We’ve come a long way since Elvis Presley first started swaying his hips to lustful effect.
“Bye Bye Birdie,” the film adaptation of the celebrated 1960 musical, reminds us of a simpler time when the very notion of a teenybopper sensation offering to kiss his biggest fan seemed scandalous.
The film’s Blu-ray release this week might be a cheeky time for some time capsule entertainment, and the movie’s bubble gum color scheme sure sweetens the experience. The story itself is a mishmash, with potentially biting satirical moments washed away with ill-advised dance numbers and one inelegant casting decision.
Young, excitable Kim MacAfee (Ann-Margret’s star-making role) is chosen to give rocker sensation Conrad Birdie (Jesse Pearson) a kiss before he joins the U.S. Army. It’s a plot point swiped from the real Elvis Presley’s personal narrative, and King-ly echoes regularly dart across the screen.
Kim can’t believe her good fortune, but her longtime beau Hugo (actual teen heartthrob Bobby Rydell) is sick over his love continually fainting from the Birdie Effect.
Meanwhile, a struggling songwriter (Dick Van Dyke) wants Conrad to sing his song when the superstar appears on “The Ed Sullivan Show” where the magical buss will take place. The songwriter’s squeeze (Janet Leigh) is trying to help her man’s career, but she has to deal with his overbearing Mama (Maureen Stapleton).
“Bye Bye Birdie” bounces from storyline to storyline, and rarely do they engage us as fervently as the film’s better musical numbers.
“A Lot of Livin’ to Do,” set in a boisterous dance hall, is almost enough reason to grit your teeth through the film’s flaws. “One Boy” also weaves the story threads together in a compelling manner, something other numbers can’t quite master.
Paul Lynde brings his standard crackpot comic energy as Kim’s father, but Van Dyke looks handcuffed by his role, sharing his kinetic dance moves too little for the film’s own good. It’s embarrassing to watch him mug along with shoddy animation during the “Put on a Happy Face” number.
The sequence is a far cry from the seamless movie magic found in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”
The movie’s finale features a speeded-up slapstick routine which shows precisely what can go wrong when a stage production gets the big screen treatment.
Ann-Margret makes Kim a squeaky clean sex symbol, mingling the two personality elements as the moment demands. What a shame she’s forced to faint over Pearson, who lacks the magnetism of even a second-rate pop star.
“Bye Bye Birdie” arrives without Blu-ray extras, which means the sight of Ann-Margret rockin’ that midriff revealing pink ensemble will have to suffice.
Follow Christian Toto on Twitter @TotoMovies