Jailhouse Rock (film)

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Jailhouse Rock
Theatrical release poster by Bradshaw Crandell
Directed byRichard Thorpe
Screenplay byGuy Trosper
Story byNedrick Young
Produced byPandro S. Berman
CinematographyRobert J. Bronner
Edited byRalph E. Winters
Music byJeff Alexander
Avon Productions
Distributed byMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release dates
  • October 17, 1957 (1957-10-17) (Memphis)
  • November 8, 1957 (1957-11-08) (United States)
Running time
96 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$1 million[1]
Box office$4 million[1]

Jailhouse Rock is a 1957 American musical drama film directed by Richard Thorpe and starring Elvis Presley, Judy Tyler, Mickey Shaughnessy, Vaughn Taylor and Jennifer Holden. Adapted by Guy Trosper from a story written by Nedrick Young, the film tells the story of Vince Everett (Presley), a convict who learns the guitar while in prison and later becomes a star following his release.

The film's iconic soundtrack was written by songwriters Mike Stoller and Jerry Leiber. The dance sequence to the film's title song is often cited as "Presley's greatest moment on screen."

Jailhouse Rock premiered in Memphis, Tennessee on October 17, 1957, and was released nationwide on November 8, 1957. It peaked at #3 on the Variety box-office chart and finished #14 for the year, grossing $4 million. The film initially earned mixed reviews, with much of the negative targeted at Presley. In 2004, the film was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress, who deemed it "culturally, aesthetically or historically significant."[2][3]


Construction worker Vince Everett accidentally kills a drunken man in a brawl and is sentenced to 10–14 months in the state penitentiary. His cellmate, washed-up country singer Hunk Houghton, incarcerated for bank robbery, teaches Vince some guitar chords. Hunk then convinces Vince to participate in an inmate show that is broadcast on nationwide television. After his appearance, Vince receives fan letters, but the jealous Hunk prevents their delivery.

Hunk convinces Vince to sign a pact to become equal partners in his act when they are both free. Later, during an inmate riot in the mess hall, a guard shoves Vince, who retaliates by striking him. As punishment, the warden orders Vince to be lashed with a whip. Vince later learns that Hunk attempted to bribe the guards to forego the punishment but did not have enough money.

Elvis Presley as Vince Everett talks to Mickey Shaughnessy as Hunk Houghton in their cell.

Upon Vince's release 14 months later, the warden gives him his withheld fan mail. Hunk promises Vince a singing job at a nightclub owned by a friend. There, Vince meets Peggy Van Alden, a promoter for pop singer Mickey Alba. Vince is surprised when the club owner denies him a job as a singer but offers him a job as a bar boy. To prove himself to the owner, Vince takes the stage to sing when the house band takes a break. However, a customer laughs throughout the performance. Enraged, Vince smashes his guitar and leaves the club. Peggy then persuades him to record a demo so that he can listen to himself sing. Vince records a song, and Peggy takes the tape to Geneva Records. The manager seems unimpressed, but reluctantly agrees to play the tape for his boss in New York. The next day, Peggy informs Vince that the song has been sold. She then takes him to a party at her parents' home, but Vince leaves after offending a guest whom he mistakenly believes is belittling him. Angry, Peggy confronts Vince, who kisses her. Later, the two discover that Geneva Records gave the song to Mickey Alba. Alba recorded and released the song, thereby stealing it. Infuriated, Vince storms into the label's office and attacks the manager.

To avoid a similar misfortune, Vince convinces Peggy to form their own label, which they name Laurel Records, and hire attorney Mr. Shores to oversee the business. Vince then records another song and begins pitching it. The song is universally rejected until Peggy convinces a friend, disc jockey Teddy Talbot, to air it. Then, it becomes a hit. Vince asks Peggy out to celebrate but is disappointed to learn that she had already accepted a dinner date with Teddy.

Later, Vince makes arrangements for another television show. At a party, Hunk, who has been granted parole, persuades Vince to give him a part in the show in an effort to revive his own music career. However, Hunk's number ends up being cut because of his outdated music style. Vince later informs Hunk that the pact that they signed in prison is worthless. However, indebted to Hunk for having tried to bribe the guards, Vince offers him a job with his entourage.

Presley as Vince Everett hugs Judy Tyler as Peggy Van Alden as he sings "Young and Beautiful".

Vince soon becomes a star. However, Peggy no longer speaks with Vince, as his success has made him arrogant. Vince signs a movie deal, and the studio head asks him to spend the day with his conceited costar Sherry Wilson for publicity purposes. Sherry then falls in love with Vince after shooting a kissing scene.

Mr. Shores later approaches Vince with an offer from Geneva Records to purchase Laurel Records and sign him to a rich contract. Peggy refuses to sell and is devastated when Vince wants to close the deal anyway. Enraged by Vince's egotism and treatment of Peggy, Hunk starts a fight and strikes Vince in the throat, endangering the latter's voice and singing ability. At the hospital, Vince forgives Hunk and realizes that he loves Peggy and that she loves him. Vince's doctor later informs him that his vocal cords are fully recovered, and in the living room, Vince tests his voice by singing to Peggy. Realizing that Vince's singing voice is intact and his worries are unfounded, the two put their arms around each other.


  • Elvis Presley as Vince Everett, an ex-con who becomes a singing star.[4] Producer Pandro S. Berman's wife convinced him to make a film with Presley in the leading role. Presley's manager, Colonel Thomas Parker, was only interested in the film's score and the rights to record sales and publishing royalties,[5][6] and Presley was paid $250,000 and 50% of the film's royalties.[7]
  • Judy Tyler as Peggy Van Alden, a music promoter who helps Vince build his career and becomes his lover.[4] Tyler was previously known for her part as Princess Summerfall Winterspring on the television show Howdy Doody and as Suzy in the Broadway musical Pipe Dream (1955).[8][9] Tyler took a three-month leave of absence from Howdy Doody to shoot the film. Tyler and her husband were killed in a car crash on July 3, just days after production was completed and before its premiere.[8] Presley was so devastated that he refused to watch the film.
  • Mickey Shaughnessy as Hunk Houghton, Vince's cellmate and a former country singer. He teaches Vince the guitar and later becomes Vince's assistant.[4] Shaughnessy was known as Leva in From Here to Eternity (1953).[10] He was also a comedian, and Variety reported that Shaughnessy had performed a 45-minute routine deriding Presley sometime before the film was made. Elaine Dundy, author of the book Elvis and Gladys (1985), considered his selection an "odd choice" and the result of Berman's lack of involvement with casting.[11]
  • Vaughn Taylor as Mr. Shores, an attorney whom Vince and Peggy hire to manage Vince's financial affairs.[12]
  • William Forrest as the studio head (uncredited)
  • Jennifer Holden as starlet Sherry Wilson.[13] The film was Holden's debut; after auditioning for the role at MGM in May 1956, she was selected immediately. She studied drama with Lillian Roth and had previously appeared on stage.[14]
  • Dean Jones as disc jockey Teddy Talbot. Jones was formerly a blues singer, and he was coached for the role by disc jockeys Ira Cooke and Dewey Phillips.[15] Jones went on to star in a string of Walt Disney films.
  • "Jailhouse Rock" cowriter Mike Stoller (of the Leiber and Stoller songwriting partnership) and Presley's regular band during that period—Scotty Moore, Bill Black and D. J. Fontana—appear as Vince's band throughout the film, though uncredited.[16]


Drive-in advertisement from 1957.

Jailhouse Rock was Presley's third film and his first for MGM.[17] It was filmed at MGM Studios (now Sony Pictures Studios) in Culver City, California.[7] The film was originally titled The Hard Way and was changed to Jailhouse Kid before MGM finally settled on Jailhouse Rock.[17] The film was not listed with the studio's planned releases for the year because it was based on a story by Nedrick Young, a blacklisted writer.[11][18] During production, producer Pandro Berman was more focused on another of his productions, the 1958 film The Brothers Karamazov. He allowed studio head Benny Thau and William Morris Agency president Abe Lastfogel to select the cast.[11] Richard Thorpe, who had a reputation for quickly finishing projects, was chosen to direct the film.[19][20]

The first scene filmed was the title dance sequence to the song "Jailhouse Rock."[17] Presley was not initially pleased with the direction of choreographer Alex Romero, so Romero asked Presley to try his own moves to for the final sequence.[21] The scene has often been cited as Presley's greatest musical moment on screen.[22][23] [17] Filming began on May 13, 1957, with the newly created choreography.[24]

Presley's characteristic hairstyle and sideburns were covered with a wig and makeup for the musical and jail scenes.[25] During the performance, one of Presley's dental caps detached and became lodged in his lung, and he spent a night in the hospital[17][24][25] before filming resumed the next day.[26]

Thorpe, who usually filmed scenes in a single take, finished the film by June 17, 1957.[20][27][28]


Before production began, rock-and-roll songwriting partners Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller were commissioned to create the film's soundtrack, but they did not send any material to MGM for months. In April 1957, the studio summoned the writers to New York and Jean Aberbach, director of the Hill & Range music publishing company, confronted them demanding to see the songs. When told that there was no material, Aberbach locked the songwriters in their hotel room and would not allow them to leave until they had written songs. Four hours later, Leiber and Stoller had written "I Want to Be Free", "Treat Me Nice", "(You're So Square) Baby I Don't Care", and "Jailhouse Rock."[29]

Presley recorded the finished songs at Radio Recorders in Hollywood on April 30 and May 3, 1957, with an additional session at the MGM soundstage in Hollywood on May 9 for "Don't Leave Me Now."[30] Leiber and Stoller were invited to the recording session of April 30, where they met Presley, who convinced MGM to cast Stoller as the band's pianist in the film.[16] During filming, Presley mimed the words for film's musical numbers, and the music was later added to the finished scenes.[31]

The following songs in the film were performed by Presley unless otherwise noted:[32]


Scene from the original theatrical trailer.

Jailhouse Rock premiered on October 17, 1957, at Loews State Theater in Memphis. Female lead Judy Tyler had been killed in an automobile accident soon before the film's release,[33] and a devastated Presley did not attend the premiere.[34][nb 1] The film opened nationally on November 8.[33]

Box office[edit]

The film peaked at #3 on the Variety box-office chart and reached #14 for the year.[17][35]

According to MGM records, the film earned $3.2 million in the U.S. and Canada and $1,075,000 elsewhere during its initial theatrical run, resulting in a profit of $1,051,000.[1]

In 1957, Presley was ranked the fourth-leading box-office commodity in the film industry. According to Variety, by 1969, Jailhouse Rock's gross income in the U.S. and Canada was comparable to that of The Wizard of Oz (1939).[33]

Critical reception[edit]

Publicity photos for the film featuring Presley during the dance sequence for "Jailhouse Rock"

Jailhouse Rock earned mixed reviews from critics. Some felt it scandalous when released because it portrayed Vince Everett as an antiheroic character,[36][37] presented a convict as a hero, used the word "hell" as a profanity and included a scene with Presley in bed with Tyler.[17] The Parent-Teacher Association described the film as "a hackneyed, blown-up tale with cheap human values."[38] The New York Times criticized Guy Trosper for writing a screenplay in which the secondary characters were "forced to hang on to the hero's flying mane and ego for the entire picture." Cue magazine called the film "[an] unpleasant, mediocre and tasteless drama."[39]

Some publications criticized Presley. Time panned his onstage personality,[40] while The Miami News compared the film with horror pictures and wrote, "Only Elvis Presley and his 'Jailhouse Rock' can keep pace with the movie debut of this 'personality,' the records show. In estimating the lasting appeal of their grotesque performer."[41] Jazz magazine Down Beat wrote that Presley's acting was "amateurish and bland."[42] British magazine The Spectator described Presley's evolution from his "silly" performance in Loving You to "dangerously near being repulsive."[43]

Other reviewers responded positively to the film. Louise Boyca of The Schenectady Gazette wrote that "it's dear Elvis that gets the soft focus camera and the arty photography." Boyca remarked upon the low production costs of the film, and said that Presley was "in top singing and personality form."[44] The Gadsden Times said, "Elvis Presley not only proves himself as a dramatic actor ...  but also reveals his versatility by dancing on the screen for the first time. The movie ... also contains Elvis' unique style of singing."[45] Look favored the film, describing how one audience "registered, loud and often, its approval of what may accurately be described as the star's first big dramatic singing role."[46]

Author Thomas Doherty wrote in his 2002 book Teenagers and Teenpics: The Juvenalization of American Movies in the 1950s: "In Jailhouse Rock, the treatment of rock 'n' roll music, both as narrative content and as cinematic performance is knowing and respectful ... The elaborate choreography for the title tune, the long takes and uninterrupted screen time given to the other numbers, and the musical pacing—the rock 'n' roll builds in quality and intensity—all show an indigenous appreciation of Presley's rock 'n' Roll."[47] Critic Hal Erickson of AllRovi wrote that the film "is a perfect balance of song and story from beginning to end."[48] Mark Deming, also of AllRovi, wrote that Jailhouse Rock was "one of [Presley's] few vehicles which really caught his raw, sexy energy and sneering charisma on film."[48]

The review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes lists the film with an overall 67% "Fresh" approval rating based on 42 reviews.[49]


In 1991, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller were awarded with an ASCAP Award for Most-Performed Feature Film Standards for the song "Jailhouse Rock".[50] In 2004, Jailhouse Rock was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry, as it was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."[17] The film is famous for the dance sequence (also choreographed by Presley) in which Presley sings the title track while on stage, cavorting with other inmates through a set resembling a block of jail cells. The sequence is widely acknowledged as the most memorable musical scene in Presley's 30 narrative films, and is credited by some music historians as the prototype for the modern music video.[28][51] Jailhouse Rock ranked 495th on Empire's 2008 list of the 500 greatest films of all time.[52]

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:


  1. ^ Some sources, such as Adam Victor in The Elvis Encyclopedia and Albert Goldman in Elvis, claim that Presley never watched the completed film.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study.
  2. ^ "Complete National Film Registry Listing". Library of Congress. Retrieved May 1, 2020.
  3. ^ "Librarian of Congress Adds 25 Films to National Film Registry". Library of Congress. Retrieved May 1, 2020.
  4. ^ a b c Templeton & Craig 2002, pp. 15–6.
  5. ^ Dundy 2004, pp. 286–87.
  6. ^ Goldman 1981, p. 237.
  7. ^ a b Cotten 1985, p. 129.
  8. ^ a b Glut & Harmon 1975, p. 47.
  9. ^ St. Joseph 1957.
  10. ^ Garner & Mrotek 1999, p. 11.
  11. ^ a b c Dundy 2004, p. 286.
  12. ^ TCM.
  13. ^ Dickinson 2008, p. 63.
  14. ^ Worth & Tamerius 1992, p. 229.
  15. ^ Worth & Tamerius 1992, p. 230.
  16. ^ a b Collins 2005, p. 88.
  17. ^ a b c d e f g h i Victor 2008, p. 269.
  18. ^ Giglio 2010, p. 109.
  19. ^ Eagan 2010, p. 536.
  20. ^ a b Relyea 2008, p. 72.
  21. ^ Humphries 2003, p. 52.
  22. ^ Brown & Broeske 1997, p. 124.
  23. ^ Poore 1998, p. 20.
  24. ^ a b Guralnick 1994, pp. 409–10.
  25. ^ a b Slaughter 2005, p. 46.
  26. ^ Relyea 2008, p. 71.
  27. ^ Guralnick 1994, p. 413.
  28. ^ a b Guralnick & Jorgensen 1999, p. 106.
  29. ^ Collins 2005, pp. 84–7.
  30. ^ Jorgensen 1998, pp. 89–90.
  31. ^ Millard 2005, p. 239.
  32. ^ Jorgensen 1998, pp. 90–2.
  33. ^ a b c Templeton & Craig 2002, p. 16.
  34. ^ Clayton 2006, p. 87.
  35. ^ Denisoff & Romanowski 1991, p. 87.
  36. ^ Gabbard 1996, p. 125.
  37. ^ Templeton & Craig 2002, p. 156.
  38. ^ PTA 1957, p. 39.
  39. ^ Cue 1958, p. 22.
  40. ^ Dundy 2004, p. 290.
  41. ^ Miami 1957, p. 73.
  42. ^ Down Beat 1958, p. 21.
  43. ^ The Spectator 1958, p. 107.
  44. ^ Schenectady 1957, p. 25.
  45. ^ Gadsden 1957, p. 3.
  46. ^ Look 1957, p. 4.
  47. ^ Doherty 2002, p. 77.
  48. ^ a b AllRovi.
  49. ^ Jailhouse Rock, Rotten Tomatoes
  50. ^ The Hollywood Reporter 1991, p. 5.
  51. ^ Browne-Cottrell 2008, p. 77.
  52. ^ Empire 2008.
  53. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs" (PDF). American Film Institute. Retrieved August 13, 2016.
  54. ^ "AFI's Greatest Movie Musicals Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved August 13, 2016.



External links[edit]