|Flying Squirrel Boxing Productions|
|The KO Picture Show|
|Presents. . .|
|Kid Galahad (1962)
"A Hunk-a-Bunk-a Burning, uh... yeah, um, it's not good."
As I've said in past reviews, sometimes context is important to movie viewing. Both the context of the viewing experience itself, and, in some cases, the historical context of movie. For instance, the special effects of say, The Wizard of Oz may seem quaint by today's standards, but they were top notch during it's release. And having seen it first as a child most likely, many are willing to look past any perceived shortcomings because it holds a special place in your heart. There you go... a context two-fer! But for the purpose of this review, I'm going to be (briefly) looking at this movie, Kid Galahad, in the context of Elvis Presley's career circa 1962.
At this point, Elvis was already an established recording AND movie star. He was discharged from the Army 2 years earlier, and he (and his handlers) wanted to make a concerted effort to become a movie star in his own right. So, for all intents and purposes, Elvis had stopped performing live music and concentrated on acting. While music would always be the driving influence of his appearances in film, he was looking to put out some more dramatic efforts. But it was hard to argue with the results that his hunky romantic comedy persona was reaping. So The King had a choice to make. One could argue that no matter what he decided to do, it was going to be washed away in a tidal wave of Cuban Heels and Mop-Tops in just two years time. But in '62 he was still very much on top and looking for a hit. So in that context, the choice of remaking 1937's Kid Galahad (starring Edward G. Robinson, Bette Davis, and Humphrey Bogart) as a musical seems all the more unusual.
Elvis plays Walter Gulick, a recently discharged soldier hitching his way back to his birthplace, a tiny, downright quaint resort town in upstate NY named Cream Valley (the explanation for this thick Southern accent being that he was only born in Cream Valley, but raised in Kentucky). He rolls into town (sitting on the back of a truck) singing that he's "King Of The Whole Wide World", and who could argue with him, right? Right. So he heads off to look for some lodgings, food, and perhaps some employment. He eventually makes his way to Grogan's Gaelic Garden, a boxing training camp owned and operated by the constantly scheming, habitual gambler Willy Grogan, played by the wonderfully tanned and smiling Gig Young. Willy doesn't have the work ethic that his boxing camp founding ancestors had, so he's constantly looking to play the long odds, and his long-suffering girlfriend, Dolly (Albright), has about had it. At any rate, Elvis manages to finagle his way into Dolly's good graces (against Willy's wishes), and he soon finds himself doing odd jobs around the camp as well as some minor car repair work for the local mechanic.
It isn't long before Willy's gambling and debts get him in REAL trouble with some gangster types from the city. He calls his kid sister Rose (Blackman) looking for a loan, but she knows better. She packs up and heads out to Cream Valley to see what kind of trouble her brother's got himself into now. But Willy can't deal with her now, as his head trainer, Lew Nyack (played by the eternally grizzled Charles Bronson) informs him that their best prospect is in desperate need of a sparring partner and he can't find one. So in steps EP, all sneery and full of fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches. Turns out Walter did some amateur boxing in the Army and he'd be willing to step into the ring with Grogan's best boy for a fiver.
You can see where this is heading. Everyone on planet Earth can see where this is heading. Inanimate objects could see where this is heading. You could sit a house plant in front of the TV, let it watch the movie up to this point, turn it off, and the ficus could tap out the wrap-up on this baby in under 30 minutes. Elvis, of course, turns out to be a steel chinned moose who can knock out guys with one punch. Willy's sister Rose, of course, gets all antsy in the pantsy for Walter, and Walter returns the wooing in kind. I'm sure you see that Willy will try to play up Elvis's boxing skill to his own gambling ends (and it'll all probably come to a head in the "Big Fight Finale"). Sprinkle in about 4 Elvis songs and we're coming down the home stretch.
It's an odd choice for an Elvis-starring vehicle. Mostly because, as the original knew, the drama and interest lays more with Grogan's story (and, by extension, his romantic and familial interests), not with the sweet natured boxing character that Elvis plays. Edward G. Robinson played the Grogan character in the original, and virtual unknown at the time Wayne Morris (of future B-movie western fame) played the tough but lovable Gulick character that falls for the gambler's little sister. So what was the allure of this story to Elvis, his handlers, and the producers? I can't be sure. The promise of a shirtless Elvis? (who looked to be in fair-to-middlin' shape, a fact that the film's producers were none to happy about) As a musical, the performance numbers were kind of lifeless. "I Got Lucky" kinda gets your toes tappin', but the majority of the songs are of the crooning variety, with Elvis singing uncomfortably close to co-star Joan Blackman's face most of the time. None of them really caught my ear. And, honestly, the Walter Gulick character is kind of milquetoast. Sure, he's a helluva nice guy, always willing to give a helping hand or defend a lady's honor (that's how he got the "Galahad" nickname). But he doesn't put out the sexy vibe, which is what Elvis does best. They could have done with a little less "Yes sir... howdy ma'am" and more pelvis jiggling, in my humble opinion.
The rest of the cast performs admirably with what little they were given to do. Blackman is a raven-haired, blue-eyed knockout. And Bronson could do "grizzled, old boxing trainer" in his sleep (he also could have done "grizzled, old tax attorney", "grizzled, old vigilante cop", and "grizzled, old circus clown" with minimal prep time). Gig Young and Lola Albright get the shortest end of the stick. You could see they were DYING to spread out and explore their relationship a little more, but it simply wasn't their movie.
The Fightin' - 1 - 2 - 3 - 4
What we've got here is a clear case of quantity over quality. I've mentioned Elvis's less than muscle-packed physique. He certainly didn't look bad, just not quite the powerhouse they were playing him up to be. But hell, Tommy Hearns looked like 145 pounds of pipe-cleaners and he was an animal, so we can let that pass. The fight choreography throughout was spotty at best. They tried some experimental "in your face" (or more precisely, "in Elvis's face") camera work, and, frankly, it failed. The King couldn't really sell a punch, and his "getting punched in the face" face didn't really differ all that much from his "wooing a hot brunette" face.
The fight trauma was a little better. At least they were willing to acknowledge the fact that someone who takes as much punishment as Elvis does in the ring would at least be a little cut up (although, his trauma pretty much disappears once he leaves the ring). The star of this boxing film was the training site, Grogan's Gaelic Gardens. Idyllwild, California doubles for upstate New York in this one, and it calls to mind the great outdoor country training camps of the past. While camps like these were commonplace back in the day, it's now kind of a "throwback" type of training setting for fighters. I was immediately reminded of Muhammad Ali's Deer Lake, Pennsylvania camp, with the log cabins and autumn color. I miss that kind of "man-in-nature" tableau that was such a part of the sport's history.
Overall Rating - 1 - 2 - 3 - 4
While I was left cold by this Elvis-starring effort, it was a minor hit at the time, with Presley even garnering some kudos for his acting in this one. Elvis may have wanted to move towards more substantial movie roles, but this was hardly a departure for him; another is a long series of "hunky fella" roles.
For me, it's all about two things in these Elvis movies: a platform for the man's singing and a showcase for his natural charisma. And Kid Galahad came up short on both fronts in my opinion.
|Starring: Elvis Presley,
Gig Young, Lola Albright,
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