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Kid Galahad (Blu-ray Review)

4 Sep, 2017 By: Mike Clark

Available via ScreenArchives.com
Twilight Time
$29.95 Blu-ray
Not rated.
Stars Elvis Presley, Gig Young, Lola Albright, Joan Blackman, Charles Bronson.

For the Mirisch Brothers’ extremely loose take on the big-star Warner Bros. oldie from 1937, Elvis Presley takes as many boxing-ring punches to the face in Kid Galahad as Jake La Motta did on any routine night at the office. Yet the character the King plays here is so mellowed out (“Walter Gulick” sounds a lot more like one of Jerry Lewis’s monikers) that it would be beyond a stretch to term our star as anybody’s Raging Rocker here. By the way, if Jake ever waxed a ballad like Home Is Where the Heart Is, which Elvis croons to Joan Blackman, I am prepared to shell out big eBay bucks.

It was only late summer of 1962 with Elvis just two years out of the Army when some of his big-screen efforts began toying with drive-in exclusivity (and, in fact, I saw Kid Galahad under the stars myself, as the Cuban Missile Crisis approached). This is, in fact, quintessential drive-in fare for the era: a few songs (the score is definitely beyond decent), a few hoodlums, a few punches, Gig Young looking (as ever) half-swacked and Lola Albright in post-Peter Gunn black underwear to offer apparent proof that she’d been doing her daily Dyan Cannon sit-ups. All this and Ned Glass, too, who had recently come off the movie version of West Side Story, where (as “Doc”), he kept begging the cast of chorus-boy punks to please get along.

Just out of the Army himself, where his mechanical skills have made him a major force in the motor pool, Walter/Elvis returns to the upstate New York burg of his birth seeking points-and-plugs employment anywhere in town. Instead, he ends up in the ring amid a pugilists’ training camp run by a what-me-worry-ish Irishman played by Young, who’s in debt to boxing-biz mobsters who want some debts paid and maybe some of his skin. A trainer played by Charles Bronson (who’s definitely great to see in an Elvis movie) will eventually get his fingers broken by some of these characters, all of whom are candidates for the Johnny Stompanato Humanitarian Award. So the threat is serious, though not enough to keep Elvis from whistling as he works (he even sings something called “A Whistling Tune”). I think this was movie that convinced me of the correlation between Elvis and Roy Rogers vehicles. Roy, too, would break off from rearranging some assailant’s cheekbones for a few strums of the acoustic, though his cacophonic shirts stood in contrast to the King’s bare-chested look here.

And for all of its easygoing modesty, Kid does have one of my favorite Elvis-on-screen numbers (“I Got Lucky”) — performed with Blackman in her role as Young’s head-on-straight kid sister who nonetheless wants to marry the new guy in camp almost immediately after they meet. For one thing, the tune is catchy, and for another, I’ve always thought that Blackman looks as if she really does want to make it with her co-star at some cam-adjacent No-Tell Motel. It adds to the mood that her left shoulder strap keeps falling down during their slow twistin’ as Elvis sings — a happening that unlikely director Phil Karlson allows to remain in either for suggestive reasons or because Technical Advisor Col. Tom Parker (for what?) thought the cost of retakes would cut hundred dollars or so from his piece of the action. Meanwhile, the recruited extras in the background clapping to the beat make for a strange array: guys who look like members of the Elvis Mafia (and probably were); a Nancy Kulp type in pearls (who looks both lost and like, perhaps, some associate producer’s daughter given a gift cameo); and a sharply-dressed guy carrying his trim middle-aged self supremely well (he reminds me a little of Tom Landry).

In keeping with the screen era, the camp fighters are heavily weighted toward whiteness, even though my dad and I had watched tons of Archie Moore, Sugar Ray Robinson and Emile Griffith bouts (including the notorious Benny “Kid” Paret fatal one) on network TV throughout the later ’50s and early ’60s. This is an uncommonly well-groomed crew, and there’s a precious scene early on when “the gang” asks newcomer Walter to join them in their outdoor sing-a-long; it has everything but the Four Preps. Also in the cast are the young Edward Asner (assistant D.A.); young Bert Remsen (town cop); David Lewis (who’d been one of the office sleazes who took his taboo squeeze to Jack Lemmon’s pad in The Apartment); and Roy Roberts (back from the Blacklist). This was Blackman’s second appearance in an Elvis pic. The year before, she’d been the love interest in Blue Hawaii, where, if I remember correctly, she tanned exceptionally well.

Karlson was best known (and legitimately so) for his work as a specialist in underworld or film noir toughies — making this an odd assignment, though he’d later do the first and final Matt Helm spy comedies before the decade was out. The movie’s visual limitation – other than its thrown-together feel — is United Artists DeLuxe Color, which always looked a little green-ish to me, though the Blu-ray makes it look as good as possible and identical to my drive-in memory. Julie Kirgo’s liner notes do a good job of explaining why Kid is a pleasantly inoffensive time killer and why we’d all like to be able to cure our problems just by singing a song. (I tried, but Steve Bannon still looked the same.) The score includes “King of the Whole Wide World” during the opening credits, which was kind of a hit. The following Thanksgiving, however, brought Elvis’s Girls! Girls! Girls! from the Hal Wallis/Paramount factory, and it produced Return to Sender, which was a huge one.

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