Lucky Jackson (Elvis Presley) is a racing car driver who hopes to enter the Las Vegas Grand Prix in a few short days' time, but first he really needs to get an engine for his vehicle. He visits a casino and wins a wad of cash to pay for both the engine and his hotel charges, then heads off to meet his mechanic, Shorty (Nicky Blair). At the garage, Lucky encounters a rival, the European Count Elmo Mancini (Cesare Danova) who makes him an offer: he's been impressed with Lucky's driving and wants him to work for the Count so that he may win the race. Lucky's not interested as he wants to win the race himself and refuses to compromise, and as they check out the Count's car, someone walks up who will also make them rivals... this time in love.
And who was this someone? She was Ann-Margret playing Rusty Martin, and in this woman Elvis perhaps found his ideal leading lady with her knockout looks, dancing talent and a strong-willed independence that meant Elvis had to prove himself worthy of her to keep her interested. Viva Las Vegas was scripted by a woman, Meet Me in St Louis creator Sally Benson, so that could be the reason the female lead isn't such a pushover when faced with the King of Rock 'n' Roll's charms and has a mind of her own, at one point becoming as much a rival to Lucky as Mancini is.
It doesn't start out looking that way, of course, as Lucky makes thinly veiled, lewd comments to Rusty when she shows up at the garage asking for someone to inspect her engine because "it whistles". Lucky, wanting her to stick around, feeds her some lines about needing to keep the car for a couple of days to give it a thorough examination, but Mancini fixes it within seconds and Rusty zooms off, leaving Lucky aggrieved that he never caught her name or found out where she was staying. So begins an excuse to ogle the Vegas showgirls as the two men drop in on a selection of nightclubs to search for her.
This is a musical, so while Elvis is searching, he finds the time to sing "The Yellow Rose of Texas" to a group of cowboys hailing from that state, but only finds Rusty when he looks out of his hotel room window the next day and spots her at the pool, teaching children to swim. He immediately goes to meet her, bringing his guitar to serenade her, but she's playing hard to get and eventually pushes him in the pool. It's then that Lucky fails to live up to his name and loses his cash in the water, meaning he can't pay his bills and can't afford the new engine, so he's forced to take a job as a waiter.
As this film was made in 1964, a sex scene was out of the question, but Elvis and Ann-Margret get as close as they can when she finally gives in to him and they fall in love. Not only is there Garden of Eden imagery (Elvis accompanied by his co-star chomping on an apple in the great outdoors), but A-M wears some unbelievably tight clothes, including a pair of shorts that seem to have been painted on, and the dance sequences they have together (especially the number for Ray Charles' "What'd I Say?") are simmering with sexual tension. How to top that? Well, for the bizarre final act that wins Rusty's heart, Lucky races in the incredibly dangerous Grand Prix, with cars flying off the road everywhere and exploding, but he proves himself man enough for her - you can guess how. A bright, gaudy pop culture artefact, Viva Las Vegas is lots of fun, and for once for a sixties Elvis movie has a title tune that sticks in the memory. Music by George Stoll.