Play It Again – Viva Las Vegas

Play It Again – Viva Las Vegas. By Jess Lomas.

Play It Again is a weekly feature in which classic-film connoisseur Jess Lomas revisits a revered motion picture from the annals of movie history, to see if it holds up… or if it has aged terribly. And yes, it takes its name from a famously misquoted Casablanca line (hey, whatever; it fits!).

Whether you’re an Elvis Presley fan or not, there’s something special about watching the King sing “Bright light city gonna set my soul, gonna set my soul on fire” at the opening of 1964’s Viva Las Vegas. While the majority of his films have been described as variations of Elvis punching a guy, winning the girl, and singing some songs in between, Viva Las Vegas was a cinema landmark he would never reach again, thanks to the direction of George Sidney (Kiss Me Kate) and the chemistry with his co-star Ann-Margret.

Presley plays race car driver Lucky Jackson, who arrives in Las Vegas for the first annual Grand Prix. Unfortunately, Lucky’s car needs a new engine, and although he raises the cash he soon misplaces it when chasing after the local swim instructor Rusty (Ann-Margret). While Lucky is forced to work as a hotel waiter, his competition, Count Elmo Mancini (Cesare Danova), has his sights on winning not only the race but also the girl. It’s such a simplistic plot, but it works.

The film has ten song and dance numbers, including several sizzling routines from Ann-Margret who really knew how to shake what she was given. David Winters (West Side Story) choreographed the musical sequences and was recommended by his dance student at the time – Ann-Margret. It was his first time choreographing a feature film but his moves stand out as fresh and energetic.

Viva Las Vegas is a testament to the Sixties’ musical – loud and bright, complete with artificial backdrops, over the top scenarios and reactions, and culminating in a breathtaking car race. From Ann-Margret’s delightful costumes to the couple’s elaborate first date – which includes water skiing and a helicopter ride amongst other activities, Viva Las Vegas is a pleasant delight.

As with most films of its kind, there are more than its fair share of unintentional mistakes and quirks which make for many laughs. The race scene in particular, which is beautifully filmed and is quite exhilarating, has several issues with consistency that only add to its charm. Try to get your hands on the Blu-ray transfer – it’s sublime.

Discuss: Viva Las Vegas!

2 Responses to “Play It Again – Viva Las Vegas”

  1. Only in the 60s could you have a photo where one bloke is wearing a bright yellow jacket and the one behind a plain crew neck pullover.

  2. George Sidney?! No wonder!

    I still love Speedway the best. As hot as Ann-Margret is, there was just something about the way Elvis and Nancy Sinatra snarled at each other, and there’s that amazingly hot moment when he just picks her up and places her on the bar so he can talk to her and the way she glares daggers at him is just too too delicious. Hee.

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