Jailhouse Rock (1957 film)

Jailhouse Rock (1957 film)

Jailhouse Rock
File:Jailhouse rock787.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Richard Thorpe
Produced by Pandro S. Berman
Screenplay by Guy Trosper
Story by Nedrick Young
Music by Jeff Alexander
Cinematography Robert J. Bronner
Editing by Ralph E. Winters
Studio Avon Productions
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date(s)
Running time 96 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $400,000 (estimated)
Box office $4,000,000 (USA)[1]

Jailhouse Rock is a 1957 American musical drama film directed by Richard Thorpe and starring Elvis Presley, Judy Tyler, and Mickey Shaughnessy. Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) and based on a story by Nedrick Young, the film is about a young man sentenced to prison for manslaughter who is mentored in music by his prison cellmate who realizes his musical abilities. After his release from jail, while looking for a job as a club singer, the young man meets a musical promoter who helps him launch his career. As he develops his musical abilities and becomes a star, his self-centered personality begins to affect his relationships.

The wife of producer Pandro S. Berman convinced him to create a film with Presley in the leading role. Berman delegated the casting to Benny Thau, head of the studio and Abe Lastfogel, president of William Morris Agency. Berman hired Richard Thorpe, who was known for shooting productions quickly. The production of Jailhouse Rock began on May 13, 1957, and concluded on June 17 of that year. The dance sequence to the film's title song is often cited as "Presley's greatest moment on screen".

Before pre-production began, songwriters Mike Stoller and Jerry Leiber were commissioned to integrate the film's soundtrack. In April, Leiber and Stoller were called for a meeting in New York City to show the progress of the repertoire. The writers, who had not produced any material, toured the city and were confronted in a hotel room by Jean Aberbach, who locked them into their hotel room by blocking the hotel room door with a sofa until they wrote the material. Presley recorded the soundtrack at Radio Recorders in Hollywood on April 30 and May 3, with an additional session at the MGM Soundstage on May 9. During post-production, the songs were dubbed into the films scenes, in which Presley mimed the lyrics.

Jailhouse Rock premiered on October 17, 1957 in Memphis, Tennessee and was released nationwide on November 8, 1957. It peaked at number 3 on the Variety box office chart, and reached number 14 in the year's box office totals, grossing $4 million. By 1969, the film's box office gross in the United States and Canada was similar to that of The Wizard of Oz. Jailhouse Rock earned mixed reviews, with most of the negative reception directed towards Presley's persona. In 2004, the film was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.


Construction worker Vince Everett (Elvis Presley) accidentally kills a drunk and belligerent man in a bar-room brawl. He is sentenced to between one and ten years in the state penitentiary for manslaughter. His new cellmate, a washed-up country and western singer Hunk Houghton (Mickey Shaughnessy), starts teaching Vince to play the guitar after hearing Vince sing and strum Hunk's guitar. Hunk convinces Vince to participate in an upcoming inmate show, which is broadcast on nationwide television. Vince receives numerous fan letters as a result, but Hunk ensures they are not delivered to Vince. Hunk then convinces Vince to sign a contract to become equal partners in his act.

Upon his release 20 months later, the warden gives Vince his fan mail. Hunk promises Vince a singing job at a nightclub owned by a friend, where Vince meets Peggy Van Alden (Judy Tyler), a promoter for singer Mickey Alba. Vince is surprised when the club owner denies him a job as a singer but offers him a job as a busboy. Vince goes on stage when the house band takes a break, and starts to sing "Young and Beautiful", but becomes enraged by a customer who is paying no attention and laughing. Vince smashes his guitar and leaves the club. Peggy follows Vince and persuades him to record a demo so that he can listen to himself. Vince records "Don't Leave Me Now", which Peggy takes to Geneva Records. Unimpressed, the manager agrees to play the tape for his boss in New York. The next day, Peggy informs Vince that the song has been sold. She then takes him to a party at her parents' home, but Vince offends a guest he mistakenly believes is belittling him and leaves. Angry and offended, Peggy confronts Vince, who kisses her.

Vince and Peggy go to buy Vince's single, but are shocked to discover Mickey Alba's recording has been released instead.. Vince storms into the label's office and slaps the manager. To avoid being deceived, Vince suggests that he and Peggy should form their own label, which they do. The name it Laurel Records and hire an attorney, Mr. Shores (Vaughn Taylor). Vince records "Treat Me Nice", and begins pitching it but it is universally rejected. Peggy convinces her friend, disc jockey Teddy Talbot (Dean Jones) to air the song in exchange for a date, and it becomes an immediate hit. Later that evening, Vince asks Peggy out to celebrate, but is disappointed when he learns that she has accepted a dinner date with Teddy. Vince again appears on television. During a party, Hunk visits him after being paroled and persuades Vince to give him a spot on the upcoming show. Vince rehearses "Jailhouse Rock" in a stylized cell block. Hunk's number is cut because of his outdated music style. Afterward, Vince informs Hunk that according to his lawyer, the contract they signed in prison is worthless. Vince offers Hunk instead a fee of ten percent, which he accepts.

Within a few months, Vince is a star. Peggy is no longer on speaking terms with him, as his success has made him arrogant. Vince signs a movie deal with Climax Studios. The studio head asks him to spend the day with Sherry Wilson (Jennifer Holden), the studio's new leading lady, for publicity purposes. The actress is less than thrilled with her co-star at first, but eventually falls in love with Vince. Hunk grows tired of Vince's self-centered attitude. When Peggy shows up unexpectedly, Vince is happy to see her but becomes upset when she says the purpose of her visit is to talk about business. Mr. Shores approaches Vince with an offer from Geneva Records to purchase Laurel Records and sign him to a rich contract. Peggy refuses to sell, but Vince announces that he will close the deal since he owns a controlling interest, which upsets Peggy. Enraged by Vince's attitude, Hunk provokes Vince, who refuses to fight back. Hunk hits Vince in the throat, endangering his singing ability. Vince is rushed to a hospital. Vince forgives Hunk and realizes he loves Peggy and she loves him. Vince's doctor declares that his vocal cords are fully recovered, but Vince is worried that his voice might have been affected. He sings "Young and Beautiful" to Peggy, which reassures him that his fears are unfounded.


  • Elvis Presley as Vince Everett, a prisoner who, after being released, becomes a star for his singing talent.[2] Producer Pandro S. Berman's wife convinced him to make a film with Presley starring in the leading role. Berman contacted Presley's manager, Colonel Parker and asked if he could send Presley or Parker the script to read it, but Parker was uninterested and denied the request. Berman asked Parker under which conditions would he take the project, to which Parker replied that he was only interested in the music score of the movie and owning the rights for record sales and publishing royalties.[3][4] Presley's payment was settled at US$250,000 and of 50% of the royalties for the distribution of the movie.[5]
  • Judy Tyler as Peggy Van Alden, a music promoter who helps Vince build his career and eventually becoming his lover.[2] Tyler was previously known for her part as Princess Summerfall Winterspring in the television show Howdy Doody and her role as Suzy in the Broadway musical Pipe Dream.[6][7] Tyler took a three-month leave of absence from Howdy Doody to shoot the movie. Tyler and her husband died in a car crash on July 4, days after production of the movie was completed and before the movie was premiered.[6]
  • Mickey Shaughnessy as Hunk Houghton, Vince's cellmate and former country and western singer. He teaches Vince to improve his guitar skills, and after his release from jail becomes Vince's assistant.[2] Shaughnessy was known for his role as Leva in From Here to Eternity.[8] He was also a comedian; Variety reported before the production of the film that during one of his shows in Omaha, Nebraska, Shaughnessy performed a forty-five minute routine that derided Presley. Elaine Dundy, author of the book Elvis and Gladys considered that his casting was an "odd choice", and a product of Berman's disinterest and his decision to delegate the casting of the actors.[9]
  • Vaughn Taylor as Mr. Shores, an attorney whom Vince and Peggy hire to manage Vince's financial affairs.[10]
  • Jennifer Holden as Sherry Wilson, a starlet of Climax studios and Vince's co-star.[11] The movie was Holden's debut; she auditioned for the role at MGM in May 1956 and was selected immediately for the role. She studied drama with Lillian Roth and participated in a small role in a play at the Palace Theatre in New York City.[12]
  • Dean Jones as Teddy Talbot, a disc jockey who plays Vince's debut record as a favor to Peggy. Jones was formerly a blues singer, and he was coached for the role by disc jockeys Ira Cooke and Dewey Phillips.[13]


Jailhouse Rock was Presley's third film and his first for MGM.[15] It was filmed at the MGM studios in Culver City, California.[5] Filmed in black-and-white, the film was the first production that MGM filmed with the recently developed 35 mm anamorphic lens by Panavision.[15][16] The film was originally titled The Hard Way, which was changed to Jailhouse Kid, before MGM finally settled on Jailhouse Rock.[15] It was not listed with the studio's planned releases for the year, which it published in Variety magazine, because it was based on an original story by Ned Young, a blacklisted writer. In addition, the studio traditionally did not produce any original scripts that were not adaptations from already-successful works such as books or theater plays.[9][17] During the production of the movie, Pandro Berman's attention was centered on another of his productions The Brothers Karamazov. He let the head of the studio, Benny Thau, and Abe Lastfogel, president of the William Morris Agency, decide the cast.[9] Richard Thorpe, who had the reputation of quickly finishing his projects, was chosen to direct the film.[18][19]

The first scene to be filmed was the title dance sequence to the song "Jailhouse Rock".[15] Brett Farmer places the "orgasmic gyrations" of the dance sequence within a lineage of cinematic musical numbers that offer a "spectacular eroticization, if not homoeroticization, of the male image";[20] it has often been cited as Presley's greatest moment on screen.[21][22] Alex Romero, who created moves inspired by Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, choreographed the sequence. Presley was not convinced by Romero's initial choreography. Romero played some music and asked Presley to dance, using his own moves to choreograph the final sequence.[23] Impressed with the dance sequence, Kelly applauded one of the rehearsals, during a visit to the set.[15]

Shooting of the film began on May 13, 1957, with the newly created choreography.[24] Presley's characteristic hairstyle and sideburns were covered with a wig and makeup for the scenes in musical number and those set in the jail.[25] During the performance, one of Presley's dental caps fell out and became lodged in his lung. He was taken to the Cedars of Lebanon Hospital, where he spent the night after the cap was removed.[15][24][25] Shooting was resumed the next day.[26] Throughout the film, Presley mimed the songs, which had been previously recorded in the studio and were added to the finished scenes.[27] Thorpe, who usually filmed scenes in a single take, finished the rest of the movie by June 17, 1957.[19][28][29] Jailhouse Rock was Judy Tyler's last film; she died in an automobile accident two weeks after shooting was completed.[30] Presley, moved by the death of his co-star, did not attend the film premiere.[31][nb 1]


Main article: Jailhouse Rock (EP)

Before the production began, rock 'n' roll songwriting partners Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller were commissioned to create the film's soundtrack. The writers, who accepted the work, did not send any material to MGM for months. In April 1957, the studio called a meeting with the writers in New York City to be updated on the progress of the work. Leiber and Stoller, who had not written any material, traveled to New York where, instead of working, they toured the city. They were confronted in their hotel room by Jean Aberbach, director of Hill & Range music publishing company, who asked to see the songs. When he was told that there was no material, Aberbach decided to lock the songwriters in their hotel room by blocking the door with a sofa. Aberbach told them that they would not leave the room until they had created the material. Four hours later, Leiber and Stoller had written "I Want to Be Free", "Treat Me Nice", "(You're So Square) Baby I Don't Care" and "Jailhouse Rock".[32]

Presley recorded the finished songs at Radio Recorders in Hollywood on April 30 and May 3, 1957, with an additional session at the MGM soundstage in Hollywood on May 9 for "Don't Leave Me Now."[33] Leiber and Stoller were invited to the recording session of April 30, where they met Presley. During the session, Stoller helped Presley with the song "Treat Me Nice" and taught him, using a piano, the method he should use while recording the song. Presley was impressed by Stoller and convinced MGM to cast him as the band's pianist in the film.[14]

"Jailhouse Rock"
Elvis Presley's "Jailhouse Rock".

Problems playing this file? See media help.

The following songs in the film were performed by Elvis unless otherwise noted:[34]

  • "One More Day" (Sid Tepper, Roy C. Bennett) – performed by Mickey Shaughnessy.
  • "Young and Beautiful" (Abner Silver, Aaron Schroeder)
  • "I Want To Be Free" (Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller)
  • "Don't Leave Me Now" (Aaron Schroeder, Ben Weisman)
  • "Treat Me Nice" (Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller)
  • "Jailhouse Rock" (Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller) – dance routine was also choreographed by Elvis Presley.
  • "(You're So Square) Baby I Don't Care" (Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller)


Jailhouse Rock premiered on November 8, 1957, at Loews State Theater in Memphis, Tennessee.[30] It opened nationally on November 18 and peaked at number 3 on the Variety box office chart, and reached number 14 for the year at the box office. The film had an original budget of $400,000 to $3,309,953 in 2012 dollars[35] and it grossed $4 million to $33 million in 2012 dollars[35] the box office.[15][36] In 1957, Presley was ranked the fourth leading box office commodity in the film industry. According to Variety, by 1969, Jailhouse Rock's gross income in the United States and Canada was comparable to that of The Wizard of Oz.[30]

Critical reception

Despite the success in the box office, Jailhouse Rock earned mixed reviews from critics. It was looked upon as scandalous once it was released due to its portrayal of Vince Everett as an anti-heroic character,[37][38] presented a convict as a hero, used the word "hell" as a profanity, and included a scene showing Presley in bed with co-star Tyler.[15] The Parent-Teacher Association described the movie as "a hackneyed, blown-up tale with cheap human values."[39] The New York Times criticized Guy Trosper for writing a screenplay where the secondary characters portrayed by Mickey Shaughnesse and Judy Tyler were "forced to hang on to the hero's flying mane and ego for the entire picture". Cue magazine called the film "[an] unpleasant, mediocre and tasteless drama."[40]

Some publications criticized Presley. Time criticized his onstage personality,[41] while The Miami News compared the film with horror movies, and said, "Only Elvis Presley and his 'Jailhouse Rock' can keep pace with the movie debut of this 'personality,' the records show. In estimating the lasting appeal of their grotesque performer."[42] Jazz magazine Down Beat said Presley's acting was "amateurish and bland."[43] British magazine The Spectator described Presley's evolution from his "silly" performance in Loving You to "dangerously near being repulsive."[44]

Other reviewers responded positively to the film. Louise Boyca of the The Schenectady Gazette wrote that "it's dear Elvis that gets the soft focus camera and the arty photography". Boyca remarked upon the low production costs of the film, and said that Presley was "in top singing and personality form."[45] The Gadsden Times said, "Elvis Presley not only proves himself as a dramatic actor ...  but also reveals his versatility by dancing on the screen for the first time. The movie ... also contains Elvis' unique style of singing."[46] Look favored the movie, describing the reception of an audience in a Los Angeles theater that "registered, loud and often, its approval of what may accurately be described as the star's first big dramatic singing role."[47]

Author Thomas Doherty wrote in his 2002 book Teenagers and Teenpics: The Juvenalization of American Movies in the 1950s: "In Jailhouse Rock, the treatment of rock 'n' roll music, both as narrative content and as cinematic performance is knowing and respectful ... The elaborate choreography for the title tune, the long takes and uninterrupted screen time given to the other numbers, and the musical pacing—the rock 'n' roll builds in quality and intensity—all show an indigenous appreciation of Presley's rock 'n' Roll."[48] Critic Hal Erickson of AllRovi wrote that the film "is a perfect balance of song and story from beginning to end".[49] Mark Deming, also a critic for AllRovi, wrote that Jailhouse Rock it was "one of [Presley's] few vehicles which really caught his raw, sexy energy and sneering charisma on film."[49]


In 1991, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller were awarded with an ASCAP Award for Most Performed Feature Film Standards for the song "Jailhouse Rock."[50] In 2004, Jailhouse Rock was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry, as it was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."[15] The film is famous for the dance sequence in which Presley sings the title track while on stage, cavorting with other "inmates" through a set which resembles a block of jail cells. The sequence is widely acknowledged as the most memorable musical scene in Presley's 30 narrative movies, and is credited by music historians as the prototype for the modern music video.[29][51] Jailhouse Rock ranked 495th on Empire's 2008 list of the 500 greatest movies of all time.[52] The review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film an overall 79% "Fresh" approval rating based on 14 reviews, with a rating average of 6.9 out of 10.[53]





External links

  • Internet Movie Database
  • Rotten Tomatoes
  • AllRovi
  • TCM Movie Database