It’s a Weld, Wald, Wild World

Did you know there’s an Elvis movie written by Clifford Odets? Because I did not know there’s an Elvis movie written by Clifford Odets. Nobody told me. Thanks a lot, my so-called friends.

WILD IN THE COUNTRY isn’t maybe as great as that makes it sound. Elvis actually acquits himself well, and gets to say “Hate’s a rattlesnake bitin’ his own tail,” the line he was born to say. But it clearly started life as just a straight drama and then they had to add songs when they cast the King. Fiona said, “Oh no, this feels weird,” when he first started in on the vocals. You needed Michael Palin in HOLY GRAIL guise to come in and shout, “No singing!”Inserting Elvis into a film opens up problems, it seems, despite him being a charismatic screen personality and a perfectly good, very natural actor. But the need to have him be Elvis on top of whatever he’s nominally supposed to be playing makes for an uncomfortable duality. And this bleeds over into the blurbs on the back of the DVD cases, which are a whole art form unto themselves —

Presley specialised in playing the bad boy, and this is Elvis at his baddest! ‘Wild in the Country’ features Elvis in one of his greatest and most overlooked roles; a rebellious backwoods delinquent gifted with a rare literary talent. Hope Lange is the sympathetic psychiatrist who tries to help Elvis […}”

That’s when I laughed out loud. I think the key to this form is to get Elvis’s name in as often as possible. I may try rewriting other movie synopses, inserting Elvis at every opportunity. If this Sunday [as I write this] continues to be so rainy, I may have to.

The Odets dialogue is not delivered quite as “hard and fast” as its author preferred (see SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS for an example of how it should be done) but is quite effective, hampered only by director Philip Dunne (“who never lets us down” – The Cleopatra Papers) and his devotion to sluggishness.

“[…] that’s an eventuality that won’t be eventuatin’.”

andTuesday: “I wanna get out of here. I’m young. I want a good time out of life.”

[I want to hotcha-cha-cha!]

Elvis: “Then do it, hon. Paint your toenails red and run away.”

Tuesday: “It needs a man to go to Hell with, because that’s what I want. Hours and hours of Heaven that just slides on down to Hell and we don’t care how or when it ends. You’re wild, Glenn, just like me. Unhappy wild!”

God I love Technicolor.

Here’s Sheila O’Malley’s majestic appreciation of the Elvis oeuvre, a field so rich WITC does not even rate a mention. But this is a superb piece.

WILD IN THE COUNTRY stars Toby Kwimper; Joanna Kersey; Sue Ann Stepanek; Anne Frank; Cpl. Crump; Cherry Valance; Astronaut Frank Poole; and Alfred the butler.


8 Responses to “It’s a Weld, Wald, Wild World”

  1. David Ehrenstein Says:

  2. Tony Williams Says:

    David, I never mentioned this to you because I thought you had little interest in “The King”s cinematic achievements! However, as Michael Caine would say, “Not many people know this”. I saw the film on first release and when later researching Odets regarded the film as a happy version of GOLDEN BOY. This was one of the Hollywwod ventures that the disgraced writer (“Oh, Odets! Where is thy sting?”) was criticized for but as one critic later observed, even fram boys like the Elvis character deserved their chance of breaking free from a grim environment.

    Thanks also for sending me that file I appreciated very much.

  3. No problem!

    Been meaning to watch Odets directing his own words in The Story on Page One. That has to be at least a bit interesting.

  4. revelator60 Says:

    Apparently the character played by Hope Lange was to be played by Simone Signoret, but sadly that fell through. The film was compromised when Odets was fired shortly before filming began and again when Spyros Skouras agreed with the Colonel to add more songs.

    Elvis’s best biographer, Peter Guralnick, interviewed Millie Perkins and she was pretty scathing about the film: “I think that everybody making the movie thought, ‘We’re classier than all those other Elvis Presley movies. We’re so much better.’ Everyone was going around patting themselves on the back for being artists.”

    She thought Elvis was disappointed by Philip Dunne, who she considered a poseur. She believed Elvis “tried very hard to make this film better than his other movies, and you saw him trying and asking questions. And I just believe the sad thing is that [the director] did not have the ability to help Elvis through it. I remember doing this one scene; we were sitting in the truck, and we were supposed to be driving home from a dance or going to a dance, and in the script he was supposed to break into song, turn on the radio and start singing…while we were rehearsing, finally the director walked away, and Elvis looks at me and says, ‘God, this is so embarrassing. Nobody would ever do this in real life. Why are they making me do this?’ So there we were, both of us having to do something and we just wanted to vomit. He never used his star power—-never. Maybe he should have.”

    Guralnick is unimpressed by Elvis’s performance: “He simply seems lost in the role, ambling his way through it, alternating between bouts of sullenness that start and end with bombastic declamation and equally silly posturings of trembling sensitivity.
    You look at the actor up on the movie screen, and he is simply not engaged. There is one moment early in the film when the character speaks of his dead mother, and a sense of genuine sorrow and regret seems to come through. Elvis is clearly visualizing his own experience, using emotions that he has himself felt to summon up a wellspring of conflicting feelings. But otherwise—-nothing. He is flat, he blurts out his lines, there is an almost total absence of timing, conviction, commitment, tone. If you doubt your eyes, contrast this with his performance in King Creole, full of jauntiness, assurance, an ease and melodiousness of nuanced approach.”

  5. I don’t know how Dunne got to direct ten movies, all of them undistinguished by any visual flare or striking performances. He was a competent screenwriter but I don’t even know how he got to direct when other, better writers never had a chance.

    I think Elvis is OK here except that they don’t give us any help believing in his literart talent, and then they seem to want us to disbelieve in his musical talent since he sings but nobody suggests he might take it up professionally.

  6. Tony Williams Says:

    THE STORY ON PAGE ONE is not all that bad and contains a good supporting performance by Sandy Meisner

  7. Elvis … gets to say “Hate’s a rattlesnake bitin’ his own tail,”

    Why didn’t they get him to sing it?

  8. David Ehrenstein Says:

    Millie Perkins is just plain wonderful on and off the screen.

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