When I saw This Is Elvis at the movies in 1981 I thought it was great. I even remember they were playing Elvis songs through the speakers in the cinema as we waited for the lights to dim and the film to begin.
Yesterday evening I sat down to watch This Is Elvis again, this time on DVD. I still thought it enjoyable, although knowing a lot more about Elvis nowadays, I also spotted a lot of faults.
The beginning is one of the highlights in the movie, with the camera following Elvis (played by impersonator Johnny Harra) inside Graceland and then up the stairs. In other words, you have a peek at how Graceland looked when Elvis lived there.
In fact, I don't know of any other footage that shows the second floor of Graceland, and if only for that reason the movie is worth owning. In the expanded video version you also get to see Elvis bedroom and a glimpse of the bathroom.
Another favorite part in the movie is the Elvis On Tour montage where the song "Promised Land" is used to great effect. I also like the scenes where Elvis is practicing karate to the sound of "Kung Fu Fighting."
Then of course, there are the downsides. The worst by far is "Elvis" (Ral Donner) narrating the story of his life throughout the film: With a line like "If only I could see what was happening to me...then I might have done something about it," the movie reach rock bottom.
Other annoying stuff are bad cuts in the songs to shorten their playing time, and the horrible way the ending of "Cant Help Falling In Love" is spliced with "Suspicious Minds." Another not to bright idea is to use footage from That's The Way It Is and pretending it's from 1968.
I also have to mentions some terrible acting when it comes to a couple of interviews that clearly are staged for the movie. There's also quite a few bloopers, one example is when "Elvis" tells us he and Scotty and Bill tried to cut a record for six months at Sun, about 50 songs, before they got it right.
Still, the inclusion of plenty of interviews, newsreel footage and home movies (the directors seem to have had access to tons of material) makes This Is Elvis interesting to watch, 27 years after its release.
If you laugh at the mistakes there's still a lot to enjoy and also to be fascinated about. For example seeing Joe Esposito playing the role of himself and relive the day Elvis died. That must have been a strange experience for him.