Friday, April 29, 2011

Clambake (1967, Arthur H. Nadel)

To offer a little insight into the culmination of Elvis's twenty-fifth film, Clambake was the title created by artistic genius Colonel Tom Parker when writers and producers were seeking a title for Presley's twenty-second film, Spinout.  They decided to save it for a hollow project that would later roll down the chutes, devoid of any context, substance or meaning.

Clambake is a paper-thin Prince and the Pauper tale that rings mostly hollow.  Elvis plays Scott Hayward, an entitled millionaire's son who doesn't want to be vice president of daddy's oil company.  After all, he has other interests like playing guitar, racing boats, and apparently (in a surprising reveal to the audience who has seen no evidence of such intelligence and talent) engineers chemical compounds in the lab.  Scott trades places with can't-catch-a-break-in-life-or-love Tom Wilson (Will Hutchins), taking on Tom's role of water-ski instructor while Tom takes on the coveted role of thumbing his nose at everyone.

The options of moral seem pretty straightforward in such a setup; Scott could learn the value of workmanship and share in the plight of the common man, Tom could learn that "privilege" isn't all it's cracked up to be, the audience could learn the folly of hasty judgments based on appearance.  There is a reason tried and true themes recur in narratives, but Clambake is unsure of these reasons.  Scott has little to learn because he is already a golden child.  He is a winner with the ladies with or without money, has the privilege to run away from home and the skill, looks and intelligence to give him no reason to return home.  Tom is a pauper with everything to gain and no lesson to learn:  luxury isn't a curse and he doesn't learn the value of honest work.  The whole swap is a selfish trick that only affects Scott's love interest, Dianne (the beautiful Shelley Fabares), so Scott can be sure that the love isn't through green-colored glasses.

It would take very little work to make this screenplay a conventional morality tale, but perhaps funds were short after Elvis cashed his cool (and final) $1 million starring cut.  The second act is then filled with lots of loafing.  Songs come fairly regularly for no narrative gain, and even the situation is pointless.  Scott plays with a lot of children on the playground, bikini babes come in for a number in the garage, Tom holds Dianne's bikini top ransom for a date, a bumpkin pronounces his French girlfriend's name ghee-ghee.  "I don't want things easy," Scott finally explains, confronting his father, but it's still the only life he's known.  And it's the only movie we've watched.

"You look kinda beat", Tom tells Scott during his marathon garage work, prepping the boat for the big race.  And this is no understatement.  Elvis put on over thirty pounds leading up to the shooting of Clambake due to despondency toward the lack of direction in his career.  While taking much of it off after insistence by United Artists, it only increased his dependence on diet pills in addition to his regular prescription addiction.  Worse than the movies in which Elvis looks fat, he looks worn and sickly. 

Even the soundtrack is disaffecting and forgettable, save for the monotonous, nearly one-note vocal melody of the title track's chorus that has been stuck in my head for about three years (I blame this mostly on the fact that it's reprised throughout the feature).  Strangely, the soundtrack's best track, "How Can You Lose What You Never Had" didn't make the movie because the writers and editors couldn't work it into the storyline; a strange criterion as I never knew that to stop them before. 

Clambake is the kind of movie people rightly think of when they say they hate Elvis movies.  It's another no stakes, no heart assembly line picture that wasn't even patchworked together with care.  Outside of a few bikini butts, it's a real stretch to get anything out of this turd. -- */four stars

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