Fast cars, beautiful babes, and spritely rock-'n'-roll tunes are all part of the Elvis Presley recipe and Spinout spins them all into a fluffy confection that The King's legion of fans will lap up. Presley struggles to juggle the advances of three aggressive women in between several zippy songs in this breezy romp that's greatly improved by Warner Archive's eye-popping transfer. The five-star 4K scan struck from the original camera negative and robust audio bolster the appeal of this fun but formulaic flick. For Fans Only.
Elvis Presley made a lot of mediocre movies during his career and Spinout is definitely one of them, but if you go into this racy racing yarn with the proper attitude and keep your expectations completely in check, the film's dated charm and infectious sense of silly fun shines through. Director Norman Taurog, who helmed a whopping nine Presley pictures between 1960 and 1968, has the formula down pat and cranks out this tuneful trifle with his eyes closed, but he gives Elvis fans everything they want and expect. As a Holiday Inn slogan once succinctly stated, "The best surprise is no surprise," and there are certainly no surprises here.
By my count, Presley played a race car driver in three films, but as super-cool Mike McCoy in Spinout the racing is just a part-time gig to make some extra cash while he and his rock-'n'-roll bandmates (Jack Mullaney, Jimmy Hawkins, and Deborah Walley) pursue their big break. While speeding along a California highway in his Cobra 427, Mike spots Cynthia Foxhugh (Shelley Fabares) in a sexy red roadster and after a meet-cute game of cat and mouse that ultimately sends Mike and his car into a lake, he learns she's a spoiled rich girl who always gets what she wants. What she wants, of course, is Mike, and she uses her wiles to manipulate him into serenading her on her birthday at the Santa Barbara mansion she shares with her millionaire dad (Carl Betz).
Cynthia, though, isn't the only woman who wants to sink her claws into Mike. Author Diana St. Clair (Diane McBain), who's researching a book on "the perfect American male," has been secretly stalking Mike, and once she decides he is in fact the perfect American male, she decides to marry him. Though Mike can't resist her charms, he's allergic to matrimony and tries his best to finesse her advances. While juggling Cynthia and Diana, Mike is oblivious to the fact that his perky female drummer Les (Walley) also holds a torch for him. Complications galore arise, all against a backdrop of music, poolside fun, and a climactic road race.
Like Mike's Cobra 427, Spinout zips along at a good clip. The songs don't advance the plot, but they don't slow it down either. Presley knows how to grab attention, and though his performances seem a bit more subdued than usual (if you're looking for Elvis the Pelvis, you won't find him here), he still oozes style and delivers solid, silky vocals.
The title tune is the catchiest of the bunch, and while many of the other eight songs sound suspiciously alike, they're never dull. Elvis may not be gyrating, but the scads of bikini-clad and mini-skirted twentysomethings twist their torsos and bob their heads like rag dolls. Presley takes it all in stride with a mixture of lascivious glee, blasé acceptance, and mild embarrassment, and while he's no Olivier or O'Toole, he handles his acting chores with convivial Southern charm.
The supporting cast is packed with familiar faces that are hard to place and will send movie and TV sitcom junkies hustling over to IMDb to jog their memories. Betz and Fabares play father and daughter here just as they did for 191 episodes on The Donna Reed Show between 1958 and 1964. (The casting was surely a gimmick and must have been a tad distracting for contemporary audiences, who probably expected Reed to pop in with a pot of coffee at any moment.) Walley, perhaps best known as one of several Gidgets (she went Hawaiian) and for her role in the Frankie Avalon-Annette Funicello flick Beach Blanket Bingo (although I remember her from my childhood on reruns of the TV sitcom The Mothers-in-Law with Eve Arden and Kaye Ballard), consistently lights up the screen as the band's buoyant drummer. Warren Berlinger, who appeared in almost every TV show imaginable from the '60s to the '90s, adds some comic flair as a doughy guy Friday who's prone to fainting and pines for Fabares, and Golden Age favorites Cecil Kellaway and Una Merkel (in her final film) shine in small parts.
Taurog, whose career goes all the way back to the silent era and includes such classics as Boys Town, several Jerry Lewis-Dean Martin comedies, and musicals starring Judy Garland, Fred Astaire, and Kathryn Grayson, teamed up with Presley late in his career and it was a lucrative partnership for both men. Though their best movies were arguably their first two (G.I. Blues and Blue Hawaii), Taurog knew how to present Presley in a favorable light and fashion a fun picture despite a weak story. So, too, did producer Joe Pasternak, who spearheaded Deanna Durbin's success at Universal in the 1930s and mounted some of MGM's best musicals in the 1940s and '50s. Spinout was one of his last films, and though he may have been a product of a prior era, Pasternak proves he's hep here by embracing the Presley hurly-burly.
Spinout also holds the distinction of meriting inclusion in the 1978 book The Fifty Worst Films of All Time by Harry Medved and Randy Dreyfuss, who assess the movie thusly: "Digesting this concoction...is like dining on Fruit Loops cereal soaked in Coca-Cola, with a hefty side order of Screaming Yellow Zonkers (please hold the onions). In other words, spin out and throw up." Spinout may be sugary, but it's far more appetizing than that. It's not Presley's best, but it certainly isn't his worst or one of the worst movies ever. If you love Elvis, you'll want to give Spinout a spin.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Spinout arrives on Blu-ray packaged in a standard case. Video codec is 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 and audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono. Once the disc is inserted into the player, the static menu without music immediately pops up; no previews or promos precede it.
Shot by Oscar-winning cinematographer Daniel L. Fapp (West Side Story), Spinout is a vibrant, colorful film and this brand new 4K scan of the original camera negative pumps up its visual volume. The 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer bursts with brilliant hues, from the bold red sports car in the opening scene to McBain's electric green dress, Presley's powder blue jacket, and Walley's loud orange pants. A wide array of pastels contributes to the film's 1960s go-go vibe and the lack of grain lends those colors a lush, silky feel. Excellent clarity and contrast allow us to drink in all the details, but on the flip side they heighten the artificiality of numerous process shots. Blacks are rich (nocturnal scenes look especially good), the bright whites never bloom, and flesh tones appear natural and remain stable throughout. Sharp close-ups showcase the fresh-faced loveliness of Fabares and Walley, McBain's creamy complexion and blonde locks, and Presley's slightly chubby cheeks, and not a single speck of print damage mars the pristine source. Spinout is far from a cinematic masterpiece, but this transfer is a work of art and makes the film seem far better than it is.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track supplies robust audio, although I could detect the slightest bit of distortion on the bass frequencies during some of the racing scenes and one drum riff. Despite those very brief hiccups, the track performs well, maximizing the impact of the engine rumbles and other effects. Superior fidelity and tonal depth enhance the musical numbers, adding wonderful contours and resonance to Presley's voice, and a wide dynamic scale gives the rock-'n'-roll songs and orchestrations by George Stoll, who also worked on two other Presley pictures (Girl Happy and Viva Las Vegas), plenty of room to breathe. All the dialogue is clear and easy to comprehend and no age-related hiss, pops, or crackle intrude. Presley films are all about the music and this track honors The King with class.
The DVD of Spinout only included a trailer, so it's nice to see Warner Archive expanding the disc extras to include a couple of classic Tom & Jerry cartoons.
Vintage Cartoon: Catty-Cornered (HD, 6 minutes) - In this 1966 cartoon, Jerry battles both Tom and the cat next door after he tries to swipe a chunk of cheese.
Vintage Cartoon: Filet Meow (HD, 6 minutes) - Also from 1966, this short finds Jerry trying to thwart Tom's efforts to pluck the sexy girl goldfish from the house fishbowl.
Theatrical Trailer (SD, 2 minutes) - The film's original preview hypes Elvis swinging, singing, racing, and romancing "with his foot on the gas...and no brakes on the fun!"
Spinout isn't a wipeout, but this lightweight romantic comedy with a racing backdrop and plenty of welcome musical interludes never will be regarded as one of Presley's best films. Elvis is definitely on autopilot, but the energetic supporting cast helps rev the movie's engine and Warner Archive's dazzling transfer struck from a 4K scan of the original camera negative provides a smooth ride. Robust audio and a couple of vintage cartoons also distinguish this slick, sassy disc that's a treat for Elvis admirers. For Fans Only.