Monday 17 August 2020

Movie Review: Viva Las Vegas (1964)

A musical romance with some comic moments, Viva Las Vegas features a few good songs and a vibrant Ann-Margret, but an otherwise exceptionally flimsy plot.

Up-and-coming racing car driver Lucky Jackson (Elvis Presley) arrives in Las Vegas to compete in the Grand Prix, but he needs money to buy an engine. Veteran champion racer Count Elmo Mancini (Cesare Danova) offers Lucky a job as a backup driver, but Lucky refuses and starts working as a waiter to make some money. Soon both Lucky and the Count are romantically pursuing swimming instructor Rusty Martin (Ann-Margret). 

Even by the standards of quickie musicals, Viva Las Vegas is entirely dismissive of anything that passes as a rational story. Writer Sally Benson must have used the full width of a napkin to scrawl down "racer seeks engine", and director George Sidney just points his cameras at Presley and Ann-Margret doing their thing and hopes for the best. By the end of the movie one character may have been decapitated and burned to a crisp in a car racing crash, but the horrifying tragedy is ignored in favour of a happy song reprise.

Ann-Margaret's vibrant charisma almost single-handedly threatens to save the movie, her stage-filling seductive presence pointing the way towards the future of musical entertainment and relegating Presley to a predictable warbling side-show. With an athleticism-focused fun wardrobe and colours complementing her flaming hair, she dominates in a display of racy energy. 

The musical highlights include the title song, the duet The Lady Loves Me, and Ann-Margret singing Appreciation and enjoying a legendary dance practice in an orange-red top and black leggings. Both the movie and the music achieve a peak with What'd I Say, the two stars scorching the screen in matching yellow outfits.

Elsewhere the film serves as a bit of a tourism commercial for Las Vegas, a montage sequence joining the lovers-to-be as they enjoy all that the town offers. Viva Las Vegas sustains no substance, but sells the sizzle.

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