Race driver Lucky Jackson pitches up in Las Vegas for a race but is forced to work as a waiter to earn money to fix his car when the engine breaks. Falling for local swimming pool attendant/dance teacher Rusty Martin only complicates things.
Elvis made thirty-one films in his lifetime (and managed to feature in many more after his death!) and to even the most hardened fan will admit that most of them – to use a technical term – suck.
Viva Las Vegas stands among the few that not only do not suck, but, actually, are rather good. Perhaps it was the chemistry between flame-haired Ann-Margret and Elvis (which continued off-screen and matured into a lifetime friendship – Ann-Margret was his only film co-star to attend his funeral). Certainly both of them seem to inject the film with a genuine sense of fun and sass which were sorely missing in some of his other dead eyed film performances (including the excruciating Kissing Cousins released the same year). But it’s also that Viva Las Vegas captured everything that has come to be synonymous which the legend himself.
This was the start of the idea of Elvis adding “of Vegas” to his unofficial title of King of Rock ‘n’ Roll and he owned this city. The consummate showman effortlessly glides through the best set of songs in any Elvis movie from the titular Viva Las Vegas, wonderfully duelling with Ann-Margaret in The Lady Loves Me and making her shake everything she’s got in the college gym– a memorably sight - to C’mon Everybody, and still leaves space for What Did I Say? and Yellow Rose Of Texas.
Although it became one of the best-grossing Elvis films ever, the soundtrack was pretty much chucked out by RCA, butchered of other highlights and it emerged later that more songs had been recorded for the film, which finally made it onto soundtrack recordings in the 1970s.
Viva Las Vegas also serves as a reminder of Presley’s potential as an actor. Early performances in King Creole (1958) and Flaming Star (1960) – in a role that was intended for Marlon Brando – suggested he could have been more than a hack player, but his manager Colonel Tom Parker was more interesting in churning out cash cows. Viva Las Vegas showed that Presley given the right partner, could move towards romantic comedy roles that might appeal to more than his fanbase. But Parker dismissed this film too, feeling someone like Ann-Margaret was too much of a threat to Elvis’s star status. It’s a shame because pairing them again in something a little less lightweight could have been interesting.
Elvis not only rocks the city of lights but also showed he could act.