The success of your average Elvis formula film depends on the getting the elements of the formula right. In "Spinout" the quality of the elements is largely deficient with the glaring exception of the soundtrack making this one worth it for the songs only.
In many, many ways "Spinout" demonstrates the reasons that Elvis' movies are reviled by some fans and critics despite the fact that star vehicles are the norm for most movies stars. "Spinout" is a bad star vehicle.
To say the plot of the movie is stupid is to give it too much credit. Elvis is Mike McCoy a professional singer AND race car driver. A millioniare's daughter wants him to sing at her birthday party for a large of sum of money. Her father wants Mike to race his car. Mike on a personal whim made to seem like a stand of principle refuses. Three women, two of whom barely know him, fall in love with Mike and plan to marry him. Mike must choose. There's your plot. Not even one fully formed concept, just a bunch of half-baked ideas.
To be fair in the Elvis formula movie the plot is secondary. But, the things that are supposed to make the movie work just don't work. The supporting cast while filled with able players like Donna Reed Vets Shelly Fabares and Carl Betz play essentially annoying characters. The character played by Diane McBain is so smug, self-satisfied and self-involved she is cringe inducing. Her character is made even less bearable by the signature music- a few harmonica notes followed I think a harp- that plays almost every time she appears on screen.
The rest of the incidental music is far too cutesy as well as is most of the humor. Mistaking a guy for a girl is not in and of itself a funny idea and it's a running gag here.
I don't know what to say about Norman Taurog's direction. His attitude was basically turn the camera on. There are no real production numbers. Just Elvis walking around, followed by some random go go dancers. The screen "band" as in "Girl Happy" makes no pretense that they are actually playing.
The key element that doesn't work is Elvis himself. He is notiecably overweight and his hair looks phony. His line readings are slow and flat. In nearly every scene he has the look of a man who cannot wait until what he is doing is over. He doesn't have fun. The agonized smirk that he gives when making a "Hound Dog" reference tells the whole story.
Elvis' performance makes "Spinout" depressing at times. In one scene Elvis nervously jiggles his hands and rolls his shoulders as if he is uncomfortable in his own skin. That this is the same man who flashed that beautiful unselfconscious smile of pride at the crowd's reactions, who enjoyed nothing more than performing, on the Ed Sullivan Show is heartbreaking.
In all fairness, playing Mike McCoy would make anyone depressed. He's supposed to be a man's and a free spirit. Yet he comes off as a commitment phobe. He can't even commit to a career. A lot of his attitude is unnecessary and unrealistic, attitude for attitude's sake.
There is one saving element to the film though and that's the soundtrack. "Spinout" has arguably the best soundtrack of any post-Army Elvis movie. It certainly is the most rocking soundtrack. Possibly the reason for this is that Mike McCoy was supposed to the leader of a hip young rock band and the writers responded accordingly. It's worth noting that the gold here is in the uptempo numbers and not the ballads, usually the reverse scenario for a later Elvis movie.
Whatever the reason, Elvis and the band really crank it up and come up with an interpretation of the then current beat crazy LA rock scene. The two ballads are not much but "All That I Am"- sung too evenly by Elvis- was the first Presley song to incorporate strings.
The heart of the soundtrack is five uptempo numbers- "Spinout", "Stop Look and Listen", "Adam and Evil", "I'll Be Back" and "Never Say Yes"- that all made good use of a prominent electric guitar, organ and Hal Blaine's furious drumming.
The setting invigorates Elvis who swaggers through the material. These songs rank a notch or two below Elvis' best work but they are still really good and would rank near the tops of the catalogues of some of Elvis' contemporaries.
The highlights are the title track and "I'll Be Back". "Spinout" somewhat clumsily uses an automobile as a metaphor for sexual frustration but Elvis' vocal, which uses a lot of his range, along with a beat dictated by some crackerjack organ and drums make the song a near classic.
"I'll Be Back" riding a tough guitar line but a slower tempo is even better. It's actually a blues or a pop interpretation of blues and Elvis uses all his tricks in his arsenal including a breathy mumble to close out the tune.
Brimming with confidence, cutting through quick phrases like Paul Bunyan through kindling, smiling and for once in an attractive outfit, watching Elvis sing this number you can finally say in this movie "There's our Elvis. There's the King of Rock and Roll".
This being an Elvis movie there are some goofy novelty songs. But "Smorgasboard" with its jazzy sax and the light calypso "Beach Shack" are not bad as far as those things go.
The DVD of the movie like the other recent MGM releases is absolutely phenomenonal in terms of sound and visuals. Watching Elvis and Carl Betz outside at the racetrack, I felt was standing right next to them. When Shelly Fabares appears in a bikini (that's a plus besides the soundtrack) I found out her bikini is light blue not white as I had thought for years. That's how good the color is.
So, pick this one up for the songs. It's worth it for that.
? 2004 - likethebike