IT HAPPENED AT THE WORLD’S FAIR, Elvis Presley’s 12th movie, released in 1963, is notable for two reasons. First is the location shooting, done the year before (some with the well-protected King, the rest 2nd-unit footage) at the memorably space-agey World’s Fair in Seattle, Washington, the ‘Century 21 Exposition’. Second, unremarked at the time, but a posterity boon for film fans, was the debut, in a bit part, of 11-year-old Kurt Russell. Otherwise, it’s typical of the lame, slapdash vehicles Presley subjected himself (and loyal fans) to for the rest of his movie career. In this one he starts out as a broke crop-duster pilot and finishes with a hot blonde nurse and enrolling in NASA. On the way he gets to save an “adorable” orphan, beats the crap out of several thugs (using karate chops for good measure) and make out with Batgirl. The only thing missing was a cameo from JFK. *
Hitchhiking to Seattle, crop-dusting partners ‘Mike’ (Elvis) and ‘Danny’ (Gary Lockwood) need to grab some work to get their airplane out of hock. While reckless Danny gambles and schemes (inviting the two brawls that every Elvis outing requires), rakish but honest Mike goes head over Space Needle for ‘Diane’ (Joan O’Brien), nurse and astronaut hopeful. He’s also entangled watching out for cute, abandoned ‘Sue-Lin’ (Vicky Tiu), who, like all 7-year-old Asian movie-orphan kids, is wise beyond her years (and height), asks embarrassing questions, cries on cue, and has an ability with one-liners.
Besides the comely (and script flustered) Miss O’Brien and the ‘darling’-to-the-point-of-barfing Little Miss Vicky, there’s a brief early scene with vixen-next-door Yvonne Craig, there to inflame the lust gene that lurks beneath concerns like brotherhood, peace on earth, blah blah….
The 4th of nine Elvis frolics wanly directed by Norman Taurog, this cardboard gig was written by schlock scribes Si Rose and Seamon Jacobs. It must have taken them about two hours, including typing. In between the feeble jokes, clinches with O’Brien and Craig and fistfights (Elvis throws the most savage punches this side of Jake La Motta) no less than ten songs are sandwiched in, with only “Relax” barely passing muster. The ingredients percolate over 105 minutes, a good 25 more than needed. Coming in 42nd place for the year, it was nonetheless profitable, the $6,800,000 gross wiping clean whatever MGM laid out to foist it.
Aside from ogling O’Brien and Craig, enduring the tot, and wondering how many pints of Brylcreem were lacquered into Elvis’s hair, the movie is a sweet nostalgic experience for those who recall the wonderful World’s Fair and its exhibits. The views of the site and bygone Seattle (they made sure to get sunny days) make putting up with the dopey plot and limpid songs worthwhile. Get chuckles from the Space Needle sequence and how it ‘revolves’.
With H.M. Wynant, Guy Raymond and Kam Tong.
* —-It Happened trivia—-that futuristic car displayed was a General Motors Firebird III, complete with titanium steel skin, gull-wing doors and a “double bubble” canopy (alas, no ejector seat, but ‘Q’ was working on that elsewhere).
—-sixteen years later, when he was 27, and The King was two years gone, Kurt Russell nailed a marvelous interpretation of Presley in Elvis, made for TV in 1979.
—born in Manila, Vicky Tiu got the part because her sister Ginny, originally chosen, was locked into a piano recital for President Kennedy. Ginny and sis Elizabeth had already appeared in a 1962 Elvis opus, Girls! Girls! Girls!, squeaking a tune entitled “Earth Boy”. Down to earth, Vicky later went to Stanford, then became the First Lady of Hawaii, marrying Gov. Ben Cayetano.
—blonde bombshell Joan O’Brien, 26 at the time, cancelled a 16-week singing engagement in Vegas to Fair-pair with Elvis (she only gets to sing once in the part). Despite high-profile supporting credits with Cary Grant and Tony Curtis (in Operation Petticoat) and John Wayne (The Alamo and The Comancheros) her acting career faded. One more movie, the anemic Get Yourself A College Girl, a few TV gigs, and she went back to singing. Did she fling with The King?
—-iconic 60’s slobber-crush Yvonne Craig (1937-2015), then 25 (and OMG!), apparently did play fair-thee-well with The Pelvis, and she stuck around for the goofy (but more fun) Kissin’ Cousins, which showed up in ’64. In her memoir, “From Ballet To The Batcave And Beyond”, she offers “It wasn’t the love of your life or the love of his life. It was just kinda hanging out”. To quote Mel Brooks, “It’s good to be The King…”