Warner Bros. // 1968 // 94 Minutes // Rated G
Speedway is a significant entry in the film career of Elvis Presley. Not only was it his final, full-fledged musical, it was a return to form after a series of mostly forgettable films, and marked the only time he would collaborate with good pal/longtime fan Nancy Sinatra (who was among the welcoming committee when the King returned home from his two-year Army hitch). Although I hate to bring up the subject of Presley's weight, I don't know whether manager Colonel Parker gave him a good talkin' to, or if Francis Albert told Elvis to make his little girl look good, but the rock legend hadn't looked this great on camera since It Happened at the World's Fair. Additionally, he gives a charming performance, actually delivers his lines with feeling instead of walking through them like a homework assignment, and truly looks like he's enjoying himself for the first time in a long while.
The march toward the legendary late-1960s comeback had begun.
E plays Steve Grayson, a champion racecar driver whose heart is as big as his paydays (sounds like a charitable rock star we've all heard of). Want proof? Ask Abel (William Schallert), a former speedway competitor: On the verge of homelessness in a broken down Woody, Steve plays Santa Claus in springtime and gives Abe and his five young daughters a new station wagon, complete with groceries to last a month. Or what about what he did for Lori (Charlotte Stewart), the weepy waitress at the local disco, crying a river of tears because her med school boyfriend can't afford for them to get married. Cue the big church wedding, all expenses paid courtesy of Mr. Grayson.
Eat your heart out, Jeff Gordon.
A consistent winning record, a new girl in every town, a faithful pit stop crew, a personable gent that no one has a bad thing to say about?how lucky could one guy be? Well, that's about to change thanks to roomie/business manager Kenny (Bill Bixby) who apparently hasn't been taking care of business, judging by the way pretty IRS agent Susan Jacks (Sinatra) has been tracking Steve's winnings and reporting back to her boss, Mr. Hepworth (Gale Gordon).
In addition to an above average soundtrack (including Who Are You?, one of the prettiest ballads to ever grace a Presley film and the fiery Let Yourself Go, which would be utilized to even better advantage in a production number added to later broadcasts of Elvis' historic '68 Comeback Special), Speedway boasts one of the star's best supporting casts, including late-'60s variety show favorite Carl Ballantine (the funniest magician ever), cutie-pie Victoria Meyerink (neck and neck with World Fair's Vickie Tiu as the most adorable child star Presley ever worked with), future Little House on the Prairie/Twin Peaks cast member Stewart (working with David Lynch and Elvis; how cool is that?), and, of course, the wonderful Bixby (who apparently hit if off with Elvis in real life, too) and rock's first bad girl her groovy self, Nancy Sinatra.
Most of Elvis' latter-day movies weren't impressive on technical levels due to assembly line production, but Speedway boasts some impressive second unit footage that was actually shot on location at North Carolina's famed Charlotte Motor Speedway, as well as impressive cinematography by Academy Award winner Joseph Ruttenberg (Gigi, Mrs. Miniver). Finally, in the "would you believe" department, director Quentin Tarrentino's Jack Rabbit Slim's set design for Pulp Fiction was inspired by the Hangout's race car booth disco setting seen here.
Image Transfer Review: Save for three to four instances of brief edge enhancement, an exceedingly colorful presentation. Taken from an excellent print, I can't think of any other negatives; one of the best of the new-to-DVD Elvis features. Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: Despite the limitations of single-track mono (I'm all for any movie of this type to be decoded into 2.0), Speedway boasts impressive clarity; depending on your home theater set-up, this is capable of some decent low end that really exerts itself during the racing sequences. Grade: B+
Scene Access with 27 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Thai, Korean, Indonesian with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Double Trouble, Spinout, The Trouble with Girls
Packaging: Keep Case
Extras Review: Although the bonus trailers for other Presley pics are a nice touch, I wish Warner would have spent a little more moolah and commissioned at least a retrospective piece (not only here, but on all their recent Elvis reissues); certainly Nancy Sinatra has a few interesting recollections to share. But it's hard to quibble too much with the great presentation of the film itself at such a low price point.
Singing! Racing! Elvis! Nancy! Perhaps the only movie in history to feature a production number inside an IRS office! One of Presley's most enjoyable, better latter-day vehicles finally crosses the DVD finish line.
? 2004 Jeff Rosado