My husband and I saw Elvis Presley in concert last weekend, or more accurately, some guy who impersonated him. You see, my husband’s an Elvis fan and I think that’s pretty cool. So we went to see this guy do Elvis and he put on quite a show! Seeing a guy dressed up as Elvis, doing his mannerisms and singing his songs got me thinking about the many movies that feature Elvis impersonators paying homage to the late “King of Rock and Roll.”
In 3000 Miles to Graceland, you’ve got not one but five actors playing Elvis. It’s a pretty dark and desperate movie, which tries to be one part comedy and one part action, but doesn’t really succeed on either level. It’s about a gang of guys who rob a casino while masquerading as Elvis impersonators. The most impressive scene in this forgettable and disappointing film is the robbery scene that is intercut a lot with an Elvis revue. The movie suffers from predictable plot points and clichés, some implausible actions and not enough thought. One lone highlight is Kurt Russell’s impersonation of Elvis. He also portrayed the late King of Rock and Roll in a TV movie and delves deep and believably again here. The film had a killer trailer which hinted at the promise of a good film, but the full feature failed to deliver.
A much better film with a wonderfully uncanny impersonation of Elvis is Bubba Ho-Tep. It’s an interesting film that’s hard to describe due in large part to its rather convoluted story. It’s also a blend of several different genres – part comedy, thriller and sci-fi all rolled into one. In an overly simplistic synopsis, the film is about a guy named Sebastian Haff who has all of the physical and behavioural attributes of Elvis Presley. He’s in a residential rest home where the staff believe Haff is a second-rate Elvis impersonator, but the real story, according to him, is that he is Elvis and he’s spent years impersonating himself thanks to an agreement he made with an Elvis impersonator he paid to impersonate him. They even had a contract, but it got burned in a barbeque explosion. Confusing, right? That’s only the beginning. There’s also a battle with insects and an Egyptian deity out to steal the souls of the living. What I will say about the film is that it’s unusual and original and Bruce Campbell’s performance as Elvis is incredible not just because of his uncanny ability to portray The King, but because of his ability to portray a guy doing a damn good job of impersonating The King. It’s a highly entertaining film that amidst all of its sci-fi strangeness, tells an important tale about what happens to us as we age and the feelings of indignity we can suffer when we’re reliant upon another to do the things that we’re no longer able to do.
In True Romance, a great movie written by Quentin Tarantino, Val Kilmer portrays the ghost of Elvis Presley. It’s a small role, but an effective one in a film about true love, the extent to which one will go to for the one he loves; the love of movies, the love of comics and the love of Elvis. When Clarence and Alabama, newlyweds with stolen cocaine in hand, go on the run from Alabama’s angry and betrayed pimp, they get caught up in shoot-outs and showdowns, and helping Clarence through each and every trial and tribulation is the ghost of Elvis Presley. The sage-like counseling sessions are entertaining, effective and memorable as brief as they are, and Kilmer does a sublime job of portraying The King.
Jim Carrey took on the doubly challenging task of mimicking Andy Kaufman mimicking Elvis in Man on the Moon, and he pulled it off and then some. In Finding Graceland, Harvey Keitel dons the famous pink jacket and the blue-sequined jumpsuit along with Elvis’ signature hair curl while portraying an eccentric hitchhiker claiming to be Elvis Presley on his way back home to Graceland. Just as the young guy who picks “Elvis” up wonders whether there isn’t a little bit of Elvis in this man, so too do we as the audience, wonder whether there isn’t a little of The King in Keitel who does a superb job of playing him. There are many more films that pay homage to Elvis, of course. Elvis’ influence can be seen in numerous films that don’t even have an Elvis character outright; films like Cry Baby and Grease whose lead characters obviously bear a striking resemblance to The King and behave very much like him.
I wondered how popular Elvis would be today were he still alive; if he’d still draw crowds and be relevant to both young and old. After attending the show last weekend and beholding men and women, both young and old alike, rocking out with excitement and enthusiasm and gusto to a mere Elvis impersonator, I think it’s safe to say that he’d be, well, the most famous performer on Earth. Heck, he may well be that already even 35 years after his death. Thank you. Thank you very much.
What are your favourite films with Elvis characters? Let us know in the comments section.