Wild in the Country (1961)

Wild in the Country (1961)

“It’s like I’m always walking around with a full cup of anger, trying not to spill it.”

After nearly killing his brother in a provoked fist fight, a talented but troubled young writer (Elvis Presley) is sent by a judge (Jason Robards, Sr.) to live with his uncle (William Mims) and Mims’ daughter (Tuesday Weld), who has a baby, while also attending therapy sessions with a beautiful widowed psychologist (Hope Lange). Mims hopes to “catch” Presley and Weld together so they’ll get married, but Presley — who already has a girlfriend (Millie Perkins) — slowly starts falling for Lange, who is meanwhile resisting engagement to a lawyer (John Ireland) with a hot-headed son (Gary Lockwood).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Elvis Presley Films
  • Hope Lange Films
  • John Ireland Films
  • Juvenile Delinquents
  • Love Triangle
  • Millie Perkins Films
  • Psychotherapy
  • Tuesday Weld Films

In addition to two concert films, Peary lists “just” nine Elvis Presley movies (out of a total of 31) in his GFTFF. This adaptation of a debut novel by J.R. Salamanca — probably best known as author of the source-novel for Lilith (1964) — is a reasonably well-scripted (by Clifford Odets) melodrama about a gifted young man born into a society that doesn’t really have space or patience for him. Weld seems to be enjoying her role as a “wild” single mom eager for some fun, and Presley’s performance isn’t bad — but it’s somewhat laughable to see 26-year-old Presley referring to 28-year-old Lange with deference as “ma’am”, given how much chemistry they clearly have together (casting 40-year-old Simone Signoret in the role, as originally intended, would probably have worked better). A whole lot of melodrama ensues in this story, which is certainly worth a look by Presley fans but not must-see viewing.

Note: According to TCM’s article, “Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis’s manager, insisted that the studio insert several songs into the film or it wouldn’t be an Elvis Presley picture”; the songs aren’t bad but don’t quite seem to fit.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Hope Lange as Mrs. Sperry
  • Tuesday Weld as Noreen Braxton
  • Some well-crafted dialogue:

    “You’re wild and unsettled, like a porcupine that can’t be held.”
    “Life’s got its shadows enough… Live and let live.”

Must See?
No, though it’s certainly worth a look.


One thought on “Wild in the Country (1961)

  1. First viewing. A once-must, as a representative Presley flick.

    I hardly anticipated that I would end up recommending that film fanatics see this one; I’m not an overwhelming Presley fan. Thing is: I started watching this late one night, with the idea of ‘just getting it started’ (and finishing the watch the next day). To my surprise, I watched it through to the end – without feeling the time (or the late hour). So that’s what sort of ‘sold me’ on it.

    Mind you, it’s not among the all-time-great films – but as *a Presley film*, it’s more-than-worthy of note (in terms of what he was capable of as an actor). Presley’s film career was split between his earlier, ‘sensitive guy’ roles and his later, take-charge / playboy roles. ‘WITC’ stands out in the former category.

    It’s surprisingly well-directed by Philip Dunne – who gets balanced, believable, naturalistic work from his entire cast. It also has the distinction of having a Clifford Odets script that doesn’t *feel* like an Odets script – at all. I didn’t detect any of the writer’s signature (occasionally ‘writerly’) dialogue. Perhaps he took on the project more as a writer-for-hire and chose to just effectively streamline the book (which I haven’t read). Whatever the case, the screenplay has a no-nonsense smoothness to it.

    It also has a particularly plot-heavy second half – concerned as it is with Glenn’s (Presley’s) juggling of the three women in his life.

    Overall, it’s compelling (and satisfying) enough to merit a viewing.

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