Despite a big-ticket cast, it was a seven-year-old girl on debut that stole the show in Elvis’ 12th movie… By Douglas McPherson

According to the old showbiz adage, you should never work with animals or children, but it’s Elvis’ interaction with not one but two kids that make MGM’s It Happened At The World’s Fair one of his cutest big-screen offerings.

The Seattle World’s Fair, also known as the Century 21 Exposition (hence the name of the Century 21 trailer park where Presley’s character rents an apartment), ran from April-through-October, 1962. Exhibits included a futuristic monorail and the equally sci-fi-like Space Needle observation tower, both of which add to the movie’s colourful appearance.

The location was suggested to MGM by the governor of Washington and although the film came out six months after the fair closed, the event still received a boost in ticket sales from the hordes of fans that crammed around the closed-off areas where Elvis was shooting in September. 

The story by Si Rose and Seaman Jacobs finds Presley playing Mike Edwards, a crop-duster pilot whose plane is impounded due to the gambling debts of his feckless business partner Danny (played by Gary Lockwood, who previously appeared in Wild In The Country).

In need of funds, the two men hitch a lift to the World’s Fair where Danny attempts to set up a deal with a villainous old friend and Mike tries to defrost the heart of a nurse called Diane (Joan O’Brien).

An unfeasibly yet eye-catchingly well-tailored Presley, whose wardrobe cost $15,000, gets strong support from a very likeable Lockwood, while O’Brien delivers exactly the right amount of purse-lipped scepticism as the hard-to-get love interest.Presley‘s real leading lady, though, is Vicky Tiu in her only film role as the seven-year-old Sue-Lin, who Mike is forced to babysit after the disappearance of her uncle, with whom he and Danny hitched a lift to the fair.

Presley’s character begins the movie as a sleazy girl-chaser, but taking an avuncular responsibility for Tiu brings out a tenderness that eventually wins over Diane. The sweetly manipulative child, meanwhile, plays Cupid, faking a fever to bring Mike and the nurse together.

Tiu is such a scene-stealer that another star might have been upstaged, but she and Presley form a wonderful double act and their scenes bring out some of his most engaging screen work.

The other child star is an 11-year-old Kurt Russell who Mike pays to kick him in the shin as part of a ruse to be examined by Diane. The funniest moment is their second encounter when a flustered Mike tries to stop him letting Diane know what happened. In one of a couple of laugh-out-loud scenes, the kid torpedoes the budding romance and gives Mike another kick in the leg for good measure!

Russell grew up to star in action movies including sci-fi Escape From New York and kung-fu comedy Big Trouble In Little China – and nominated for an Emmy for his portrayal of Presley in the 1979 TV film Elvis.

From the breezy Beyond The Bend, sung by Presley during the film’s opening credits from the cockpit of a bi-plane soaring through the sky, the songs give little clue that he made his name singing rock’n’roll. The score could just have easily been written for Dean Martin. The songs are easy on the ear, though, and work well in the context of a musical.

The only number that references Presley’s hip-shaking days is the classy 50s-style mid-pacer One Broken Heart For Sale, penned by Otis Blackwell, which was released ahead of the film and reached No.11 in the US and No.12 in the UK. It’s the single’s B-side, They Remind Me Too Much Of You, that makes the most lasting impression on screen, however.

Interestingly, we don’t see Presley sing it. The softly delivered ballad plays over a scene where Mike is riding the monorail with the sleeping Sue-Lin. In his face we see him realising that he’s fallen heavily for Diane.

It’s a mesmerising sequence and given that he just sits unspeaking for the duration of the song, proof of what a fine actor he could be. In fact, despite the often silly plot, Presley’s acting is first rate throughout …World’s Fair, whether it’s his comedic scenes with Tiu, his palpable heartbreak when a welfare lady takes the child from him and his protective anger when the authorities promptly lose the girl.

The critics weren’t kind to …World’s Fair, but only because they weren’t Elvis fans, and they were wrong. Although lightweight, it remains a film that the whole family, from children to grandparents, can enjoy.