Falling somewhere between quaint urban putty and certified classic, Richard Thorpe’s Jailhouse Rock (1957) is a minor milestone amongst film musicals. A showcase for the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley (Elvis had made only two films at this point in his career – neither in his natural setting as a pop tune icon), Jailhouse Rock provided audiences with the first filmic example of Presley’s innate gift for hard hitting musical exposition. Indeed, this was the first time that any film had been crafted around the enigma of that fledgling ‘new’ form in song and dance.
Presley is Vince Everett, a reprobate who lives hard and takes what he wants. But after a brawl in a local night spot leads to his incarceration, Vince is taken under the wing of fellow cellmate, Hunk Houghton (Mickey Shaughnessy). A former country singer, Hunk educates Vince in the power and prestige of music – a lesson earned and learned well when, upon his release, Vince meets society belle, Peggy Van Alden (Judy Tyler) and thrills her with his pipes. Peggy’s connections eventually lead to record producer, Teddy Talbot (Dean Jones), who wastes no time in exploiting Vince’s ‘new’ sound to make him one of the most popular voices in the business.
Unfortunately, Vince has yet to learn that humility and fame ought to go hand in hand. He alienates Peggy at a social gathering and all but wrecks his free ride to fortune after getting involved in yet another skirmish that could cost him his career.
Today, save Elvis’ hip swiveling and raw outpouring of gritty emotion during the title song, the film seems utterly tame. There’s not much to the story, though it clings together nicely enough, thanks to five more tunes that Presley managed to make instant gold records on the hit parade.
From a remastering standpoint, Warner Home Video’s re-release of this catalogue title is a welcome edition to anyone’s DVD library. The anamorphic enhanced B&W image exhibits exemplary fidelity in all aspects. The grayscale is superbly rendered. Whites are clean. Blacks are deep and smooth. Fine detail is evident throughout. There are no age related artifacts and only a minor hint of grain suggested for a smooth as silk video presentation. The audio has been remixed to 5.1 Dolby Digital, but apart from the songs, exhibits a very obvious mono characteristic.
This critic is genuinely at a loss to explain what constitutes a Deluxe Edition in the eyes of Warner executives. The Canadian edition is not a double, but rather single disc incarnation that has an all too brief featurette critiquing the title number and an audio commentary to its credit. Disappointing for a Deluxe Edition to say the least. Bottom line: recommended.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)