United States - 1962
Director- Peter R. Hunt
MGM Home Entertainment, 2005, DVD
Walter Gulick (Elvis) returns from a stint in the army to a small town in the hills of upstate New York where he was born. There, in a sort of hunting cabin resort is Grogan’s Gaelic Gardens, a boxing training camp where a bunch of sluggos get trained by the one and only Charles Bronson, as “Lew”, though the distinction hardly matters.
Looking for a job as a mechanic, Walter finds one instead as a punching bag for Grogan’s house champ at five bucks a match. Grogan is a charming fellow to be sure, but even without the parade of character flaws that follows his introduction you would get a slightly sleazy feeling off of him.
Elvis, er, Walter knocks his opponent out in one punch, and Grogan sleazes up a quick match with a rival agent. I get the feeling he’s going to learn his lesson with a sheepish grin at the end of the movie but I’m still going to think he’s a knob.Anyway, the stupid idiot can’t quit gambling his money away piecemeal. The only thing keeping him afloat -albeit barely- are his girlfriend Dolly who for whatever reason tolerates his disrespect, and Lew who actually does something useful.
Grogan calls his kid sister Rose (Joan Blackman) to ask for 200 bucks but instead she comes home from the Bronx all woman and showing it. Suddenly there is a promising sign of life from the glazed and overfed Elvis. Assuming staring slackjawed indicates a heartbeat. Later when they’re hanging out in the driveway he warbles out a song while looking at Rose like she’s a giant package of hotdogs. (Blackman also appeared in Blue Hawaii among other stuff but what I like best is her role as the elevator mother in Cronenberg’s Shivers.)
Walter drives to his first fight singing away while ever-ready Bronson grins like a pig in shit from the backseat. Walter manages to win the match with one punch after receiving a long string of unblocked blows to the face. It does feel good to watch something beautiful get smashed. At a picnic minutes later he busts out into a song about Rose again while all the other palookas provide harmony right behind them on the picnic table. As if Walter’s hungry gaze weren’t enough he sings about getting lucky while Rose swivels woozily in a canary-yellow dress. This guy is the popular good-looking kid who’s naturally great at the stuff you’ve struggled and practiced at forever. Everybody - especially girls - think he’s the greatest even though he’s dumb as a rock. Don’t you just want to see his face get smashed?
Otherwise useless as a man, Grogan attacks Walter for those very qualities, but in a surprising moment of clarity, (I’m guessing he just drank a glass of maple syrup) Walter synopsizes the entire films prior exposition of Grogan’s flailing impotence in a few short sentences. Just as the real cock-fight is about to begin though, Dolly reappears and confirms Walter's claims in an ego busting maneuver sure to elicit that last minute recalcitrance I mentioned. Hell, Grogan’s only got 20 minutes to win back the 2nd hottest gal in the film.
In a blind rage, Grogan arranges to have Galahad fight a professional bare-handed horse-killer.
Subsequent Bronson/Elvis training scenes confirm that the rest of the boxers have stopped training and are merely waiting in the wings to pop up as backup singers when Elvis decides to slur out a song.Grogan’s mafia debtors are counting on their killer to render the well-fatted and golden brown Walter into dog food, so they smash Lew’s hands to seal the gig. Grogan walks in on the scene, and knowing the importance of Bronson he takes the goons on himself. Just as they’re getting the better of him, Walter shows up to save the day and feed Grogan some of that happy butter cream glaze that makes a man all fat and sappy.
I guess this bears some resemblance to the 1937 Humphrey Bogart film of the same name though it’s hard to tell if Bogart or Elvis singing is more entertaining. I do like both believe it or not. But in all honesty it’s a moot point because this one features Bronson, and that seals the deal for me.