It's a Wild Tueday for Elvis
The most annoying thing about Elvis's movie career is that people remember him for the tacky, musical movies which stuck rigidly to a formula but they don't remember the handful of movies he made early on in his career which weren't about Elvis singing but about him as an actor. One of the best examples is "Wild in the Country" which whilst having a generic teenage rebel storyline sees Elvis delivering a performance which is raw and edgy and nothing in the bit like those cheesy lifeless performances he gave in the like of "Paradise Hawaiin Style". Don't get me wrong as "Wild in the Country" is by no means perfect and frankly not much more than average when compared to other movies which revolve around angry young men but to watch Elvis act and deliver a proper character makes it a movie worth watching.
Following a brawl with his brother, Glenn Tyler (Elvis Presley - Flaming Star) finds himself in court as the authorities try and decide what to do with the angry young man, especially as his father feels he can't cope with him. Sent to work with a relative who peddles a home made alcohol rich health tonic it doesn't take long for Glenn to realise that not only is he there as cheap labour but also to marry his relatives daughter Noreen (Tuesday Weld - The Five Pennies) who as a teenager is also a single mum. But that is not the only woman in Glenn's life as there is also his girlfriend Betty Lee Parsons (Millie Perkins) whose parents disapprove of her seeing a delinquent and then there is the older woman, psychiatrist/counsellor Irene Sperry (Hope Lange - A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2) who he has to see once a week to work through his problems and it is Miss Sperry who encourages him to write. But with three women in his life times are still hard for Glenn even when he starts to get a grip of things.
"Wild in the Country" is one of the quickest movies I have watched when it comes to setting up the situation of young rebel Glenn. From a brutal fight with his brother, a hearing as to what to do with this delinquent and then going to work for a relative, before you know it you have learnt that Glenn has a girl friend, his relative also has a teenage daughter who is a single mum and he wants to marry her off and then there is the female psychologist who Glenn has to see. All of which means is that you can guess what is going to happen Glenn will be tempted by the sassy single mum, fall for his psychologist and still try and keep his girlfriend. It is really that obvious and whilst you have moments of delinquency and trouble between Glenn and various other young men as he struggles to control his temper you know what to expect.
Having said that there are a few surprises and the various twists which drive the climax are surprisingly good, drawing you into this tale of love and anger especially as it features a courtroom element. As with the actual story some of the twists can be expected and in a scene where Glenn and his psychologist Irene Sperry are forced to stay in a motel due to bad weather preventing them from returning to town you know that their feelings for each other will start to show. And not just that, director Philip Dunne makes such a heavy handed issue of them signing into the guest book that you know someone else will see their names and put 2 and 2 together. And it is a shame as "Wild in the Country" is a nice little teenage rebellion melodrama which is slightly spoiled by a touch of heavy handedness and that extends to the script which sees a little too much grandiose dialogue which feels out of character for a teen rebel.
Now this is a movie about teen rebellion and delinquency and you can't ignore the fact that at 26 Elvis was a little too old to be playing this role. But the rawness which Elvis brings makes it entertaining, you can feel the rage which builds up inside Glenn as well as the fear whenever he legs it and whilst a bit rough around the edges the rawness of his performance works. What is more surprising is that as with pretty much every Elvis movie there are a few songs for him to sing and for the most director Philip Dunne sneaks them in with out them feeling like set pieces, blending them into the scene rather than making a big song and dance about them.
Now whilst Elvis was a little too old for the role, Tuesday Weld who was only 17 when "Wild in the Country" was made is spot on as single mum Noreen Braxton. Weld makes Noreen this fiery young teenager, someone who is rebellious but by being a mum is forced to control her rebellious side yet it doesn't stop her from flirting magnificently with Glenn. And whilst Weld delivers a beautiful performance as Noreen, Hope Lange as just as good at psychologist Irene Sperry who you watch progress going from liking Glenn to loving him, forced to keep her feelings in check. There are other performances but it is the trio of Elvis Presley, Tuesday Weld and Hope Lange which the story really revolves around and between them they do a decent enough job.
What this all boils down to is that if you ignore that it is an Elvis movie then "Wild in the Country" becomes an averagely entertaining melodrama about teenage rebellion and delinquency. But because it is an Elvis movie and one which sees him act and create a character rather than just being a performer makes it far more interesting and that interest comes from the rawness and passion that Elvis delivers alongside Tuesday Weld and Hope Lange. It's not the best Elvis movie but is definitely worth a watch just to see Elvis act.