why did Elvis make such a terrible movie as “speedway”?

Estimated reading time is 2 minutes.

ANOTHER DAY, ANOTHER QUESTION ON QUORA about Elvis that needed answering. The question was, “I watched Speedway today. Why did Elvis make such a terrible movie?” More than forty years after his death, that remains a difficult question to answer. Most people—even fans that should know better—blame the Colonel. Once, I did, too.

But I have been an Elvis fan for a looooong time and see things a lot differently as a mature, older man (actually, as a just plain old man) than I did back at the time he was making these movies and recording their often immediately forgettable soundtrack songs. Here is my answer to the question:

“I have been an Elvis fan for sixty years. I paid money to sit in nearly-empty theaters in 1966–1969 to watch many a wretched Elvis movie. Once upon a time, I blamed Parker, too, but nobody forced Elvis to make a single one of those lame movies and no one forced him to record those limp songs.

Despite using modifiers such as ‘limp’ and ‘lame’ to describe many an Elvis movie, I actually pulled my punches writing this answer.

As Presley did not keep a diary/journal, nor did he write an autobiography, nor did he give lengthy, thoughtful interviews, we will probably never know why he didn’t put his foot down after G. I Blues or It Happened at the World’s Fair or Girl Happy and say, ‘Enough!’

What we do know is that, for years, millions of people bought tickets to those movies and hundreds of thousands of them bought those records, so he kept churning them out. When the lame movies and the limp records stopped making big bucks, he started making better movies and better music.

Make of that what you will . . .”

Despite using emasculating modifiers such as “limp” and “lame,” I actually pulled my punches writing this answer: I didn’t use “terrible” or “atrocious” or “piece of schidt. (And, yes, I know the last one isn’t an adjective).

Should you want to read the piece on Quora and follow any comments made there, click here.

Despite using modifiers such as ‘limp’ and ‘lame’ to describe many an Elvis movie, I actually pulled my punches writing this answer. Click To Tweet

Terrible movie: scene of Elvis as Steve Grayson in the movie SPEEDWAY from 1968.

FEATURED IMAGE: The photo at the top of this page was cropped from this photo, which is a scene from Speedway. The Turner Classic Movies website sums this movie up as “A race car driver tries to outrun the beautiful tax auditor out to settle his account.” How did they fail to mention he is a singing race car driver?

Presley’s female co-star was Nancy Sinatra, who—as likable as she was—had almost zero “screen presence,” as anyone who sat through The Wild Angels a couple of years earlier should have known.

Finally, this mini-article is dedicated to another long-time Elvis fan, Mr. Joe Spera . . .



10 thoughts on “why did Elvis make such a terrible movie as “speedway”?”

  1. Let’s keep in mind, that Elvis was only twenty-five when he returned home from the army. I don’t blame Parker, but Vernon didn’t help Elvis either. Vernon was a good-hearted man, but he wasn’t the person to manage Elvis’ finances. It would have been nice if Vernon had more of a backbone and had helped Elvis get away from Parker instead of going along with everything.

    Elvis on the set of G.I. Blues in 1960 receiving a copy of his new album ELVIS IS BACK.

    • Vernon wrote the checks to pay the bills. Manage finances is a generous moniker. I don’t think Elvis ever thought he couldn’t generate income. But he definitely didn’t have a financial advisor to steer him towards making money with money.

      Having more than a million cash in the bank when he died was quite the feat considering his propensity for giving it away. 

      I remember seeing some TV movie where Parker got Vernon to sign the new 50/50 deal on Elvis’ casket. Not sure if that’s true.

  2. Elvis had seen music trends rise and die in the USA. When he got out of the army and Parker showed up with a 7-year work and money-filled “plan,” Elvis wasn’t stupid, so he signed up. The one thing missing was script approval. The success of early movies was the fans’ fault and Elvis was fed actual acting in movie scripts along with “Elvisified” scripts initially.

    I don’t care what any fan says but Follow That Dream is easily Elvis’ best acting movie and script. After all, even Elvis knew it was good because he showed up with his own non-black hair. FTD gave Elvis his best dramatic performance as well as great comedy lines. Elvis was “dumb” at the right times as it resulted in him being brilliant. Taking on the mob hit men in the forest is grade A movie entertainment. The return to his house where the two leftover mob guys were fishing on the dock is also brilliant movie fare.

    Unfortunately, the great opening song wasn’t promoted so FTD got lost in the shear landslide of Elvis product. If you’re a diehard Elvis fan, go back to FTD and approach it like a movie, not an “Elvis” movie, and dissect the script. It’s easily a five-star endeavor with only one flaw. The little girl seems to go missing, though she reappears in the courtroom scene. Help rewrite Elvis movie history by putting this above all those “Elvis playing a music sensation” movies. Yes, I’m saying Follow That Dream is Elvis’ best performance—it showed his complete range as an actor and it was a brilliant “non-Elvis” movie...

    • When I was a much younger Elvis fan, I “blamed” Parker for the “bad” movies. As I grew up, his long-term plan to assure his client movie assignments for years to come (perhaps years after his success as a pop star waned) was simply good business! You wrote, “The one thing missing was script approval.” Does this mean that no one in the star’s camp had any say in the movies’ direction—that, contractually, Elvis was obligated to accept parts he knew to be demeaning?

      I, too, have been a fan Follow That Dream for a loooong time! I saw it for the first time as part of a Saturday-at-the-movies in one of the many second-run theaters in Wyoming Valley, Pennsylvania. I probably saw it a few years after its release and I paid all of 25¢ for a ticket and got to see something like Earth Versus the Flying Saucers or The Monolith Monsters as part of the all-day matinee!

      If I had to pick an Elvis movie to show to someone that Presley could, indeed, “act,” I’d show them FTD! I might follow it with another anomalous Elvis movie, Stay Away, Joe! (But I would probably follow that with my fave “Elvis playing a music sensation”: Loving You.)

      I also rank “Follow That Dream” (along with “King of the Whole Wide World”) among his best recordings of 1961—a statement I make about very few soundtrack recordings of the ’60s.

      Thanks for the comment and keep on keepin’ on!

      • 1. I didn’t mean to imply that Elvis didn’t act in those music sensation movies. But I’m willing to bet when Elvis saw that type of casting, in the sixties, he might’ve seen it as “Elvisploitation”.

        2. Kid Galahad was most likely seen as an acting movie, too. After all, it was close to a “remake” of a classic movie and Elvis wasn’t an “on-stage singer” there, too.

        3. BTW, “sensation” might’ve been overstating a little.

        4. As far as “demeaning,” not sure how far you wanna go to its possible meaning. Pretty sure he could object had he been asked to play a serial pedophile.

        5. Script approval simply means Elvis had to accept the movie to fulfill the contract even if it was nothing but singing or even if it was a movie about a caveman with no talking. He did have script approval at the end which led to Charro and Change of Habit.

        6. I’ve always been under the opinion that some movie execs were connected to some songwriters and got some cash from a song here and there.

        • 1. “Elvisploitation”—Love it!

          2. The “acting” movies also include Flaming Star and Wild in the Country. In both, Elvis was good but far from great.

          3. “Sensation” works for me!

          4. Merriam-Webster defines demeaning as “damaging or lowering the character, status, or reputation of someone or something.” I think that applies readily to Presley’s career in Hollywood in the ’60s.

          5. From 1960 into at least 1965, Elvis was one of the biggest box office draws in the country. I have always found it hard to believe that he couldn’t have put his foot down at some point, said, “Enough,” and refused to perform/act until he had a respectable script.

          6. Never thought of that but, in the Wonderful World of Elvis, it makes sense ...

  3. Many fans put too much on script approval as the cause of all those terrible movies. Elvis wasn’t stupid but was naive on the business side and didn’t know how much influence he really had. Kissin’ Cousins did more harm than just doing another terrible movie—his wanting to become a serious actor became a joke. Fans hearing “Barefoot Ballad” on the big screen while the Beatles were lighting up the small screen didn’t do Elvis any favors to his image either.

    • Amen! One of my Favoritest All-Time Observations by a Rock Critic can be found on page 89 of Roy Carr and Mick Farren’s Elvis – The Complete Illustrated Record from 1982. Coincidentally, it was in their hilariously brief review of the (really dumb) “Kissin’ Cousins” single, in which they noted, “In another galaxy, the Rolling Stones issued ‘Not Fade Away.”

  4. Hi, Neal!

    1. Speedway may not get an Oscar but the “Let Yourself Go” sequence along with “Your Time Hasn’t Come Yet Baby” must be two of the best examples of Elvis in 1967/1968: he is super slim, agile, great looking, and in great vocal form.

    2. The album also featured “Suppose,” an underrated classic.

    3. It was a shame that they included “He’s Your Uncle,” but in most movies there was always a song or two that spoilt an otherwise good set of movie songs.

    4. (a) Fans can say what they want to about “Hollywood Elvis,” but the movies produced dozens of great songs and (b) his movie soundtracks—with the exception of the last two or three—are amongst his biggest-selling albums and charted higher than most of the ’70s albums.

    5. (a) Elvis’ recording career was once described as “wildly erratic” (b) but there are many songs from the ’70s that were not great yet people continue to slam the soundtracks!

    6. There is good and bad in everything ...

    • Hello, Philip!

      And thanks for the considered comment. 

      My apologies but I made a few stylistic changes in your original comment so that it matched the style of this blog. (I do it to just about everyone.)

      I also numbered each of your individual points so that I could address them in a manner easily followed by other readers. So, here goes ...

      1. I bought RCA Victor 47-9547, “Let Yourself Go” / “Your Time Hasn’t Come Yet Baby,” when it came out in 1968. Local radio favored the B-side, which I thought was going to be Elvis’s biggest hit since “Love Letters” in 1966. Alas, by then many radio stations considered Presley platters so lame that they simply stopped playing them and both sides of 47-9547 pooped out before they ever bot near the Top 40. 

      That said, a pair of fine sides surrounded by mainly mediocre material does make a 90-minute movie an enjoyable viewing treat. To many of us fans who were still loyally buying his records and seeing his movies, it was just another disappointment.

      2. I never cared for “Suppose” but I understand why others such as yourself do. But then, I really like “Who Are You? (Who Am I?),” a recording that has been ignored by many Presley fans.

      3. Let’s not forget “There Ain’t Nothing Like A Song” (gag!) and the rather dreadful sound that plagued many Elvis soundtracks at this time.

      4. (a) Yes, the movies produced dozens of great songs but if Presley hadn’t been making movie soundtracks and had done a few studio sessions per year there might have been hundreds of great songs! (b) The soundtrack LPs of 1966-1968 had initial sales of about 200,000-300,000. The poorer-selling studio LPs of the ’70s had initial sales of about 200,000-300,000. The reason the ’70s albums charted lower was that the LP market exploded in the ’70s and countless newer artists were selling tons more than Presley.

      5. (a) Elvis’ whole career from 1960 through 1977 on can be described as wildly erratic. (b) Most of the fans that I know who slam the soundtrack albums also slam the poorer LPs of the’70s (especially Love Letters, Now, and Raised on Rock).

      6. Amen, brother.


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