of Keep Left signs to go with them, but at least they might keep bloody quiet during the film.

Jailhouse Rock is a film that stands up far better than anyone might not unreasonably have expected it to. It may well have been a quick production-line effort rushed out to cash in on the international success of someone who said 'well' a lot whilst TV cameras studiously avoided showing anything south of his shirt buttons, but those are just the literal specifics of its circumstances. It's tightly directed with convincing sets, is underpinned with a rock-solid script where the numerous musical numbers actually form part of the storyline (and for different reasons each time too), and despite essentially playing an even more exaggerated version of his stage persona at the time, Elvis acquits himself well as an actor, to the extent that you sometimes lose sight of the fact that you're actually watching an Elvis Presley vehicle rather than simply a good film from the time. It's also worth considering the fact that it runs to an economical yet packed ninety minutes, and that the main plot is set up in less than three minutes; something to bear in mind the next time you're covertly looking at your watch while waiting for the latest film that everyone says you 'have to see' to actually get started.

There were funnier, weirder and more socially aware pop movies to come. There was a brutally effective inversion of the upbeat music biz shenanigans it explores in Slade In Flame, which is in many respects a much more interesting film. And there was Mrs. Brown You've Got A Lovely Daughter, which people still think you're making up if you try explaining it to them. Jailhouse Rock, however, remains a potent and effective - and surprisingly mature - effort from the very dawn of both pop music and youth cinema which probably few at the time would have expected anyone to care about even six years later, let alone sixty. Yeah, see you at the re-release of The Wayward Bus, then.

Of course, Elvis wasn't alone in those schedules, and there was also a similarly unending procession of George Formby films on hand for the schedulers to fill time with. It's no wonder Play Chess seemed so comparatively tolerable.




If you've enjoyed this article, you can find lots more about old films and early pop music in Not On Your Telly, which is available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.