[box cover]

A Change of Habit

The debate generally goes like this: Which Elvis is better? Older, fat, crazy Elvis, or younger, bluesy, hip-swivellin' Elvis? But those two options ignore the Elvis on display in 1969's A Change of Habit — mid-30s, sideburn-sportin', turtleneck-wearin' Elvis! In his last film performance as an actor, the King stars as Dr. John Carpenter, a Southern-born physician working in the inner city who falls hard for one of his new volunteer nurses (Mary Tyler Moore). But unbeknownst to him, she and the other two nurses who have volunteered are undercover nuns, doing the Lord's work in street clothes — and have sworn not to reveal the secret. Much is made of the growing sexual tension as Elvis puzzles over the ineffectiveness of seduction techniques and Sister Mary has to choose between the Lord and the doctor (notice his name is Carpenter — get it?) In a few scenes you can get an idea of the actor Elvis might have become if he hadn't had the Colonel running his career; in some of the more dramatic moments, he's quite good. But the entire movie is so soapy, so dated, and so heavy-handed with its "message" of social equality that it's really only watchable for the considerable camp value. Heck, there's even a scene that was a mainstay of mid-'70s TV movies — the "hold the autistic kid in place and force 'em to shriek and then they'll be all better" scene. And then there's just the stuff that should have been offensive no matter when the film was made, like when Dr. Elvis tries to scare off his new volunteers by explaining what happened to the last nurses: "Two of 'em got raped. One against her will." Agggh! Ed Asner plays a local beat cop, the phenomenally beautiful Barbara McNair is one of Mary's fellow nuns, and Jane Elliott is the other. A Martinez has a small role as a local tough. By movie's end, each of the nuns has come to a decision about their calling, but Sister Mary's is somewhat ambiguous — as she watches Elvis play guitar at a folky mass, she looks back and forth between the crucified Jesus and the King. What to do? It's not quite clear, actually, which one she picks (and as a child, I honestly thought the movie ended with Elvis becoming one of those hip, radical '60s priests.) Universal's DVD release of A Change of Habit offers a very clean anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with audio in Dolby 2.0 mono. Trailer, cast/crew notes. Keep-case.
—Dawn Taylor

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