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It Happened at the World's Fair

Elvis Presley, cultural icon, exists in our collective consciousness as a handful of separate entities. There's Young Rockin' Elvis, who brought red-hot black blues to white America and shocked parents with his undulating hips. There's Post-Comeback Elvis, the favorite of impersonators, who did karate kicks to the strains of "Suspicious Minds." There's Crazy Drug-Using Elvis — the Michael Jackson of his time — living in the surreal grandeur of Graceland, subsisting on greasy fried food and pharmaceuticals. And, of course, Hollywood Elvis, who made a string of very successful films that he didn't really want to do featuring songs that he hated, but that made a huge pile of money for The King — and considerably more money for his manager, Col. Tom Parker. From 1960 to 1969, following his much-publicized two-year stint in the U.S. Army, Elvis made a staggering 27 movies. Understandably, given that output, most of them were fairly formulaic outings with Elvis playing a womanizing bachelor in some sort of high-testosterone profession (racecar driver, pilot, water-ski instructor) who meets a gorgeous-but-curiously-unimpressed woman and, naturally, falls in love. These whisper-thin plots are wedged between a number of hastily written, generally forgettable songs, and Elvis often delivers his lines as if he just wants to get the take over quickly — hoping, no doubt, to get back to his trailer for a cool blonde or a hot peanut butter-and-banana sandwich. Fairly typical of these films — which, for good or bad, created a film canon all their own, that of the "Elvis Movie" — is 1963's "It Happened at the World's Fair," with Elvis singin' and romancin' a sexy nurse as he babysits an adorable lost girl. This time around, Elvis plays Mike Edwards, a hot-blooded, barnstormin' pilot who hopes to start his own small airline-for-hire with his partner, Danny Burke (Gary Lockwood). But after Danny loses all their money gambling and their plane is held for collateral, the two hitch a ride with a farmer (Kam Tong) and his cute-as-a-button, seven-year-old niece, Su Lin (Vicky Tiu) to Seattle in hopes of finding work. When the farmer's too busy to take Su Lin to the 1962 World's Fair, Mike's roped into escorting her — a task he resents, because it cuts into his plans to hit on every halfway-attractive dame he encounters. But he makes do with just staring, without subtlety or charm, at the derriere of a woman standing in front of him on the monorail … until Su Lin gets sick from eating too much junk food and Mike encounters the Fair's lovely nurse, Diane Warren (Joan O'Brien). When his creepy, stalkerish pickup technique doesn't immediately make Diane limp with lust, Mike becomes obsessed — even going so far as to pay a little boy a quarter to kick him in the shins so he can get medical attention. However, his seduction attempts are slightly derailed when Su Lin's uncle disappears and Mike brings her home to stay with him until they find the errant farmer. In the tradition of all adorable film urchins, Su Lin does a little matchmaking between The King and the nurse — but complications ensue when Diane calls child welfare about the situation and Danny gets them involved in a shady scheme to transport some goods to Canada.

*          *          *

Directed with cookie-cutter precision by Norman Taurog — who helmed nine Elvis movies altogether — It Happened at the World's Fair takes its sweet time getting to the point of the story, with Elvis not actually arriving at the Fair until over 30 minutes into the picture. Once there, the sights of the circa-1962 Space Needle (with the interior scenes shot on a Hollywood soundstage in front of a terrible, painted backdrop), the ultra-modern monorail (ditto on the interiors), and the exhibits at the futuristic "Century 21" exhibit are actually pretty darn cool. And there are a couple of trivial tidbits that make this otherwise forgettable Elvis Presley vehicle worth noting — like a scene early in the film, where the wolfish Elvis tries to seduce a buxom young Yvonne "Batgirl" Craig by singing a truly awful Elvis-movie song ("Let loose – let your hair down, honey/Unwind – turn the lights down low/Relax – let's uncork the stopper/Come to papa, come on, let's go"). Vicky Tiu, who played adorable little Su Lin, never made another film, but she did become First Lady of Hawaii when her husband, Ben Cayetano, was elected Governor in 1994. And it's impossible to overlook the appearance of a 12-year-old Kurt Russell as a boy who kicks Elvis in the shins, in a bizarre moment of career foreshadowing. Russell would, of course, go on to play The King in the 1979 TV movie that boosted the ex-kid actor's adult career. He'd also play an Elvis impersonator in the unfortunate 3,000 Miles to Graceland. Warner's DVD release of It Happened at the World's Fair offers a stunning anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) of the Panavision film, which looks incredibly crisp and bright with superbly saturated colors. The monaural Dolby Digital audio (in English or French) is just as good, with both cheesy dialogue and forgettable songs coming through clean and clear. There are no extras to speak of, other than a "trailer gallery" spotlighting Warner's releases of Jailhouse Rock, Tickle Me, Harum Scarum, and Viva Las Vegas, but there's a lengthy menu of subtitle options — English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Thai, Korean, and Indonesian. However, the songs lack subtitles, for some reason.
—Dawn Taylor

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