Musical Monday: Viva Las Vegas (1964)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 600. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
Viva Las Vegas – Musical #340


George Sidney

Elvis Presley, Ann-Margret, Cesare Danova, William Demarest, Nicky Blair

Lucky Jackson (Presley) is a down-on-his-luck race car driver who is making ends meet as a singing waiter in Las Vegas. All the while, he has hopes to compete in the Las Vegas Grand Prix. Meanwhile, he meets swim instructor Rusty (Ann-Margret) and the two fall in love.

• Dance numbers choreographed by David Winters, who was recommended by Ann-Margret
• Filmed on location in Las Vegas and at the Hoover Dam Lake.
• Elvis Presley’s most successful theatrical feature film release.
• Working title “The Only Girl in Town.”

• Ann-Margret’s costumes, designed by Don Feld
• Vibrant Technicolor cinematography by Joseph F. Biroc
• Montage of showgirl performances

Notable Songs:
• “The Lady Loves Me” performed by Elvis Presley and Ann-Margret
• “Viva Las Vegas” performed by Elvis Presley
• “Come On, Everybody” performed by Elvis Presley
• “The Climb” performed by the Jubilee Four
• “What’d I Say” performed by Elvis Presley, written by Ray Charles

My review:
It may be light on plot, but this is probably Elvis Presley’s best movie. And that’s largely because it features his best co-star, Ann-Margret.

As soon as the film opens after the MGM lion roars, Elvis singing “Viva Las Vegas” plays over credits with glittering gold font and nighttime on-location shot of the Las Vegas Strip glittering with colorful lights.
The film’s plot follows Lucky Jackson (Presley), a race car driver who travels from Los Angeles to Las Vegas to participate in a race. The problem is that Lucky needs money to buy a new motor for his car. Along the way, Lucky meets Rusty (Ann-Margret) and the two begin a romance.

While most of the film focuses on Lucky and Rusty falling in love instead of racing (at least until the very end), this is an entertaining, vibrant and fun film. The songs are great, the costumes are amazing and the Technicolor is amazing.

For once, Presley has a co-star that matches his talent. Ann-Margret was even called at the time “the female Elvis.” They match well in appearance, singing and shimmying. The chemistry these too have on film is assisted by their real life romance. Wow, sparks fly here.

What’s really interesting about this film, is that I feel like it has more choreographed dancing than most of the other Elvis films. That’s thanks to choreographer David Winters, who was recommended by Ann-Margret. There are several fantastic numbers in this film, like “The Climb,” “Come On, Everybody” and “What’d I Say.” The dancing is energetic and fun. You also may spot Teri Garr and Toni Basil in his dancers.

The talent show is also a fun part, though we chuckled that Elvis and Ann-Margret had such well-staged numbers but the people before them were just spinning plates.

The race footage at the end is exciting, but pretty brutal. I almost felt like I was watching FIREBALL 500 again.

Overall, VIVA LAS VEGAS is so much fun and simply a romp. Also it left me wanting all of Ann-Margret’s costumes.

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