Tag: Bye Bye Birdie

Viva Elvis and Ann

Yesterday was Elvis Presley’s 75th birthday. It’s a matter of agreement that most of his films weren’t very good on the whole, largely due to Col. Tom Parker’s insistence on sticking to tame vehicles that wouldn’t risk offending  fans. Still, not all the films are bad and many have fine moments.

“King Creole” and “Jailhouse Rock” have their devotees, but my favorite is “Viva Las Vegas.” Directed by the somewhat underrated George Sidney (“Bye Bye Birdie,” “Scaramouche“), it has a great deal of style and some decent humor on its side. More important, it’s got Ann Margaret, a performer who was every bit Elvis’s match and then some in every department except singing, though she wasn’t bad there either. Guys don’t usually squeal when they see a sexy female performer, but if they were ever going to do that, it would have been for Ms. Margaret in the early-to-mid sixites. (“Mad Men” viewers will know about this.)

Moreover, Elvis and Ann Margaret had real screen chemistry together and, in a probably not unrelated fact, had a real life romance that prompted rumors of marriage. Here, they exchange pleasantries around the pool of what I’m guessing is either the Flamingo or the Tropicana.

Their feelings are a bit more mutual here.

Movie Moments: Chita Rivera

Unlike the other arts recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Sidney Poitier, Broadway legend Chita Rivera hasn’t had an extensive career in movies. In 1960, she originated the role of Rosie in the first Broadway production of “Bye Bye Birdie.” When the time came to do the film version, however, Hollywood blew its shot at having a positive portrayal of a Latina actually be played by a Latina. Instead of using Ms. Rivera, a great dancer and singer, the part went to Janet Leigh, a “name” whose considerable talents were mainly in acting.

Still, a few years later, the great director-choreographer Bob Fosse choose to include Ms. Rivera in his first film, “Sweet Charity.” Unfortunately, 1969 was exactly the wrong year to release a more or less traditional musical. “Charity” bombed, forcing Fosse to completely rethink the musical form for the movies and Rivera to keep plugging away in New York. Fortunately, that means we have a couple of great movie-moments from this semi-forgotten classic featuring Chita Rivera as Nickie, a tough-talking taxi dancer. Here, along with friends Helene (Paula Kelley) and Charity Hope Valentine (Shirley MacLaine), she reconsiders her career choice.

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