Movies Till Dawn: The Saturday Morning Strange – “Clambake” (1967)

Facing a life burdened by privilege, oil scion Elvis Presley leaves his Texas home to seek out life as lived by ordinary folks. Opportunity knocks in a chance encounter with Will Hutchins, who’s headed to Florida to work as a waterskiing instructor; Elvis decides to adopt his identity and once in Miami, find himself locked in a race to win a speedboat trophy – and the hand of Shelley Fabares (in her third film appearance with Elvis) – with sneering rich kid Bill Bixby. Like nearly all of Elvis’s movies in the 1960s, “Clambake” – which features no scenes of clams being baked – is high-gloss, candy-colored, impossibly upbeat nonsense, an Outer Limits transmission from a square universe (like Bizarro’s in the Superman comics) where Elvis’ Sun Records-era animal cool never existed and Bill Bixby could be considered a legitimate romantic rival (though in his defense, he does have  equally spectacular hair). It has its entertaining moments – Elvis drives a sweet ’59 Stingray and gets to sing a few good songs in a movie for a change, including Jerry Reed’s “Guitar Man” (with Reed on guitar) and the classic country weeper “You Don’t Know Me.” And if you look closely, you might see Teri Garr and Corbin Bernsen among the dancers; “Shindig” producer Jack Good, KHJ Boss Radio DJ Sam Riddle and Memphis Mafia mainstay Red West are all in there, too. But it’s nonsense all the same, with the usual soundtrack dreck like the title track, and lots of scenes in which Elvis tries to keep a straight face while pretending to water-ski or pilot Gary Merrill‘s super speedboat in front of a rear-projected Florida coast (played here by Los Angeles). So, in short, it’s a palatable Elvis Movie, and nothing like the desperately bleak vehicles he appeared in that same year (“Easy Come, Easy Go”) and soon after (“Stay Away, Joe”). Visually, Kino’s Blu-ray is an improvement over the DVD release, and includes the theatrical trailer and commentary by the owners of the Atlanta-based video store Videodrome.

About Paul Gaita

Paul Gaita lives in Sherman Oaks, California with his lovely wife and daughter. He has written for The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Variety and Merry Jane, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for from 1998 to 2014. He has also interviewed countless entertainment figures, but his favorites remain Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury, and George Newall, who created both "Schoolhouse Rock" and the Hai Karate aftershave commercials. He once shared a Thanksgiving dinner with celebrity astrologer Joyce Jillson and regrettably, still owes the late character actor Charles Napier a dollar.
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