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Wild in the Country

This underrated Elvis Presley movie has been considered another one of his so-so efforts, but it's really quite an achievement. Wild in the Country — notable for its screenplay (from J.R. Salamanca's novel) written by the very serious theater and film writer Clifford Odets ( The Big Knife, Sweet Smell of Success) — may cause some snobby cineastes to find the whole thing something of a sell-out for Odets, but they're just spoilsports. The film is a big, over-dramatic entertainment a la Peyton Place or a Tennessee Williams wanna-be effort. It's also convoluted, strange, and deliciously racy at times, with themes that seem a bit adult even for 1961. Especially 1961 Elvis. Another "serious" turn for Presley, Wild in the Country nicely casts the singer in a role we like seeing him in — as a juvenile delinquent. It also features the beautiful and beguiling talent of Tuesday Weld as a lush who's a little too young for her world-weary ways (Weld wasn't even out of her teens when she made this film). Directed by Philip Dunne, Presley plays Glen Tyler, a troubled country boy who's sent to live with his shady uncle. Because of his hell-raisin' ways, he's assigned a psychiatrist, the very pretty Irene Sperry (Hope Lange, who co-starred in Peyton Place), who's not like any shrink you'd be likely to meet. She sees a strong literary talent in this messed up young man and finds herself falling for him, to the ire of her suitor and the gossip-mongers of the town. Irene wants Glen to go to college, but Glen has some other problems to contend with. Chiefly, two other girls: his sexy cousin Noreen (Weld) who wants him to stick to his hellion ways, and the oh-so-boring Betty Lee (Millie Perkins), his square childhood sweetheart. Four songs are sung, along with a lot of fighting, scandal, attempted suicide, and even murder, leading to a rather ridiculous courtroom scene. Elvis is sometimes flat but sexy and often poignant in his scenes with Lange, while Dunne's direction is colorful, campy and juicy. Next to Viva Las Vegas, this is Elvis's hottest movies. Fox's DVD release of Wild in the Country presents a lovely anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) complementing the colorful costumes, locations, and people. Just looking at how black Elvis's hair is compared Weld's blonde tresses is photographic heaven. Audio comes in Dolby Stereo (2.0). Trailers, keep-case.
—Kim Morgan

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