Clambake Review

Gary Couzens has reviewed the Region 2 release of Clambake, another bland and forgettable Elvis vehicle. MGM’s DVD has only the trailer for an extra, but picture and sound are good.

Elvis plays Scott Heyward, the son and heir of oil millionaire Duster Heyward (James Gregory). Ambivalent about his huge wealth, he wants to make a life for himself. He wants to be known for something other than for his father’s money. So he changes identity with impoverished waterski instructor Tom Wilson (Will Hutchins) to see if the girls who flock around him will like him for himself…

Two years on from Frankie and Johnny, Clambake is another equally bland Elvis vehicle. The director this time is Arthur H. Nadel, a TV veteran making a rare excursion onto the big screen. Like its predecessor, it’s watchable in a very undemanding way. A flimsy plot – Elvis clashes with playboy Jim Jamison (Bill Bixby) for the affections of Dianne (Shelley Fabares) – is the excuse for several fairly forgettable songs. Having said that, any lyricist who can work a word like “Glycol oxy-octanoic phosphate” into a song deserves respect. This is Elvis-land, where money can’t buy you happiness or self respect but that’s about as far as an incisive critique of capitalism goes. This is a place where the sun shines, and sex need not rear its ugly head, as a kiss is all that Elvis needs to send a woman into raptures. Clambake (the name of the song that plays over the opening credits, otherwise a meaningless title) was Hollywood’s idea of a youth movie – never mind that Presley was in his thirties by now. In the next couple of years, the youth of America went to see Bonnie and Clyde and Easy Rider, and the likes of Clambake were swept away.

I commented that Frankie and Johnny looked very much like a Fifties movie. Clambake at least looks Sixties: the colours aren’t anywhere near as strident as they are in the earlier film and the skin tones are more natural. Clambake was shot in Techniscope, a low-budget widescreen process that found favour in Hollywood from the mid Sixties to the mid Seventies. It involved exposing a frame as wide as normal 35mm film but half as high, therefore getting twice as much use out of the same reel of film, and avoiding the distortion and additional lighting that anamorphic lenses entailed. It also made the grain twice as big, and the difference in grain size makes for some extremely obvious rear-projection work, particularly near the beginning and in the less than exciting climactic waterski race.

MGM’s DVD (as always, encoded for Regions 2 and 4) is in the correct ratio of 2.35:1. Oddly, the film begins in a ratio of 2:1, sidematted on this DVD, before expanding to its full Scope dimensions once the opening credits are over. Unlike the Frankie and Johnny DVD, Clambake has an anamorphic transfer, and it’s a good one, clean (apart from some stock footage), sharp and colourful. It’s certainly grainy in places, but that – as I say above – is due to the process it was shot in.

Once again, the soundtrack is in mono. Being a 1967 film, that’s how the film was intended to be heard, so no remix is necessary. Hollywood technical expertise produced this soundtrack, and hence there’s nothing wrong with it: clean, clearly audible, with dialogue, effects and music well balanced. This time there isn’t a French dub on the disc, but the other foreign soundtracks (German, Italian, Spanish) revert back to the English for the songs. There are sixteen chapter stops and a wide range of subtitle options. Menus are available in English, French, German, Italian and Spanish.

As usual for a MGM back-catalogue disc, there’s just the one extra. The theatrical trailer is in anamorphic 2.35:1 and runs 2:36. Again, it’s very much a relic of its era: “Elvis throws the wildest party since they invented the bikini and the beat!” Yeah, dream on, guys. This trailer seems to have seen better days, with scratches and speckles galore, particularly near the beginning.

Again this is a budget-priced DVD that’ll most likely be bought by Elvis completists and nostalgics. Anyone else need not apply.


Updated: Sep 21, 2003

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