JAILHOUSE ROCK - Blu-ray review

Jailhouse Rock is a strong film from an incredible talent that has been greatly missed.


I want more Elvis Presley on Blu-ray. In one night, I sat down and enjoyed "Viva Las Vegas" and "Jailhouse Rock." Both films looked absolutely amazing and sounded brilliant. They showcased Elvis' ability to entertain and provided for a very nice evening with my older sister, who is a tremendous Elvis fan. "Viva Las Vegas" was a fun romantic comedy musical, while "Jailhouse Rock" is a far superior film, but lacks the humor and good nature of the later film. Where "Viva Las Vegas" was the beginning of the end of Elvis' hold on the entertainment industry, "Jailhouse Rock" was released at a time when the King's stature was growing taller all of the time and there was no hotter star in the world. When Elvis' third film, "Jailhouse Rock" was released, there was nobody bigger and "Jailhouse Rock" stands as a testament to Elvis Presley's ability to act and sing. This film showed he was a complete entertainer.

Elvis had struck gold with his first two films, "Love Me Tender" and "Loving You." "Jailhouse Rock" was the third film released in short order for the singer. It was released at a time when Rock and Roll music was still not fully accepted by the American public and Pelvis Elvis was looked at as being too racy for many viewers. Regardless of some of the public's hesitation to accept Elvis as a megastar with limitless talent, he was seen as a rebel. "Jailhouse Rock" downplays the rock and roll aspect of Elvis career and paints a picture that the star is a cocksure and arrogant rebel. This is in strong contrast to how the singer truly was and his character Vince Everett provides a vehicle for Elvis to show his talents as an actor, but does not paint a picture of the man himself. This film showed a harder and stronger persona of Elvis than the more tender first films.

In the film, Vince Everett is placed in prison after killing a man in a barroom fistfight. The prison's warden (Hugh Sanders) wants to make an example of the man convicted of manslaughter and he is placed in a jail cell with a former country star, Hunk Houghton (Mickey Shaughnessy), who is behind bars for a bank robbery when his musical career floundered. Hunk educates the young Vince on the merits of keeping his nose clean in prison and the value of a carton of cigarettes. Hunk quickly realizes that Vince has a great singing voice, but is not very strong with a guitar. Hunk lands Vince a spot on a televised musical special from the prison and Vince quickly becomes a heartthrob with the American audience and the prison is inundated with fan mail addressed to the prisoner. Hunk wants to capitalize on Vince's future success and the Warden does not want the letters to be given to Vince, so they are kept hidden until Vince is set free.

During their time together in the same cell, Vince and Hunk create a strong friendship. Vince takes a beating after he strikes a prison guard and Hunk tells Vince that he offered all of the cigarettes he had to prevent the whipping from happening, but that he did not have the three hundred packs required. Vince signs a paper contract with Hunk in prison that gives Hunk fifty percent of any future earnings by Vince. Hunk knows the music business and feels that fifty percent is a fair number as a managing partner.

When Vince is released, he gets his fan letters and quickly sets out to find a guitar and begin his musical career. Vince travels to a pawn shop and puts everything he has into purchasing a guitar. He is cocky and feels that success is guaranteed and quickly takes a job working as a bus boy for a restaurant with a live band and a stage. He storms the stage at the restaurant and sings a song against his manager's wishes. Unfortunately, his performance bombs, but he catches the eye of Peggy Van Alden (Judy Tyler, who was sadly killed in a car accident after the film), a woman who works for the musical industry and checks numbers of juke boxes for information on the biggest hits and helps move record singles. Vince is eager to work with Peggy and find out how he can succeed. He had destroyed his guitar when a patron refused to stop laughing.

Vince and Peggy being a strong friendship and after some missteps and troubles breaking into the musical business, they succeed and Vince Everett becomes a huge star. His unchecked ego gets in the way and his desire to have more and more money pushes Peggy away. The two have found a bond, but Vince continually ignores his feelings for her for fame and fortune. He ends up with a leggy and gorgeous blonde and nearly loses Peggy as a friend and partner. Eventually, Hunk leaves prison and hunts down Vince. He mentions his contract and asks Vince for a chance to have another go in the musical business. Hunk bombs in his performance, but Vince tells Hunk he will continue to give him ten percent for trying to buy the Warden out of beating Vince too badly. Hunk sees how much Vince has changed and tries to save him from self destructing.

In the end, a fight between Hunk and Vince finds Vince refusing to strike back at his friend. Hunk is tired of Vince walking all over his friends and use everybody as a stepping stone for more success in the film and musical industries. Hunk sees how much Peggy cares for him and despises the way Hunk mistreats the pretty girl. In the fight, Vince's vocal chords are damaged and his ability to every sing again comes into question. Vince discovers the wrongs in his ways and begins to change for his friends. He gets the girl, but gets to keep his fame and success.

"Jailhouse Rock" is an entertaining picture that shows Elvis had true talent. He was not a trained actor, but he could bring believability to his performances and his turn as the arrogant Vince Everett could easily bring one to believe that Elvis was not a very nice man in real life. This is, of course, not the truth and although he portrayed a young superstar and some of the things seen on-screen could mirror Elvis' own career, he shows a character that is a jerk and completely different from his own demeanor. The story is perhaps the best written Elvis picture and one of his strongest performances. It does not feature as many hokey and oddly placed musical numbers as many of his later films and the songs fit nicely into place with most of the scenes in the film. The rest of the cast performs admirably, but he lacked the chemistry that he showed in "Viva Las Vegas" with Ann-Margret. "Jailhouse Rock" is a strong film from an incredible talent that has been greatly missed.

"Jailhouse Rock" is now fifty years old. It is a black and white film and I was surprised at a few details regarding the new transfer on Blu-ray. First, I expected "Jailhouse Rock" to be shown in 1.33:1 full frame and was quite surprised that the film was presented in a very wide 2.4:1 widescreen film. Secondly, the picture quality is both detailed and clean. I was not expecting anything nearly as impressive as what I witnessed in watching this VC-1 encoded film. Detail is very strong. Individual hairs on Elvis' head can be counted. Fabric threads can be picked out. The film is nearly three dimensional in some scenes. Contract between the various shades of grey are good and whites are clean and blacks are accurate. Shadow detail is strong. The source materials were impeccably clean. No annoying instances of film grain were present and I couldn't recall a single speck of dirt. I have not seen many black and white films on Blu-ray, but I was definitely amazed at how well this one looked in high definition.

Somebody at Warner Bros. deserves a huge pat on the back. The person in question was whomever decided that a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack should accompany the original mono soundtrack and an improved Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. I feel I could simply cut and paste my entire "Sound" section from my "Viva Las Vegas" review because everything said there applies here. The musical numbers are strong. The .1 LFE channel was perhaps more apparent than the other film. Dialogue is very good, but I did notice one or two minor instances of clipping. The TrueHD soundtrack is definitely the way to go on this release. Purists will enjoy the mono soundtrack and it was again, surprising in its quality. One of the primary reasons to watch an Elvis Presley movie is for its music and even when Elvis was trying to sound less than stellar, the music sounded great. The film's classic title song sounds amazing and better than my DVD-Audio release of Elvis' number one hits. "Jailhouse Rock" sounds great on Blu-ray.

"Jailhouse Rock" has been released on all three current formats. The supplements are the same across all releases. The two primary supplements are nicely done, but there is not a lot of depth to the focus of the supplements. The Commentary by Steve Pond, Author of Elvis in Hollywood is just as good as the commentary track that he did for "Viva Las Vegas." Pond goes into great detail about aspects regarding the filming, Elvis' life and his career. He is well spoken and never a bore to listen to. I highly recommend this commentary. The new featurette The Scene That Stole Jailhouse Rock (15:29) finds a way to create an entire featurette on Elvis and his iconic scene in "Jailhouse Rock" where he sings the title song. The feature goes into the impact of Elvis' dancing and singing. It is quite entertaining, but could have had a little more scope to it. The Theatrical Trailer finalizes the short list of offerings.

Closing Comments:
This is a classic film. If there was an Elvis Presley film that I would recommend to somebody to watch, it would be "Jailhouse Rock." If I was recommending an Elvis film to show off the capabilities of Blu-ray, it would be "Viva Las Vegas." That film is colorful and more detailed than this picture. Thankfully, "Jailhouse Rock" is still incredibly detailed and looks spectacular for being fifty years old. The black and white picture is impeccable. Sound is also quite good. The supplements are not numerous, but they are worth checking out. The two releases from the King on Blu-ray are notable. This is the better picture, but not the better show of technology. It is an entertaining and nicely done picture that shows Elvis' multiple talents. I certainly hope Warner Bros. will release a few more pictures from the King. The first two efforts have been great.


Film Value