Viva Las Vegas ★★½

Don’t tell Ann-Margret that Viva Las Vegas is supposed to be an Elvis Presley movie. Fresh of her screeching conquest of Bye Bye Birdie, she shimmies and shakes her way so vigorously through this that there are several moments where you fear her head might pop off. There is a talent contest at one point in which her Rusty Martin, a Vegas hotel pool manager, faces off against his Lucky Jackson, a down-on-his-luck race-car driver, and although Lucky wins it could be argued she puts on the better show. They do have a handful of numbers together, but Ann-Margret’s mania in trying to keep up with/outdo the King is more concerning than entertaining. (There’s no grace, which is something Elvis almost always managed in his younger years.) The best production number might be a group one on a dance floor shaped like a roulette wheel, where the talented ensemble gets a chance to show off their own moves. (Notably, it’s also a whitewashing sequence, as Presley sings a cover of Ray Charles’ “What I’d Say.”) Viva Las Vegas’ other highlight, interestingly enough, is a climactic car race through the desert. George Sidney and the stunt team employ landscape in a way that’s not only visually thrilling, but also heightens the suspense. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that it informed George Lucas’ masterful podrace sequence in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace.