Clambake has become a byword for the degeneration of Elvis's film career. Critics who haven't even taken the time to familiarize themselves with his movie legacy are quick to reference it, as if the name alone is evidence enough of how a man who once embodied cool rebellion descended into playful farce.
Elvis himself is said to have become overwhelmed with depression upon being presented with the script, and maybe just knowing about his personal turmoil at the time has the effect of casting a shadow over it's tropical locations, gentle 'trading places' plot and the overall frenzy of grilled seafood and song.
But how do we feel about Clambake?
It's a good looking movie, so I wasn't at all surprised when MGM HD selected it for one of the earliest High Definition broadcasts of his films. Like a lot of late-60s cinema, it's a kaleidoscope of saturated colors, and if you want to see Elvis and Shelley Fabares romping on crudely blue-screened waterskis, you might as well get a proper look.
The soundtrack is hit-and-miss at best and the shambolic mix of the title tune is especially unforgivable in the movie itself, but there are redeeming moments in the slower, more reflective numbers.
The bottom line for me is that it's one of my most frequently viewed of his films. The weaknesses are part of what makes it so 'watchable', whether you're trying to spot the fabled band-aid on his forehead or marveling at the spectacle of Elvis on top of a climbing frame, pretending to shoot a playground full of children before turning his invisible gun on himself.
His embarrassment is conspicuous in some scenes and he's clearly not in his best physical condition, but it's easier to live with this when you remind yourself that within a year of Clambake's release, the Comeback Special was nestled 'in the can' like a coiled snake, waiting to deliver his rebirth as the lean-hipped sex-god of rock'n'roll in a single potent strike. After all, Clambake could be regarded as one of the triggers for this overdue renaissance, since it effectively focused Elvis's creeping dissatisfaction with his career's decadent malaise in a way which he could no longer ignore.
So with all things considered, is Clambake the catastrophe which it's so readily flagged-up to be? I admit that it is better enjoyed in hindsight, since movie-goers in the day possibly felt like they were witnessing the end of the road- but is anyone else here able to concede that they have a secret affection for Clambake?