Speedway: A Formulaic Elvis Movie

Elvis Presley in Speedway. Courtesy of MGM/Warner Bros.

Speedway is a formulaic Elvis Presley film that came at the point in his Hollywood career just before he turned his attention to the stage.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? The problem with this film is that Elvis was staying way too close to the formula that worked for him. He wasn’t really taking any risks with his film career. Four more feature films would follow before going back to the stage.

Steve Grayson (Elvis Presley) is a NASCAR race car driver. However, like Elvis, he’s always helping out friends and acquaintances when it comes to any financial issues. Unfortunately for the driver, his manager Kenny Donford (Bill Bixby) has a major gambling problem. He has a bad habit of using Steve’s winnings to bet on horse racing. It’s bad news for Steve because the IRS ends up going after him because he owes $145,000 in back taxes. Furthermore, Steve sees his items get repossessed. The added stress is not easy because not only does Steve have to keep racing at a high level but he still wants to support his friends.

The IRS sends an agent, Susan Jacks (Nancy Sinatra). She has one job and one job only: keeping her eye on Steve. Naturally, she develops an interest in Steve. But even with this, there’s still a question of paying down the money Steve owes to the IRS. At the end of the film, Steve wins enough laps to pay down a good amount of debt.

In another universe, this film would star Sonny and Cher. However, it ended up being retooled after Good Times didn’t perform well. Maybe it would have been better off just not being retooled? I don’t know. The cast tries their best but it’s just too much of a formulaic film to succeed. In any event, the film borrows from Presley’s traits in real life when it came to his character’s traits. Much like his character, Elvis was always giving away cars, homes, and whatnot to his friends.

Behind the camera, Norman Taurog directed the film. As far as I can tell, this is one of nine collaborations between the filmmaker and Presley. Interestingly, this film is one of five Taurog/Elvis movies that are airing as part of  the TCM Summer Under The Stars series. No matter what their relationship was like at this point in Presley’s film career, it isn’t the primary problem. No, the main problem is that it’s too formulaic of a film even if Taurog knows how to direct comedy. After this film, Presley movies would focus on his acting abilities rather than his singing abilities. Even when it comes to Nancy Sinatra, she’s a solid singer in her own right but doesn’t get much to do on that front. Two songs and that’s it!

Speedway is just too formulaic to be a good Elvis Presley movie–the magic is missing at this point in his career.

DIRECTOR: Norman Taurog
SCREENWRITER: Phillip Shuken
CAST: Elvis Presley, Nancy Sinatra, Bill Bixby

MGM released Speedway on June 12, 1968. Grade: 2/5

Please subscribe to Solzy at the Movies on Substack.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.