In a way “Jailhouse Rock” also works as something of a pseudo-biography that would prophesize a lot of Presley’s endeavors. Whether or not intentional, “Jailhouse Rock” serves as a fascinating and often entertaining peek in to what the man would become, except with some slightly sweeter end results. Richard Thorpe’s “Jailhouse Rock” is a solid Elvis Presley vehicle that presents the definitive Presley on film. If you’ve never seen a single Elvis film, this is the great place to begin tracking his film career.
Presley plays Vince Everett, a young singer and worker who goes to jail after getting in to a bar fight with a man and killing him in an effort to protect a young woman. After doing his time in jail, Vince discovers his passion for singing and sets out to blaze his trail for music stardom. Alongside his true love Peggy, he deals with the pitfalls of fame, and the accident that leads to his ultimate humbling.
Much of “Jailhouse Rock” chronicles a lot of what we know about Presley. In the film he’s a young man who loves to sing, who also crashes the music scene thanks to his dancing abilities, he rises to fame, is forced in to a Hollywood marriage, seeks out other avenues of work with acting and his own hubris becomes his undoing. Elvis is very charismatic in his role, and he carries what is basically a paper thin narrative all things considered. Much of the whole jail house scenario has little relevance to anything we see in the film, save for the introduction of Vince’s friend Hunk. Hunk’s tale often threatens to overshadow Vince’s, as he is released from jail and seeks one last grasp for fame and music success in a world that has pretty much left him behind.
Mickey Shaughnessy’s performance as the tragic character Hunk is heartbreaking, and I empathized with so much of his turmoil, including witnessing a world that left him in the dust, and trying to grab some of the gold by desperately hoping Vince clings to their oral contract they made as friends. That said, the narrative is distractingly slim, the jail scenes are dull, and the sudden narration is awkward and tacked on. Thankfully, though, the performances (Judy Tyler had so much promise) and raucous music numbers compensate for much of the film’s shortcomings, amounting to a solid musical drama.