Change of Habit (1969)

In “Change of Habit,” Mary Tyler Moore is tasked with an impossible choice: Does she choose God or one of the most popular recording artists on the planet?

OK, so maybe Elvis Presley doesn’t play himself in “Change of Habit,” but his character — an unorthodox, inner-city physician named John Carpenter who is every bit as skilled with a guitar as he is with a stethoscope — doesn’t swivel his pelvis far from the tree.

There is a cute germ of an idea at the center of “Change of Habit,” in which a trio of nuns (Moore, Jane Elliot and Barbara McNair) are recruited by the Catholic Church to don plain clothing and help Dr. Elvis clean up his neighborhood. The movie is billed as a star-crossed romance between Presley and Moore, but it isn’t really about that at all. Instead, it’s something far more despicable: a social lecture disguised as a romantic comedy.

The film dips its toe into a variety of social waters, finding room for subplots involving racism, sexism, autism, drug addiction, the Black Panther party, anti-progressivism, attempted sexual assault and the Mob. If those elements aren’t your bag, Presley also rocks out with four of his lesser-known hits (sorry, King fans — although his practice is smack dab in the middle of the slums, “In the Ghetto” is not one of them).

Like a competitive eater desperately trying to shove as many hot dogs into their mouth as humanly possible, “Change of Habit” simply bites off a whole lot more than its paltry 93-minute running time can chew.

On the plus side, Moore, Elliot and McNair are all swell company, and their efforts make the tougher-to-swallow elements of “Change of Habit” — such as the ridiculous scene in which Presley “cures” a little girl of her autism — go down a lot easier than they probably should.

Rated: G, but there is some dicey dialogue and an attempted rape

Director: William Graham

Starring: Elvis Presley, Mary Tyler Moore

★★ (out of ★★★★)


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