by Charlie Largent Sep 16, 2023

Warner Archive
1966 / 2.35.1
Starring Elvis Presley, Shelley Fabares, Deborah Walley
Directed by Norman Taurog

Elvis Presley contained multitudes but he was most recognizable as the hillbilly genius of the recording booth and the walking-talking mannequin on a Hollywood assembly line. He starred in 31 movies between 1956 and 1969, making three movies in 1966 alone; Frankie and Johnny and Paradise, Hawaiian Style were standard Presley product—blandly tuneful and pretty to look at—but the third film on that shortlist deserves special mention. A grueling 93 minutes of insufferable comedy and stupefying dialog, a movie that makes Viva Las Vegas look like Cabaret, Spinout has the hollow, shambolic quality of a film produced during a writer’s strike. Strike or no strike, it’s a movie that begs to be picketed.

Though Flower Power was just beginning to bloom in 1966, its impact was already keenly felt in Hollywood where the Age of Aquarius called the shots in one movie after another—so much paisley, so much neon and so many pulsating lights—instead of smoky barrooms or the Champs-Élysées, romance was sparked in a mirror-balled discothèque. That year was a turning point for the counter-culture and for each wrenching black and white melodrama like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf there was a brightly colored pop-art confection like Modesty Blaise playing across town. Even those in the spy trade felt the pressure to tune in and drop out; Matt Helm cavorted with a bell-bottomed Ann Margret in that year’s Murderer’s Row and Derek Flint out-frugged a gaggle of fleshy playmates in Our Man Flint. James Bond however, remained a constant in that fast changing world. And so, for the moment, did Presley.

In Spinout Elvis plays, in some respects, a version of his real self, a darkly handsome heartthrob who is as catnip to the ladies; he’s also one of the least aggressive lotharios in Hollywood history—the army of women who stalk him are happy to do all the work. Elvis is so cool, he seems sedated, and with his supernaturally smooth features and glossy hair locked into place, he looks like he’s been preserved in plastic—he could have played Ken in Greta Gerwig’s Barbie without rustling his ascot.

As Mike McCoy, rock ‘n roll singer and sometime race car driver, he’s pursued by man-hungry dames of all shapes and sizes—but three manage to stand out from the pack; Diane McBain plays Diana St. Clair a stereotypical journalist cataloguing the sex life of the American male, Shelley Fabares is Cynthia Foxhugh, a stereotypical spoiled heiress, and Deborah Walley is Les, the stereotypical tomboy-drummer in Mike’s band.

There are men in this film too—Jack Mulaney and Jimmy Hawkins play Presley’s band mates—and while these two actors were more than capable light comedians, their characters are so neutered they could be mistaken for eunuchs escaped from a harem (no wonder Elvis didn’t have to worry about the competition). The other men don’t fare any better. Carl Betz is Howard Foxhugh, Fabares’s predictably avaricious father, Will Hutchins is an avuncular cop under Betz’s thumb, and Warren Berlinger is Betz’s whipping boy—a human punchline.

Foxhugh designs races cars—and he yearns for Mike to drive his latest roadrunner, a streamlined sportster called The Fox Five. He uses his own daughter as a bait to lure Presley into joining his team—and if Cynthia’s nubile charm doesn’t do the trick, the law will. Hutchins, formerly a good natured cowpoke on TV’s Sugarfoot, plays the patrolman hired to lean on Mike and the band but ends up falling for Walley the Little Drummer Girl. Meanwhile Betz begins to see McBain in a new light and Fabares, in a moment that beggars belief, begins to warm up to Berlinger. Once again Elvis’s playboy status remains untainted by marriage but his movie scorecard sports another black mark.

The film’s director, Norman Taurog, was a seminal filmmaker known for crafting solid crowd-pleasers like Boy’s Town and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, while enjoying a long career in musical comedy with the likes of Broadway Melody of 1940 and Girl Crazy with Rooney and Garland. Taurog worked with Presley eight times beginning with G.I. Blues in 1960 and ending with their swan song, Live a Little, Love a Little in 1968. It’s safe to say Spinout is an anomaly for them both.

At least the new Blu ray from Warner Archive looks beautiful. Daniel Fapp, the superb cameraman for 1948’s The Big Clock, 1961’s West Side Story, and 1963’s The Great Escape, adds a real luster to the prosaic studio sets and exteriors (a few of the race scenes were shot at Dodger Stadium). The only extras are the film’s theatrical trailer and—for some reason—two Tom and Jerry cartoons from 1966, Catty-Cornered and Filet Meow. You can order Spinout from Warner Archive right here.


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It’s easy to tell when a review, opinion, is written before actually watching a film. If you don’t like Elvis Presley, you probably won’t enjoy Spinout. If you’re a fan you will enjoy the film. Elvis is in great voice and the songs are terrific. The soundtrack album is even better. It includes Bob Dylan’s favorite performance of any of his songs, Tomorrow Is A Long Time. Artists don’t get to make 31 movies if they don’t have tremendous appeal. Les the stereotypical drummer girl? 1966? What other rock band had a female drummer in 1966, fictional or otherwise. The review certainly is original, probably the first and last time “Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Wolf” will be mentioned in context of an Elvis Presley movie.


How about Honey Lantree, who lent her name to the Brit band The Honeycombs, who had a huge hit with “Have I The Right?” Plus Maureen “Moe” Tucker drummed for the Velvet Underground. And going back a few years, there were several “all-girl” bands (notably Ina Rae Hutton’s) in the big-band era. So they may have been rare, but they definitely existed.

Bob Cashill

One of the Medved brothers’ “Fifty Worst Movies Of All Time”…and one that no one has attempted to reclaim or reassess.

William Lund

The first Elvis movie I saw in a theater. It was awful as were most of his post army films. Viva Las Vegas was a bright spot with Ann Margaret matching Elvis’ energy. It’s hard to believe “Beattle Mania was in full swing while Elvis did this kind of “Spinout” fluff. If it hadn’t been for director Steve Binder and the 68 Comeback Special Elvis would have never had one last hurrah in the last 60’s early 70’s. I saw him in Vegas at his peak and few years later, he was an artist in decline. I hope the disk “Spinout” does well for the archive.

Phil Lindholm

Obviously not Presley’s best, but he’s done worse movies than this one.

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