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Elvis (DVD Review)

1 Feb, 2010 By: Mike Clark

Prebook 2/2/10; Street 3/2/10
Shout! Factory
$19.97 DVD
Not rated.
Stars Kurt Russell, Shelley Winters, Season Hubley, Bing Russell.

When Kurt Russell subsequently made Escape from New York and Escape from L.A. for director John Carpenter, the slippery jailbird he played had the finest moniker this side of Merle Haggard or Ersel Hickey for a country artist: Snake Plissken. But who’d want to play just any old singer when Carpenter has already directed you as “The King”?

Dick Clark produced Elvis in 1979 for ABC-TV, and it went on to earn a Golden Globe nomination. The biopic is boilerplate, albeit very high-end, and spans 1952-69 (when Presley made his Las Vegas debut).

Russell’s performance is exceptionally studied (if your subject is Elvis, it had better be), and his nailing of the singer’s mannerisms and speech patterns (uh-huh, uh-huh) still leaves me all shook up.

Shelley Winters is surprisingly touching as mama Gladys (the actress offers some interesting I-was-there observations about Elvis on the DVD extras), and the script bisects the Presley saga with a natural break with Gladys’ death, much as author Peter Guralnick’s definitive two-part biography would.

It’s kind of a family affair here, with Russell’s real-life daddy Bing playing father Vernon Presley and Season Hubley (married for a while in real life to Russell) cast as Priscilla Presley, whose Graceland stir craziness (life as a karate lesson) gets its due here.

And lo and behold, that’s Joe Mantegna as one of the Memphis Mafia — two decades before the pop torch got passed for him to play Dean Martin in HBO’s 1998 movie The Rat Pack (also on DVD).

Other extras include commentary by Ronnie McDowell (who recreates Elvis’s “voice” in the movie — and very well) and Presley cousin Edie Hand; and minor featurettes.

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