Combustible Celluloid
Own it:
With: Elvis Presley, Mary Tyler Moore, Barbara McNair, Jane Elliot, Leora Dana, Ed Asner, Robert Emhardt, Regis Toomey, Doro Merande, Ruth McDevitt, Richard Carlson, Nefti Millet, Laura Figueroa, Lorena Kirk, Virginia Vincent, David Renard, Ji-Tu Cumbuka, William Elliott, Rodolfo Hoyos Jr., Timothy Carey
Written by: James Lee, S.S. Schweitzer, Eric Bercovici, based on a story by John Joseph, Richard Morris
Directed by: William A. Graham
MPAA Rating: G
Running Time: 93
Date: 01/22/1970

Change of Habit (1969)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

In the Ghetto

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The very weird Change of Habit was Elvis Presley's last film as an actor. He had appeared in his 1968 television special and released his great From Elvis in Memphis album that signaled his "comeback" as a musician. The film has a terrible reputation, and it is truly weird, but I found that it's far from Elvis's worst. He plays a doctor, named John Carpenter (the filmmaker John Carpenter would make a TV movie about Elvis's life in 1979), who works in a "ghetto" clinic in a tough neighborhood. He's pretty cool about all of it; his hair is loose and down here, rather than all slicked up, and he seems at ease. He's first introduced singing "Rubberneckin'" in a living room jam session. (He sings that tune, and the awkward title song, and that's it.) Then, three nuns, Sister Michelle (Mary Tyler Moore), Sister Irene (Barbara McNair), and Sister Barbara (Jane Elliot) arrive, undercover, to work as nurses. They're not allowed to tell anyone that they're nuns, so when Michelle and Elvis fall in love, nothing can be done about it. The movie tries to take on many social issues, from price-gouging at a local market, a sleazy banker, sexual predators, race, prejudice, etc. You name it. A scene in which Elvis and Michelle try to get a young girl on the autism spectrum to speak by holding her while she struggles and screams will raise eyebrows today. Even so, much of the film is surprising and unexpected, some of it is interesting, and some of it is just cool. Kino Lorber released it on Blu-ray in 2021, with trailers and an entertaining commentary track by film historians Howard S. Berger and Nathaniel Thompson.

Movies Unlimtied