Retro Review: Jailhouse Rock


On Jan. 8 of this year, I was driving home from work and flipping through the local radio stations when I stayed on the oldies station. The DJ mentioned it was Elvis’ birthday and they were playing some of his hit songs. After a couple of songs, it went back to their standard music programs playing some of the biggest hits from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. Elvis’s music was groundbreaking and was in a league of his own. He merged the songs and style that people of all race and gender could enjoy.

He was the king of rock and roll and his music continues to be listened to and appreciated even after decades since he has long since been gone. Although his music still lives on in great appreciation, the movies that starred Elvis isn’t remembered too fondly. A lot of the movies are campy, silly and was not the best written kind. Many were treated like drive-thru films to attract the youth of the day to see the films. Jailhouse Rock is the first Elvis film I ever watched. I have no previous knowledge of many of his films, but I know this launched the song and his stardom to the next degree after it was released. With that being said, is the movie any good or enjoyable? Well, I’ll be reviewing the film based on plot, acting ability and musicality. Does Elvis back up his music talent with acting talent or will he fade in the cold Kentucky rain. Let’s sit back and review Jailhouse Rock.

The story of this film features Elvis as a blue-collar man who ends up in jail when he kills a man with his bare hands while defending a woman from being harassed by some of the local gentlemen. While in jail, his cellmate (a former country singer), would lull the cellmates to sleep with his acoustic guitar. He tries his hand at it and even performs at a local jail variety show. The cellmate tells his to pursue music, so, once he is released, he tries his hand at becoming a musician and singer.

Along the way, he meets a woman who happens to work for a music company and she and his start their own business and become famous. Elvis learns about growing pains, his immature attitude and eventually becomes what the typical Hollywood star is thought about; becoming vain, uninterested and selfish. The film is the rise and slight dip in Elvis’s portrayal of a singer becoming famous, going to Hollywood and becoming self indulgent. The plot is simple and not really the most interesting. Elvis never really struggled in the music business once he was out of jail. He meets a beautiful woman, wows her with his look and some singing prowess and ultimately becomes a heartthrob to many younger woman who fancy his singing and dancing ability. The plot is all about Elvis adjusting to each new obstacle in his life and making as much money as he could, which comes out in the middle of the movie for some reason that is never addressed.

The acting is mediocre but Elvis’s style of acting is “unique.” When he is singing as a bar/burlesque style club, a guy in the audience isn’t paying attention and is laughing when talking to a woman. Elvis sees this, hops off the stage, mock laughs at him, slams the guitar on the table and storms off. When I first saw this, I busted out laughing. It was sudden and out of nowhere and it was something seeing Elvis having a temper tantrum. Granted I thought that, but, throughout the movie, he does that a couple of times and each time comes out of left field and it wasn’t needed.

At a party he was invited to, an older woman asked him a question about music and he said he didn’t know what the hell she was talking about and stormed out of the house. These weird tantrums and sudden bursts of insecurity was very distracting and the main problem was that it wasn’t needed and served no purpose besides Elvis wanting attention to subjects only he knows, which makes his character immature and pretty pretentiously annoying. Although he does have his charm, his character is pretty unlikable and when I see Elvis, I want to like him. I want to root for him but, watching him in this film, and his acting ability, makes me want to just see him get punched (spoilers, that does happen). Another thing about his acting in the film, whether it was all on him or the director, is that when a new woman would catch his attention, he would have creep face on. He wouldn’t look at their eyes, just their body and his mouth would be open and he turns into a mouth breather. It was creepy and just shows the females in the movie that they want Elvis to stare at them like that because when he does that, he wants and desires you. How poetic.

When you talk Elvis, music is a factor. Jailhouse Rock is the hit song that came from the movie and one of his most famous hits. The actual song is played and it is fantastic. It has some rock and roll and rockabilly styling that was entertaining. The rest of the songs, well, they’re boring. They’re country style and slow. They don’t have personality and they sound like songs you sing when you want to serenade someone. Granted this film was made in 1957 and rock and roll was still a new wave of music, I wish some of the songs still had some personality. A good country song isn’t bad for the movie but the main situation is that they played the same songs over and over again. Elvis’s audition tape was sung over 5 times throughout the film and it was not jailhouse rock. His slow songs are good once in a while but after getting amped up with the title song, I wanted to see and hear more and not downplay his oomph and singing personality. The rest of the songs in the movie are forgettable and don’t leave an impression with me.

Overall, this movie isn’t how I want to remember Elvis. Granted, some of his beach movies look campy also, but maybe they will offer more likability out of him. Based on what I saw of this movie, it wasn’t what I was hoping for. Elvis is a immature baby and treats people like dirt except when he pursues his various women just based solely on looks and not because of capability. His character is so unappealing that I wondered what it was that made him so interesting in the film that women would be desiring him. It was the fifties and people often say it was a much more simpler time. I wasn’t alive and my parents were still babies, so, I cannot get a reference from them for how it was. Regardless, the film had some okay moments but, in the overall plot, musicality and acting ability of our star, it was lackluster and monotonous. I will honor Elvis by listening to his music and hearing his soulful voice break through the speakers and get me feeling good or melancholy based on which song I hear from him.