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Elvis on Tour (Blu-ray Review)

9 Aug, 2010 By: Mike Clark

Music Documentary
$19.96 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray
Rated ‘G.’
Stars Elvis Presley.

Clark Gable’s screen career went out with The Misfits, Humphrey Bogart’s with The Harder They Fall and Spencer Tracy’s with Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner — each a movie that provided its lead actor with one of his signature roles. Elvis Presley had a more modest time of it, befitting (in strictly comparative terms) a more modest screen career.

He went out with this unpretentious but now rather affecting performance film/documentary, in which the human dynamo of his era had already begun to re-pick up the poundage he’d lost (and kept off for a while) to abet his svelte leather look for NBC’s famed 1968 “Comeback Special.” In Tour, Elvis just gets away with his appearance in what few had the time probably realized would be his swan song, despite a Mitch McConnell-type double chin already in full force.

Thanks in part to Tour’s “Technical Advisor” Col. Tom Parker (a familiar on-screen credit that regularly used to get hissed whenever I programmed an Elvis movie at the American Film Institute Theater), the King’s big-screen currency wasn’t buying very much by the end of the 1960s. Presley’s last two films were concert affairs starting with 1970’s Elvis: That’s the Way It Is — a one-time shrug-off whose New York City opening night I caught in an empty theater, yet also one whose substantial 2001 re-editing turned it into one of the finest Elvis showcases ever. Then came this follow-up, which was certainly as respectable as anything else an already sickly MGM had to offer exhibitors in 1972. And yet it mostly played in second-run theaters and drive-ins, which couldn’t offer much in terms of sound or projection.

As a result, the Blu-ray presentation in particular is a rather pleasing rendering, and I enjoyed this swan song substantially more than I had the two or three previous times over the years. With the passage of time, it’s now easy to see that Elvis’s final screen appearance came at exactly the apt moment — though it’s also likely that had he taken the Kris Kristofferson role in Barbra Streisand’s 1976 remake of A Star Is Born (a momentous brainstorm that was floated for a while), another slim-down would have occurred. Obviously, it would have been a more compelling movie as well.

Tour turns out to be something of a stew that includes a tribute to old Elvis movies (alas, the predominantly lousy ones controlled by MGM, which by no means precludes amusing clips) and a look-back at his Ed Sullivan heyday. But this isn’t a knock because the “Montage Supervisor” here was some kid named Martin Scorsese, who, with subsequent longtime associate Thelma Schoonmaker, had previously had been one of the chief editors on Michael Wadleigh’s Woodstock. 

Predictably (and why not?), the reliable playlist is largely assembled from Presley’s Vegas-era lineup: “Polk Salad Annie,” “Proud Mary,” “Never Been to Spain,” “American Trilogy” and, at the time, a new one he introduces called “Burning Love” (which, by eventually going to No. 2 on the Billboard charts, became Elvis’s last bonanza hit). There are also some meaningful backstage gospel breaks with his entourage, a sampling of what Elvis had to go through with humble chamber of commerce types on every municipal pass-through (he is characteristically polite in response) and an instructive scene of how his handlers protected him via all but a Flying Wedge to whisk him into the limo so that the announcement could be made that “Elvis has left the building.” You also get a sense of what the metabolic grind the road is on performers. A touring schedule included with the Blu-ray lists 15 consecutive days of shows, including two-a-day performances each in Knoxville, Macon and Jacksonville — the last two engagements on consecutive days.

The presentation exploits the split-screen technology then very much in vogue during the post-Woodstock movie era. Though for some reason, only Robert Abel rates a profile in the Blu-ray booklet, the direction is officially co-credited to Abel and Pierre Adidge. Abel later co-directed 1973’s overlooked but sublime Let the Good Times Roll (never released in any kind of home version but occasionally aired on Turner Classic Movies) — while Adidge, who died young in 1974, was director on Joe Cocker’s preceding Mad Dogs & Englishmen (which Abel produced). Overall, Elvis could have done a lot worse. Except for his brief interview in Listen Up: the Lives of Quincy Jones, Frank Sinatra’s last big-screen appearance came with a cameo in Cannonball Run II.

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