|Change of Habit|
|Written by Tara O'Shea|
|Tuesday, 30 July 2002|
In "Change of Habit," Elvis Presley plays Dr. John Carpenter, a doctor at a free clinic in a ghetto in an unnamed borough of New York. The Catholic Action Committee sends three nuns (Mary Tyler Moore, Barbara McNair and Jane Elliot) undercover (pre-Vatican II, the nuns abandon their habits in an attempt to get the neighborhood to accept them as women and nurses first, without the authority --or protection -- their black and white garb commands) as nurses to the clinic in an experiment to help "clean up" the neighborhood.
Predictably, the King falls for Michelle Gallagher (Moore), the ringleader who, in addition to being a Bride of Christ, also happens to be a psychiatric social worker with a degree in speech therapy. As the neighborhood faces troubles with a local loan shark, a price-gouging grocery store owner and an apathetic priest, the nuns struggle for acceptance even as their own Church deems the experiment a failure.
While comfortable in front of the camera, Presley makes little or no attempt to create a character different from his persona as entertainer. His dialogue is peppered with "babys" and "honeys" and consists almost entirely of well-meaning warnings about the neighborhood. Moore's Michelle is simultaneously bland and strident, and it's difficult to see why Carpenter would be attracted to her beyond superficial physical attraction to a pretty girl. The love story plot feels forced and undercuts the attempts at social relevance. Elliot's Sister Barbara is most often played for laughs, particularly during a staged sit-in which is foiled by a progressive Spanish-speaking cop played by Ed Asner, two years before he and Moore would star in "The Mary Tyler Moore Show." Of the three nuns, McNair comes off the best as sister Irene, a young black woman who fled the ghetto to become a nun and takes on the banker, a local loan shark who has been terrorizing the area.
Noteworthy only as the last of Elvis' 31 films, "Change of Habit" attempts to be an Elvis vehicle with a social conscience. Unfortunately, it fails spectacularly on all fronts. Directed by veteran television director William Graham, "Habit" is too heavy-handed to be light entertainment, and too absurd to be considered a real drama. The film is a mish-mash of styles and messages rife with lackluster performances and saddled with two improbably music numbers. The audience's suspension of disbelief is completely shattered as Moore and Presley cure an autistic girl in a scene ripped straight out of "The Miracle Worker" as Carpenter and Sister Michelle force the girl to act out and scream and fight while crooning for hours how much they love her.
The film is presented widescreen anamorphic format with Dolby 2.0 mono sound. The transfer is very good, working from a nearly flawless print that is sharp and clean. Universal's restoration is surprisingly good, and the disc features saturated colors and excellent flesh tones, with the night scenes turning out especially well. Visually, the film is a treat for Elvis fans.
The mono sound mix is decent, considering the material, and is beefed up during the featured songs, "Change of Habit," "Rubberneckin'," "Have A Happy" and "Let Us Pray."
The menus are simple and easy to navigate, with few special features included on the disc. The cast and filmmaker bios are standard and not particularly noteworthy, but the production notes are surprisingly candid about the film and its lukewarm reception upon its release in 1969. However, unless you are a hard-core Elvis collector, give this one a pass.