Elvis’ third movie is also my third favorite Elvis movie. As much as I love this movie, I could really start at about 25 minutes into as I don’t really care for all the Elvis in jail scenes, but I do watch it often. It is in my rotation of 11 Elvis movies I watch all the time. Everything about Jailhouse Rock is very 50s (which I loved growing up and still do) and very cool – the clothes, the music, the cars and of course Elvis. He was just so darn sexy and sullen. Angry and kind of a jerk work for Elvis. I mean who doesn’t love a bad boy? Isn’t everyone’s favorite Elvis movie line “That ain’t tactics honey. It’s just the beast in me.” (which is preceded by my second favorite line “Uh-uh, you ain’t gonna hate me. I ain’t gonna let you hate me.”) That whole scene, where Elvis’ character Vince and Judy’s character Peggy goes to her parents party, is probably my favorite in the movie as it’s just so 1950s! I wanted to be a guest at that party. (Apparently there is a goof in this party scene when Vince and Peggy enter her parents’ house there is a visible “T” taped to the carpet where Elvis is supposed to stand.)
Jailhouse Rock is the first movie where the credits said, “starring Elvis Presley.” It went from “introducing Elvis Presley” in Love Me Tender to Elvis having top billing but on the same screen as his two costars listed under him in Loving You to “starring Elvis Presley” in Jailhouse Rock, and it would remain that way for the next 28 films. It is also the first movie that is completely centered and built entirely around Elvis making him entirely responsible for the success of the film for the first time. As in Loving You, Scotty Moore, Bill Black and DJ Fontana again appeared on screen as Elvis’ (Vince’s) band. This time songwriter Mike Stoller also appeared at the piano with the band. His writing partner Jerry Leiber was supposed to be the piano player, but got sick at the last minute. Mike had to shave his beard to be in the movie, which is gladly did. Also seen in Jailhouse Rock were Elvis’ friends George Klein, Lamar Fike and cousin Gene Smith.
Jailhouse Rock was originally going to be called The Hard Way. It was written by Guy Trosper based on an idea by Ned Young. Jailhouse Rock was produced by Pando S. Berman and directed by Richard Thorpe, who also directed Fun in Acapulco as well as 200 other films. Casting was done by the head of the studio Benny Thau and the president of the William Morris Agency Abraham Lastfogel. Elvis was paid $250,000 for Jailhouse Rock plus 50% of the profits of the movie. Elvis reported to the MGM lot in Culver City on May 6, 1957 where he was assigned Clark Gable’s former dressing room. During the jail scenes, he did not actually have his haircut in the style of a crew cut rather he wore a wig after fans wrote in threatening to boycott the movie if Elvis’ hair was cut short without his sideburns. On May 14th, art imitated life (or was it the other way around), when Elvis’ inhaled his tooth-cap when it came loose during the filming of the “Jailhouse Rock” production number and had to be removed from his lung.
While filming, Elvis dated costar Anne Neyland (who played Vince’s female member of his ‘troupe’ Laury Jackson). Gloria Pall, who played the stripper/dancer whose legs we see where Vince meets Everett, really liked Elvis on Jailhouse Rock saying he had a great sense of humor. But did not care much for him a year earlier in Vegas 1956 when she called him a “corny, horny hick” after instead of shaking her hand or kissing her hand, he licked every finger on her hand. Plus she said he was pimply and she wasn’t attracted to him at all (but a year later in Jailhouse Rock she was, but she had just gotten married). I liked seeing Dean Jones, who played the DJ, as I was a big fan of the Herbie The Love Bug movies when I was little. Although I’ve always found his character asking Peggy out to “split a herring” a little gross. I mean that doesn’t sound like the most delicious invitation (to split a fish?).
During that famous kissing scene on the couch between Jennifer Holden’s character Sherry and Elvis’ character Vince, she adlibbed that great line, “I’m coming all unglued.” Maybe that is why Elvis carried Jennifer to safety when her dressing room caught fire from an electric heater. Playing the real life hero again, Elvis pulled Judy Tyler to safety stopping a glass door from swinging back and hitting her again (after she had already put her had through it). While on the set of Jailhouse Rock, Elvis judged a beauty contest where the winner earned a walk on part in the movie. Elvis chose Linda Williams as the winner and she was credited as “the girl in the bathing suit.” She was the one at the pool party who tells Vince “when you sing it’s really gonesville” after he performs “(You’re So Square) Baby I Don’t Care.”
Filming for Jailhouse Rock was completed on June 17th and eight days later Elvis was on a train to get back to his newly acquired Graceland. Two weeks later on July 3, Elvis’ costar Judy Tyler (and her husband) were killed in a car crash. Too distraught, reportedly Elvis never watched Jailhouse Rock – one of his best movies. Jailhouse Rock had its world premiere at Loew’s State Theater in Memphis on October 17, 1957 and was released nationally on November 8th. During its opening week, it reached #3 in Variety , was 14th for 1957 and grossed $4 Million in its initial release. Jailhouse Rock received lukewarm reviews pretty much saying that if you like Elvis (or ‘that sort of thing’) then you’ll love this movie and that Elvis had much improved from Loving You. In 2004, Jailhouse Rock was added to the Library of Congress Film Registry.
Also like Loving You, this movie was again a little autobiographical, except for the going to jail part, with Elvis’ character Vince Everett quickly becoming famous as a singer and a movie star. Vince’s friends become his entourage-on-the-payroll much like Elvis’ Memphis Mafia. I’ve always wondered if Vince’s line in jail about never hearing of a guitar player who made money came from Vernon. In Jailhouse Rock, Vince goes to jail for manslaughter and while inside sings on a television show and gains a little bit of fame. When he gets out, he meets Peggy (played by Judy Tyler) who is in the music business. Together they start Vince’s music career, which quickly goes to his head after becoming a movie star.
The songs from Jailhouse Rock were always favorites of mine growing up. Today my favorite off the soundtrack is a tie between “Don’t Leave Me Now” and “I Want to Be Free.” I also really enjoy “(You’re So Square) Baby I Don’t Care” (probably because of the pool party scene – love when Peggy says “Every time I see you you’re working a neck” when she spies Vince kissing a girl’s neck). I have four versions of the Jailhouse Rock soundtrack on vinyl. I have the original 7-inch 45rpm from 1957 (which for some reason “Treat Me Nice” was left off), a reproduction of the South African 12-inch 33 1/3 rpm release from 1958, the FTD double album of the Jailhouse Rock sessions (which is amazing – SO much Elvis talking and laughing) and the 10-inch double French release Jailhouse Rock The Alternative Album. Four hours one afternoon Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller wrote four of the six songs for Jailhouse Rock: “(You’re So Square) Baby I Don’t Care,” “I Want To Be Free,” “Jailhouse Rock” and “Treat Me Nice.” “Jailhouse Rock” entered the Billboard‘s Top 100 in October 1957 at #15 and was #1 within three weeks where it remained for seven weeks. “Jailhouse Rock” (with “Treat Me Nice” on the flip side) stayed on the charts for 27 weeks – that is over half a year. “Treat Me Nice” peaked at #18.
On April 30, 1957 in Radio Recorders in Hollywood, Elvis recorded “Jailhouse Rock,” “Treat Me Nice” and three versions of “Young and Beautiful” for the soundtrack. It was during this session that one of my favorite photos of Elvis was taken – Elvis playing the drums. I love drums and drummers and have an original copy of this photo! Elvis went back into the studio at Radio Recorders on May 3rd to record different versions of “Treat Me Nice,” “I Want to Be Free,” “(You’re So Square) Baby I Don’t Care” and “Don’t Leave Me Now.” On May 7th and 8th, Elvis was on the MGM Sound Stage to record the vocal overdub for the May 3rd recording “(You’re So Square) Baby, I Don’t Care.” Elvis walked out of his Jailhouse Rock session when his back up band was not allowed to warm up with him singing Gospel like he always did.
**I consulted The Elvis Files Vol 2, Elvis The Movies, Reel Elvis, Elvis Presley in the Movies, Elvis Films Faq, Jailhouse Rock Frame by Frame, Elvis Elvis Elvis The King and His Movies for more information**
To read my take on all of Elvis’ movies, please click HERE.