Sometime during the filming of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, actress Teri Garr was listening to director Steven Spielberg talking about his favorite films. At one point he mentioned a certain VIVA LAS VEGAS as being at the top of list at which point Garr piped in to a disbelieving Spielberg, "Hey, I'm in that film."
Garr is indeed in VIVA LAS VEGAS, and can be seen dancing during two very memorable scenes. Spielberg was echoing back in 1977 what many film fans have known for a long time, that George Sidney's VIVA LAS VEGAS is among the brightest and best Hollywood musicals of the sixties and I would argue, ever.
I grew up with this film and couldn't even venture a guess as to how many times I have seen it but, as much as I have always loved the film, it wasn't until a couple of years ago, when I saw it on a big screen, that I realized just how truly great it is.
The revelation that took me from, I love this film mainly for seeing Elvis and Ann-Margret together, to my God this is a brilliant and wonderfully realized piece of cinema came during Ann-Margret's audaciously shot MY RIVAL number. For those of you who haven't seen the film, it is hard to describe just how perfect the MY RIVAL sequence is. Sidney's daring and perfectly choreographed one shot take of a frustrated Ann-Margret preparing a meal and singing is really astonishing. Since seeing this on a big screen I have wondered how many times they had to shoot this to get everything right, as it is hard to imagine a more perfectly realized and well performed one shot sequence.
George Sidney was rumored to have been in love with Ann-Margret and I guess my only reaction is to ask, how could he have not been? She is so electric, lovely and awesomely talented in this film, as well as his BYE BYE BIRDIE from the year before, that I fall in love with her every time I see her in it. What really makes VIVA LAS VEGAS though is the scorching combination of Ann with Elvis.
The chemistry between Ann-Margret and Elvis Presley on and off the screen has been written about many times. I will just add that this was one of the most perfect and joyous pairings in Hollywood history and Sidney's film provides the perfect vehicle for them. Over 40 years after this film was shot, the electricity these two generate is still mind-blowing.
So why am I bringing up this film now? I suppose because it is finally getting ready to get a little bit of its due. Out in August is a special edition of the film, remastered with a documentary and commentary from author Steve Pond. I don't think this will prove the definitive edition of the film but it is a step in the right direction. Streeting in August, as well, are long needed special editions of JAILHOUSE ROCK, THAT'S THE WAY IT IS and the startling THIS IS ELVIS. Also noteworthy are the dvd premieres of some of the remaining unreleased Elvis Presley films including three very underrated gems, GIRL HAPPY, TICKLE ME and LIVE A LITTLE LOVE A LITTLE. The Golden Globe winning, ELVIS ON TOUR, is mysteriously not among the upcoming avalanche of reissues and dvd debuts.
VIVA LAS VEGAS is a fun and very light film that is unfortunately often not taken very seriously. Give it another look, it is a seriously good and exceedingly well made film that deserves to be held in higher esteem. Steven Spielberg has never been one of my favorites, but back in 1977 when he let it slip that VIVA LAS VEGAS was one of his favorite films, he knew of what he spoke.