Elvis Presley is often referred to as The King Of Rock And Roll, at least to his fans. There’s no denying the impact that he had on the music scene. He was the first rock and roll star, to be sure. Colonel Tom Parker, his long-time manager and partner, created many of the marketing traditions that are commonplace in the industry today. He knew the value of his star, not only as a performer, but as a brand. For the first time, a musician’s image and name started to appear on everything from bath towels to women’s underwear. Fans are often split on their feelings for the self-styled Colonel, but Elvis would not have become the name brand he still is today, without him.
One of those brand expansions tapped into Elvis’s own boyhood fantasy. Elvis had worked as an usher at a local movie theater as a teen. He’s often related that he would linger in the auditoriums, watching those movies and fantasizing that he was James Dean or Marlon Brando, two of his idols. With the help if Colonel Parker, Elvis would get to see that dream become a reality. The King was to expand his realm to include the movie business and Hollywood. No experience? No problem. After all, if Elvis could go from failing music in high school to becoming the highest paid musician on the planet, he could certainly tackle the world of acting. And he did just that.
Now, to help celebrate Elvis’s 75th birthday, Fox has released a 7 film collection of The King’s movies, including the one that started it all, Love Me Tender. Each of this 7 disc set includes one of his films.
“Ok. Everybody get ’em while they’re hot. Lobsters, clams, chicken, or shrimp, and bikinis too.”
Elvis plays Scott Heywood, the son of millionaire oil tycoon Duster Heywood (Gregory). He’s in line to become a company president, but Scott wants to find his own way. He’s tired of not being able to tell if folks like him for himself or his name and money. On the road through Florida, he happens upon down-on-his-luck Tom Wilson (Hutchins). Tom’s on his way to Miami to be a seasonal ski instructor. Scott gets a brainstorm of an idea. He’ll trade his fancy sports car, money, and famous name for Tom’s life for a short while. He’ll finally find out if he can attract a girl as a broke nobody. Of course, Tom loves the idea, and the two head to the swanky hotel where Scott will work as Tom and Tom will live it up as Scott. There Scott has his eyes on Diane (Fabares) who only has eyes for rich playboy James J. Jameson (sound familiar Spidey fans?) played by another Marvel icon Bill Bixby. Jameson is the reigning powerboat champion and rich tycoon. Diane ends up using Scott (as Tom) to help her impress Jameson. Meanwhile Scott (as Tom) agrees to help fix a troubled boat and enter the race himself. He works day and night to perfect a substance he had started to develop at his father’s company called GOOP. It’s a hardening polymer that will keep the boat intact, if it works. When the big race day arrives, so does Pa Heywood, and he might blow the lid off of the entire operation. Will Elvis win the girl of his dreams as a nobody? Of course he will. He’s Elvis, I mean Scott, that is, Tom.
This is actually the best of the films offered here. It has a role that Elvis fits into quite comfortably. The music fits the party atmosphere, and there’s enough going on that the film isn’t all just girls and rock ‘n’ roll. It’s not a terribly original story, of course. It’s basically The Prince And The Pauper.
Frankie And Johnny (1966):
“How lucky you are. The wheel of fortune has stopped at your number, and I see a dice table, too.”
This time Elvis plays Johnny. He’s part of a song and dance team called Frankie and Johnny. His girl Frankie is played by Ellie Mae herself, Donna Douglas. Johnny’s a superstitious compulsive gambler. But his luck is always bad. He consults astrologers, wears lucky charms, and carries a rabbit’s foot, but he’s still in debt five weeks’ salary. Frankie won’t give him any money to gamble, so he turns to his buddy and partner in crime Cully played by MASH‘s Harry Morgan. Cully is the act’s piano player and composer. Cully has to deal with his own lady Peg (Christie) who holds the purse strings in that family. They all work on a riverboat in the days just after the Civil War. The outfit is owned by Braden (Eisley). Braden’s number-one singer and part-time gal Nellie Bly (Kovack) is back on board, and she’s looking to get Braden to marry her, even if that means making time with Johnny to get him jealous. It doesn’t help matters that Johnny has been told that a lucky redhead was going to bring him luck. Guess what color Nellie Bly’s hair happens to be? And, sure enough, Johnny’s luck starts to turn. Throw in ditzy Mitzi (Langdon) and a masquerade party with three women in the same costume, and you can see where this is all going. But will it all end in a bang, of a .44, that is?
This is also one of the more entertaining of Elvis’s films. Once again the singing fits into the act on the film and never feels planted or fake. Harry Morgan and Elvis have some very nice chemistry going for them, and the two of them are the highlight of the movie. The film never really takes itself too seriously, instead opting to simply entertain. The antics get predictable, but who cares?
Kid Galahad (1962):
“I’ll tell you one thing about this young Galahad, a Benny Leonard, he ain’t. But, he’s willing.”
Elvis is Walter Gulick, returning to the city where he was born after leaving the Army. He grew up somewhere else, but he always had a mind to visit the town of Cream Valley anyway. He’s separated from his separation pay due to an unfortunate string of bad gambling luck, so he needs a job. He’s a skilled mechanic and gets a job at a local boxing camp run by Willy Grogan (Young). Before too long, Walter shows promise as a boxer. Willy gets him a big television fight without any experience, by lying to the prompter. When he makes good under the moniker Kid Galahad, Walter ends up discovering the seedy side of the boxing game. There are mob guys trying to fix fights. But the town treats him like a local hero. He’s in love with Willy’s sister Rose (Blackman) which doesn’t sit to well with the boss. Meanwhile, Willy has his own hands full with Dolly (Albright) who wants him to commit and get married.
This is one of the more unfortunate Elvis films. It was a mistake to put Elvis into a type of film where he would have to display skills he obviously didn’t have. Elvis is laughable as a boxer, and the boxing scenes are some of the worst I’ve ever seen. Rocky, this ain’t. This is also one of those movies where the music is planted in too obvious a manner. To make matters much worse, this is a remake of a classic that stared the likes of Bogart, Robinson, and Davis. There was no way Elvis was going to hold a candle to that kind of star power. This one is only of interest to those kinds of Elvis fans who believe that The King could do no wrong.
Follow That Dream (1962):
“Ain’t nobody can fret a family that’s got its own private john.”
Elvis is young Toby. His extended family includes Pop (O’Connell) and an adopted brother and two adopted sisters. The gang is on a vacation in Florida. When they see a road that is not yet open to the public, the family decides to take it. With no service stations along the unopened roadway, they eventually run out of gas just before crossing a large bridge. The set up camp on the patch of land that borders the water while waiting for help to arrive. What arrives is not help at all. It turns out that the road is about to be dedicated, and the Governor himself is about to ride along with plenty of pomp and circumstance. Highway supervisor King (Hewitt) is in the vanguard and spots the family. He attempts to move them along in a hurry, treating them quite rudely. That’s when Pa gets himself an idea. He cites the Homestead Act and claims the land for his settlement. Stymied by the technicality, King is going to find a way to get the family out of the land. But, before long, they’ve built a dwelling, complete with working outhouse, albeit with too much pressure. They open a fishing camp, encouraged by a local bank president who happens along to catch a fish. But this new “town” attracts other occupants as well. Enter Nick (Oakland) and his mobile home “floating casino”. Before long Toby is elected Sheriff and has to run the mob guys out, fighting against Detroit hitmen without knowing exactly what it is they’re trying to do. He also must deal with the wrath of a woman scorned. The government psychiatrist turns on Toby when he ignores her advances, leading to a courtroom finale.
This is another quite entertaining film. It’s very much a Beverly Hillbillies type of setup, but it works. You might think it’s a bit ridiculous to have Elvis thwarting hitmen, but he does it in a Barney Fife kind of way. The Florida exteriors are pretty nice as well. Again, this is strictly a mindless entertainment film, but there’s nothing at all wrong with that. It’s good to see Simon Oakland in anything. Here he plays the leader of the casino hoodlums.
Love Me Tender (1956)
“Listen, Brett, we didn’t steal this money. We took it in battle, fair and square. It’s what they call “spoils of war”, like capturing a horse or anything else. We didn’t know the war was over, and neither did the Federals. So it’s still prize money.”
Vance Reno (Egan) and three of his brothers are soldiers in the Confederate Army. Their task is to steal a payroll transfer from the Union disguised as Union soldiers. They make off with the $12,500 and are on the way to deliver it to their Confederate superiors when they receive news that General Lee has surrendered and the war is over. With no more Confederate government to report to, they figure the money belongs to them as spoils of war. They split up the money and head for their homes. Vance is in for some new cold realities. He was reported killed quite a while ago, and his family and friends have all believed he was dead. Unfortunately, that also meant his girl Cathy (Padget) is now married to Vance’s youngest brother Clint, played by Elvis. He tries to act honorable, but it’s hard for both of them. He decides he must leave, but before he can get away the Federal Government arrives looking for the stolen money. When Vance is arrested, Clint joins a gang of Vance’s old regiment to break him from a transport train. But even with his decision to attempt to return the money; this isn’t going to end well for any of the Reno Brothers.
This was the film that started it all. Elvis’s first movie. It was the only Elvis film where he did not get top billing (he got third) and the only film where he actually dies on-screen. But early tests with Elvis fans showed hostility toward killing off The King, so a ghost performance after his demise was added as a postscript to please the fans, and no one ever tried to kill off Elvis on-screen ever again.
The movie was never originally titled The Reno Brothers and was not intended to contain songs or Elvis singing. Credit or blame Col. Tom Parker for forcing the issue. The song Love Me Tender was quickly assembled using an old standard melody. Elvis was given writing credit, even though he did not pen the song, as part of his contract. The song became one of Elvis’s biggest hits and was a welcome coattail for his first film to travel upon. Unless you’re just a huge Elvis singing fan, you’ll have to admit that the songs do take away from the film. It would have been a far stronger piece without them.
Wild In The Country (1961):
“It needs a man to go to Hell with, because that’s what I want. Hours and hours of Heaven that just slides on down to Hell. And we don’t care how it all ends.”
Elvis is juvenile delinquent Glenn Tyler. He spends a bit of time behind bars for nearly fatally beating up his brother. He’s about to get parole, but his father has disowned him. Enter Uncle Ralph (Mims). He takes Glenn in, but it’s not out of charity. He expects the boy to work hard at his health tonic business. He also has a widowed daughter with a baby who doesn’t even know she’s a widow yet. Uncle Ralph hopes that Noreen (Weld) will fall in love with Glenn before she finds out. Noreen does fall for Glenn, but Glenn also loves Betty Lee (Perkins). Betty Lee’s Pa doesn’t want anything to do with the criminal Glenn Tyler. Then there is court-appointed psychiatrist Irene Speery (Lange). She is being pursued by power attorney Phil Macy (Ireland). But you can probably guess who Elvis is going to fall in love with next.
This could have been one of Elvis’s better films. The supporting cast that includes Tuesday Weld and John Ireland give the singer some strong cast members to play with here. The problem isn’t Elvis’s fault at all here. The story is far too messy and complicated. There are too many romantic twists and turns that a lot gets taken away from what really is a solid performance by Elvis and those around him. He is trying to make this thing work, but it gets far too top-heavy to float. There are some strong film noir elements trying to break through. In the end the film misses completely and is overlong. This was one of those keep-an-eye-on-your-watch films.
Flaming Star (1960):
“You were the worst. You made me feel it the worst. When I was little I liked you a lot. You were the only girl I ever liked a whole lot. But ever since you’ve been old enough to know, you never looked at me once without saying something in the back of your head. “He’s Kiowa. Clint’s all right, but watch out for Pacer.”
Elvis is Pacer, a half-Indian and half-white son of a white settler and Kiowa mother. When a new Kiowa chief, Buffalo Horn (Acosta) takes over the tribe, he wages war against the settlers in the area. When Pacer family appears immune to the attacks, the family is treated badly by the remaining settlers who grow suspicious of the mixed-breed family. As the violence grows both sides demand loyalty from the family, and particularly Pacer. But both sides end up the enemy.
In an odd sort of way, Elvis even looks a bit the part of a half-breed in the Old West. There’s a lot of traditional cowboy and Indians action here. The film loses its focus about halfway and begins to drag, making this one of the weaker Elvis films. There’s less singing here than in any other Elvis film I’ve seen. So it won’t win as much acclaim from the music fans. The title refers to an omen of death for the tribe.
Each film is presented in its original widescreen format. Most of the transfers are non-anamorphic. All but Love Me Tender are in color. The prints are in fair shape but do show plenty of wear. Expect print scratches, dirt, and grain to interfere with the quality. Colors are also mixed. Overall, you’ll find the transfers rather average, but good enough to be fine archive copies of these movies should you want them in your collection.
A Dolby Digital 2.0 track what you’ll find on most of the films. Two come with odd Dolby Digital 4.0 tracks. Because of the age and wear, these aren’t going to be anything but dialog tracks. The sound is pretty clean and free from hiss. Still, the music won’t have the dynamic quality the remastered CD’s are giving you already. This isn’t the best source material if you just want the music.
All of the films come with trailers. The only movie with additional material is Love Me Tender which includes all of the original DVD bonus features.
I must confess that I’ve never really been an Elvis fan. I don’t dislike his material and have heard plenty of it throughout my life. I had an uncle who was crazy over The King; of course, he was actually crazy. I respect the man’s accomplishments and as a musician myself, I acknowledge the influence he has had on the history of the industry. I even have more than a little respect for his movie career. Elvis did have acting talent. It wasn’t always, or even very often, put to the best use. Still, he was pretty good in many of these films. He created an entire genre of movies. He would have been better served if he hadn’t been exploited for the music all of the time. He shows in several films an ability to play a serious and emotional role. Unfortunately, there were trademarks to preserve at the cost of a movie’s quality. Beyond the need to force songs into the story, there was that never-changing greaser hairstyle that was too much a part of his image to change no matter what part or time he was playing in. This is a fine enough collection for someone looking to own a sampling of the man’s film career. Fans and casual viewers will both be pleased by what they find here. “Thank you. Thank you very much.”