Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 16, 2021)
With 1963’s It Happened At the World’s Fair, we find Elvis Presley 12 movies into his career as an actor. That seems like a lot of work for a guy who didn’t make his cinematic debut until 1956 – and who spent two years in the Army smack-dab in the middle of this period.
Mike Edwards (Presley) and Danny Burke (Gary Lockwood) operate their own cropdusting operation. Unfortunately, Danny gambles away money they intended to use for debts, and this leads their airplane to end up repossessed.
In their quest to make enough cash to reacquire their vehicle, they hitchhike to the World’s Fair in Seattle. While Danny tries to score big bucks via poker, Mike befriends a young girl named Sue-Lin (Vicky Tiu) and also romances pretty nurse Dianne Warren (Joan O’Brien).
In 1968, Presley staged what became known as his ”Comeback Special, an effort to regain his status as the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Movies like Fair show us why Presley needed to reclaim his career five years later.
Back in the 50s, Presley offered a genuinely dangerous, charismatic presence. Unfortunately, he subsequently worked hard to become a general showman, and that endeavor neutered him in the process.
We see this tamed Presley in Fair, though the movie tries hard to make him seem like a manly man. Mike romances every woman he can find and he punches the lights out of those who challenge him.
With such tough guy credentials, why does Mike seem like such a nothing? Because Presley brings zero sense of charisma or strength to the role.
Presley goes on cruise control here, as he plays the part with no spark or personality. Mike seems painfully bland and innocuous, a problem in a movie where we need to buy him as a sexy he-man.
I find myself hard-pressed to locate anything else I could call memorable about Fair - well, other than Yvonne Craig as one of Mike’s love interests. Best-known as Batgirl from the 1960s Batman, Craig looks fantastic and she steams up the screen during her brief appearance.
Otherwise, I can’t locate anything that works here. The “plot” appears random and meandering, less a narrative and more an excuse for Presley to wander the World’s Fair and sing a few songs.
Tiu looks cute enough for the part, but her lack of acting chops means her scenes tend to sputter. The other actors can’t bring much to the table either, so they don’t find a way to elevate their dull roles.
And the songs flop, too. Don’t expect any Presley classics here, as even the soundtrack’s sole hit single – “One Broken Heart For Sale” – bores, and the other tunes seem just as forgettable.
We do find a brief turn from a pre-teen Kurt Russell in his movie debut, so at least Fair answers a trivia question. That short scene and the sexy Yvonne Craig don’t become nearly enough to redeem this sluggish, sappy mix of music, comedy and drama.
Footnote: Presley wasn’t the only castmember to enjoy a big year in 1968. In addition, Lockwood found himself in a slightly more memorable movie: 2001: A Space Odyssey.