Viva Las Vegas: One of Elvis’s Finest Films

Elvis Presley and Ann-Margret in Viva Las Vegas. Courtesy of MGM/Warner Bros.

Viva Las Vegas features solid chemistry between stars Elvis Presley and Ann-Margret in the 1964 Las Vegas-set musical.

The gist of the film is that Lucky Jackson (Elvis Presley) heads to Las Vegas for the city’s first ever Grand Prix Race. Unfortunately, his race car needs a new engine otherwise he can kiss the race goodbye. He’s able to raise the money but  unfortunately, he loses it when Rusty Martin (Ann-Margret) shoves him into a hotel swimming pool. Lucky has no choice but to work as a hotel waiter in order to pay the hotel bills. Moreover, he can only hope that winning a talent contest will cover the engine’s costs.

While Lucky is trying to win over Rusty, Count Elmo Mancini (Cesare Danova) wants to beat him in both the race and winning over Rusty. Does Lucky get the girl? Who wins the race? You’ll just have to tune in and find out! I’m not going to spoil the ending even though this film is well over 50 years old.

Behind the scenes, they put the script together in nearly a dozen days. Knowing this, it makes the end result rather impressive. This is also the very film that put tension in this relationship with Elvis and Priscilla. Both Elvis and Ann-Margret did have an affair during the filming but it didn’t get much further than that. The other tension behind the scenes: Col. Tom Parker wasn’t happy with not being credited as a technical advisor. Parker also wasn’t happy with the amount of filming required for Ann-Margret’s song-and-dance numbers nor was he happy with the film going over budget. If you’ve seen Elvis, one can understand Parker’s behavior.

The accompanying soundtrack EP is one of the worst charted albums to date in Presley’s career. The soundtrack EP topped out at #92 in the Billboard Hot 100. This speaks somewhat to the state of the industry in the early 1960s. When you’re making this many films in a small span of time, filmmakers are looking for quantity when it comes to songs, not quality. I’m not about to dive into the history of the film’s music. There are eleven songs in the film although fifteen were recorded. Perhaps the biggest problem on the musical front is that Elvis was also competing with the height of Beatlemania. Surprisingly, this film did better at the box office than A Hard Day’s Night.

If there’s one song on the soundtrack that does not age well, it’s “The Eyes of Texas.” To this day, there is still a debate over its usage in Texas, prompting a lawsuit by the NAACP’s Texas chapter. The song’s use in the film is to get a rowdy group of Texans to calm down and in that regard, it does the job. But still, it doesn’t change the fact that the song allegedly promotes the “Lost Cause.”

Next to Jailhouse Rock, Viva Las Vegas is one of Elvis Presley’s finest films.

DIRECTOR: George Sidney
CAST: Elvis Presley, Ann-Margret, Cestare Danova, William Demarest, Nicky Blair,

MGM released Viva Las Vegas in theaters on May 20, 1964. Grade: 4/5

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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.