Discerning precisely where Elvis Presley's soundtracks begin to descend into the abyss of camp is difficult, but it's hard not to view 1965's Harum Scarum as where he started heading toward rock bottom. The film's plot is the standard piffle -- Elvis plays a movie star who gets caught up in some Mideastern romantic intrigue and sings his way through it -- but the movie's theme allows the usual team of songwriters to write songs about the exotic desert, kismet, mirages, and harems. It's all hoary clichés lifted from 1001 Arabian Nights, but the film required nothing more and the songwriters struggled to deliver tunes that hit that mark; often, they barely met the bar of serviceable. Presley trudges through twists, marches, and snake charms, doing what his contract requires. Sometimes the stars align and there's a bit of accidental goofy grooviness -- "Animal Instinct," tellingly cut from the film, bops along on a nifty baritone guitar riff, "Shake That Tambourine" hops and jumps, while "My Desert Serenade" gallops along -- but these pleasures are all period kitsch. There's no denying that this is bereft of any substance, not when RCA couldn't find one single as good as "Do the Clam" to pull from the LP. Instead, they chose to let it languish in the marketplace.
Harum Scarum Review
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine