Tuesday, January 31, 2017

What You Need Is A Change Of Habit

Elvis Presley and Mary Tyler Moore in Change Of Habit.
Having learned that actress Mary Tyler Moore had died, I dug out my DVD copy of Change Of Habit. It's been a long time since I watched this, Elvis' last scripted film, in which he plays a doctor (John Carpenter) and she one of three nuns (Sister Michelle) seeking employment at his free clinic in a deprived area of New York.

I have always found Change Of Habit entertaining and well acted. Including such contemporary problems as racism, violence and loan shark operators it's a far cry from the stereotypical Elvis Presley movie. In fact, it's hard to understand that Elvis made films like Clambake and Speedway only two years earlier.

One of the strongest scenes is the one where Elvis, aided by Mary Tyler Moore, helps an autistic child. Doctor and nun sit side by side, holding the girl while she kicks and screeches, all the while telling her to let out her anger and repeating how much they love her. Not very realistic, I learned today thanks to the internet and the article Elvis and autism: An unlikely couple. But emotional, nevertheless.

The movie has some humorous moments, too. When a loan shark, The Banker, turns up at the clinic, Elvis greets him with a straight face and the line "I can't help you Banker, I'm not a veterinarian."Another memorable scene has Elvis playing a bluesy version of "Lawdy, Miss Clawdy" on piano, with no vocals, in the nun's apartment.

Speaking of the music, Elvis recorded four songs for Change Of Habit on March 5–6, 1969, but one of them, "Let´s Be Friends," never made it into the movie. Instead, "Rubberneckin'" from the American Studios sessions in January that year, was used in the film, meaning the entire soundtrack was awarded to songwriter Ben Weisman.

In his book Elvis Presley: A Life In Music Ernst Jorgensen has nothing positive to say about the soundtrack recordings, writing that "Elvis must have wondered what he was doing there." Meaning, I guess, that the songs were a far cry from the Memphis recordings, and that Elvis had his mind on his upcoming return to live appearances at the newly built International Hotel in Las Vegas.

That might be true, but I have no problem with most of the material. The funky title track works well over the opening credits, and I also like the gospel number "Let Us Pray" which is used to great effect at the end of the film. (And I love it when Elvis is belting out "Rubberneckin'" in Dr. John Carpenters apartment above the clinic.)

The scene in the park where Elvis is singing "Have A Happy" on a merry-go-round after a touch football game is another matter. It really is out of place and does nothing to promote Elvis image as an adult actor. Why it was put in the script in the first place is beyond me.

But that's my only complaint, and I'd like to end with a passage from Gerry McLaffertys' book Elvis Presley In Hollywood, in the chapter that deals with Change Of Habit:
In his physial prime and with potentially a whole new career ahead of him, Change Of Habit marked Elvis Presley's final acting role. The waste of talent was horrendous. Although many further offers came his way he would never again appear in a scripted film.

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