Monday, August 02, 2021

Tonight's Movie: It Happened at the World's Fair (1963) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

Elvis Presley stars in IT HAPPENED AT THE WORLD'S FAIR (1963), recently released on Blu-ray by the Warner Archive.

Elvis plays Mike, a crop dusting pilot whose partner Danny (Gary Lockwood) has a gambling problem which leaves them continually strapped of funds. Then they're really left in a bind when a sheriff seizes their plane and they're unable to do their usual work.

While hitchhiking they meet Walter (Kam Tong) and his little niece Sue-Lin (Vicky Tiu). When called away on business, Walter entrusts Sue-Lin to Danny's care to spend a day at the Seattle World's Fair.

Later in the week Walter goes missing, and Danny ends up taking care of Sue-Lin along with a pretty nurse he meets at the fair, Diane (Joan O'Brien, OPERATION PETTICOAT).

I'd class the plot of this film as "lame but likeable," while the movie is distinguished by gorgeous filming of the 1962 Seattle World's Fair, making it a "must" for those who enjoy virtual time travel.

As far as the story issues, even in 1963 it seems like a stretch for someone to entrust a seven-year-old child to a total stranger, and the plot gets more peculiar from there. (Eventually someone from Child Services does show up, played by Edith Atwater.) When it comes to Diane, Danny at times seems a little "stalker-ish," as opposed to charmingly persistent.

Perhaps a bigger issue for me is Gary Lockwood's absolutely leaden role as Danny. There are jokes about his gambling, but it's so crippling to both Danny and Mike that it was hard for me to find it funny, and he's also a drinker -- who incidentally thinks it's fine to leave a recently abandoned seven-year-old alone for a couple hours.

Danny is used as a plot device, with his gambling losses moving Elvis from Point A to Point B, but otherwise he simply seems out of place with the rest of the film.

Now for the good stuff! While there aren't any especially memorable songs, they're pleasant, and I thought the best one was "Relax," in which Mike woos future Batgirl Yvonne Craig (seen here). She's striking, and the number reminded me just a bit of "The Lady Loves Me" in my favorite Elvis film to date, VIVA LAS VEGAS (1964).

There's also a fun sighting of Kurt Russell in his very first film role, seen in a photo below. Russell has two scenes as a little boy who kicks Mike in the shins at the fair (it's a long story). I've seen Russell in several movies over the last few years and feel he's developed into an exceptionally fine character actor. How great is it he still has a busy career nearly 60 years after this movie was made?!

Another aspect I enjoyed was the trailer park where Mike and Danny temporarily set up home, which has beautiful mid-Century style colors and design.

And then...there's the Fair! Right off the bat we're treated to a ride on the Alweg monorail; Alweg also worked on the Disneyland Monorail, which opened three years before the World's Fair.

It's wonderful seeing things like the Space Needle and a Firebird "dream car." I thoroughly enjoyed the travelogue aspect of the movie, which really made the film worthwhile for me.

My friend KC, a Seattle native who also enjoyed the World's Fair footage, wrote about the film at her blog and also made me aware that cute little Vicky Tiu grew up to be Vicky Cayetano, First Lady of Hawaii. What an interesting life!

Toby Roan also wrote about the movie for The Hannibal 8, and I loved what he said about "how blessed we are to have old movies look this good today." As someone who fell in love with movies during the days of pan and scan TV prints hacked up with commercials, I hope I never take a beautiful print like the Warner Archive's Blu-ray for granted. It's absolutely gorgeous, with top sound quality.

Norman Taurog directed, with widescreen cinematography by Joseph Ruttenberg. The screenplay of this 105-minute film was written by Si Rose and Seaman Jacobs.

The supporting cast includes H.M. Wynant, who incidentally I was fortunate to see in person at a 2014 Loretta Young Centennial Tribute. The Mellomen, including Thurl Ravenscroft and Bill Lee, appear backing up Elvis.

Disc extras are the trailer and a song selection menu.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray. Warner Archive Blu-rays may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection Amazon Store or from any online retailers where Blu-rays are sold.


Blogger Seth said...

I received this Blu-ray for my birthday as an upgrade to my DVD copy. I pretty much agree with your assessment; it's a little lame, but I like it, mostly for the ability to see the World's Fair (and related, for this special connection: My father attended the fair as a boy, and a few years ago, while visiting my sister who was living in Seattle at the time, he and I rode the monorail and went up the Space Needle). It's also fun to see and hear the Mellomen.

5:29 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I'm glad you received the Blu-ray, Seth -- I love the connection to the fair you shared! Lots of fun stuff in the movie, including the Mellomen, even if the film isn't 100% successful. Glad to have your opinion on it.

Best wishes,

10:08 PM  

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