To the world he was the King of Rock and Roll, but Elvis Presley was also one of the top-10 movie stars of his era. Thirty-one of his films are included in this retrospective by film critic Timothy Knight, who practically brings you into the theater as he reveals all the excitement and color of some of the most rockin’ movies ever made. The pages that follow speak volumes about why the Tupelo, Mississippi native was the most acclaimed rock star who ever went to Hollywood.
This book not only examines all of Presley’s films, it also includes an DVD documentary by filmmaker Les Krantz. In it, you’ll enjoy more than 50 of the King’s most entertaining scenes in his best films.
The segments on the DVD documentary are from the following movies:
- Blue Hawaii
- Change of Habit
- Flaming Star
- Follow that Dream
- G.I. Blues
- Jailhouse Rock
- Kid Galahad
- King Creole
- Love Me Tender
- Loving You
- Viva Las Vegas
Published: January 2010
Format: Hardcover, 176 pages + DVD
It sound nice, but I have several books about Elvis' movies and I have all of the movies on either VHS or DVD so I probably won't be getting this one. I think overall Elvis' movies get a raw deal. Most movies made in the 1960's were either epics or star vehicles and Elvis' movies fall into that later category.
Even when one of his sub par ones was reviewed ("Easy Come, Easy Go" in 1967 ), the reviewer marveled at the high quality of Elvis' movies. I know now we want to compare Elvis' movies with today's movies or even movies made 10 years later. You simply can't do that. It is like comparing "The Beverly Hillbillies" to "All In The Family" or "Leave It To Beaver" to "Maude".
Has anyone seen Dean Martin (and I am a huge Dean Martin fan too) in Matt Helm movies? They make "Harum Scarum" and "Double Trouble" look like masterpiece theater. Star vehicles with Doris Day, Don Knotts, Jerry Lewis, Frankie and Annette and even the Beatles were nonsense and fluff. I have even seen some John Wayne films ("The Cowboys" for one was hard to sit through and I like John Wayne) that were not exactly top notch entertainment. I saw a movie with Jocelyn Lane (Tickle Me) and Jeremy Slate (G.I. Blues and Girls! Girls! Girls!) that was made in the late 60's and it made the 3 films they appeared in with Elvis career highlights for them. It was horrible from start to finish (yes, I for some reason watched all of it, well c'mon Jocelyn Lane was in it!).
To this day I can watch any of Elvis' movies and still enjoy it. The three worst ones "Harum Scarum", "Paradise, Hawaiian Style" and "Easy Come, Easy Go" bring less smiles and are watched much less, but I am not ashamed to say that "G.I. Blues", "Girl Happy" and "It Happened At The World's Fair" are among my favorite movies period. Elvis was cursed in a way, kind of like the 70's biggest box office star, Burt Reynolds. He was too charismatic and it limited how is fans would perceive him in different roles, so the tried and true was done over and over again. Does anyone remember some of Burt's movies and how schlocky and inane they were? "The End", "Stroker Ace", "Cannonball Run I and II", "Smokey And the Bandit II" and "Hooper" were not Shakespeare, but a lot of movie goers went to go seem them and made old Burt a lot of money. Tom Cruise for the first 15 years of his career played the same character over and over again in decent, but predictable films. He was always the hot shot, conceited, good looking smart alic, heck, even in "Rain Man" he played himself, Dustin Hoffman (not a charismatic actor) was called on to play the tough role.
Some people wonder why Elvis movies started off good but deteriorated. How many times has the sequel been better than the original? "Andy Griffith" was a great show for five years with Don Knotts and only a fair show and a mere shadow of it's former self the last three years. Still it reached #1, it's last year on the air. "Green Acres", "Gilligan's Island" and "The Beverly Hillbillies" started off silly and almost plausible, but wound up being completely stupid and insulting by the time they went off the air. "Happy Days", "All In the Family" and "The Cosby Show" all hit their strides within' their first three or four years and then slowly became almost unwatchable.
The point is, things were different back then, especially in the 60's. People were and are creatures of habit. Elvis' movies, popular TV shows and other star vehicle movies were counted upon like clock work to entertain and help middle class America escape from their jobs, the world and give them a few hours of enjoyment. You didn't change midstream. Can you imagine a very "special" episode of "The Beverly Hillbillies"? (I mention this show so much as it was the #1 comedy of the 60's and not because it was a personal favorite). Just the same as you weren't going to make the follow-up to "Fun In Acapulco" a movie in which Elvis played a crippled Korean war vet who contemplates suicide or any other serious role that America might reject.
Take a look at what America was watching in 1964 on TV the year "Kissin Cousins", "Viva Las Vegas" and "Roustabout" were released. In the top 25 that year we had "The Munsters", "The Lucy Show", "The Addams Family", "The Beverly Hillbillies", "Gomer Pyle", "Bewitched" "My Threes Sons" and "Gilligan's Island". One of my personal favorites was #1, "Bonanza", and while it was a good show, it was the equal of "Charro!" in acting, script and budget. The three Elvis' movies released in 1964 were head and shoulders better than most of what TV had to offer (at least 2 of 3 were, "Kissin Cousins" would probably be his 4th worst film, but it was very successful at the box office making the top 30 films of the year).
One other thing to keep in mind is that through 1966, the Catholic Church reviewed every movie and TV show that was filmed and gave them an approval or denial. You didn't and couldn't show anything that was deemed inappropriate. Within three years all of heck and broke loose and a movie like "Midnight Cowboy" was winning an Oscar. Elvis' movies filmed after 1966 other than "Clambake" and "Speedway" started to show a different side of Elvis, but Elvis had lost his interest in Hollywood by that time and Vegas and tours took over his career.
I give Elvis an A- as an actor and to his movies I give a B to a B+. To his soundtracks LP's as a whole I give a B- as a couple of soundtracks really pull down the overall average (PHS, HS, KC).
The next time you find yourself embarrassed by an Elvis movie, watch an episode of "Green Acres", watch Don Knotts in "The Incredible Mr Limpett", view Dean Martin as Matt Helm or listen to his horrible title song to the movie "Five Card Stud", listen to a complete album by Ricky Nelson and hear him try to sing "Unchained Melody" or an album by any pre Beatle artist of the rock era (for the most part poorly constructed and haphazardly picked material is the norm, heck Shelly Fabares put out an LP with her singing a cover of "The Locomotion"). Put the movie in the proper prospective of the times and you may find that Elvis' movies were pretty good after all.
Deano 1 - Well put - I couldn't agree with you more.
Agreed. Also, besides having the capability of being fine drama actor, his Comedic talents were over-looked and are now just beginning to be recognized. One example is his dressing in drag in Girl Happy!! (good trivia question too!)
Deano1, I couldn't agree with you more. Elvis could and should have been one of the worlds finest actors if only Col Tom had allowed him more freedom.The films he made were not of his choosing but they WERE great family entertainment. No matter what anyone says to the contrary, Elvis could act the socks off most of the filmstars of the time and I love most of the sound tracks to the films....how happy do you feel when you listen to him singing "Let Us Pray" from Change of Habit or "Sing You Children" from Easy Come, Easy Go? They are uplifting, mood enhancing tunes.
I agree 100% with deano1. A great summation of Elvis's acting.
Deano1. You give Elvis films a B to B+. Please hook me up with your supplier. If what your smoking will make me enjoy these films, I'm all for it.
A few Elvis films could rate a B or B-. Most are C- to D. The acting for the most part was bad, really bad after 1964. The plots ridiculous and mostly the same. At least The Beatles were zany funny not embarrasing funny. And how can you compare Lennon/McCartney to Tepper/Bennett? You cant, plus they also had the snuff to say no mas after 2 films so as not to become trapped by what Elvis had been trapped by. Yes times were different but to go on and on making these films was just unbearable. There are very few I can watch. I wish Elvis would have done the Matt Helm movies, at least it would have been a change for him.
Thank you to those who have responded both positively (Judy_Fairytale, I am always uplifted too by Elvis in those moments) and negatively. I can honestly tell you I don't smoke anything and I enjoy Elvis' movies. I think the acting overall was very good in Elvis' movies including Elvis', and many of his co-stars. Some movies like "Easy Come, Easy Go" slip in the acting department and Elvis seems to walk through a couple of the later musical roles, but overall (again) compared to what was released at the same time, the acting was above average. "Double Trouble" has a lot of the same elements as Martin's "Helms" movies and it is twice the movie they are. I watched two of them recently and I was appalled by how shabby they were (and I love Dean Martin, hense the screen name Deano1)....I would give a B or better to 21 of Elvis 31 feature films (not counting the documentaries). The lower rated ones being "Kissin Cousins" (C-), "Harum Scarum" (D), "Tickle Me" (C), "Easy Come, Easy Go (D+), "Paradise, Hawaiian, Style (C-), "Double Trouble" (C+), "Clambake" (B-), "Stay Away Joe" (C), "Live A Little, Love A Little (C+) and "Charro!" (C).
Concerning the Beatles (a group who I appreciate and like a lot), I am surprised by the way everything they did is treated as gold by some people. Their two movies were no better than "Viva Las Vega" or "G.I. Blues" (I like the Elvis ones better). During their years together (only seven years in the U.S.) they had some down right silly songs from "Yellow Submarine" to "You Know My Name, Look Up the Number" to "Strawberry Fields Forever and a lot of lack luster cuts on the sacred "White Album". And no Steve V, I did not compare Tepper/Bennett to Lennon/McCartney, I simply put the Beatles in the list of star vehicle films.
I do wish that Elvis had been given better scripts, I wish that some of the soundtrack songs could have been better and he is partially to blame for letting the movies go on too long. Unfortunately he had a carnival huckster as a manager and Elvis the artist was never appreciated by his manager or his record label. If you like them like many of us do, then watch them and appreciate them and don't be deterred by the people who don't like them. If you hate the films, then be thankful, it gave Elvis the determination to do his rocking '68 TV Special (and not a Christmas show with 12 carols) and subsequent great recording sessions of 69 and 70 along with the great Vegas shows and tours. Elvis could have easily turned into an after thought like almost everyone else who shared the charts with him from 1955-63, but he survived. He could have turned into Perry Como and did a Christmas special and three albums every year of old standards (this is not a knock on Mr Como, I like him too).
Can´t say that I agree with you concerning most of Elvis´s movies, Deano, but you´re a very tolerant person which I like. (You even like Como?!?) Personally I´m only able to sit through about 5 Elvis Presley films, and two of them were made in the fifties. But I really like you Beatles comparison. As I´ve written here before Elvis has always been artistically underrated whereas the Beatles were completely the opposite.
As much as Elvis' movies are torn to pieces by the critics I think they were VITAL in helping to maintain his long term fanbase. I saw his movies on TV as a kid in the seventies and I thought Elvis was just the coolest guy in the world. He looked fantastic, chicks loved him, he kicked ass and was an all round super hero - who could sing!!!! As a kid I wasn't too concerned by the quality of the songs or the plot, I just wanted to see Elvis. Now that was clearly Colonel Parker's reasoniong but remember I was just out of nappies! Still those movies helped me form a lasting impression of Elvis as a top dude and whilst I cringe at most of them now I can't wait till my 8 month old son is a few years older and enjoying these movies just as much as I did. And I'll be watching them with him. We're stuck with the movies and I don't think anyone older than ten could take anything after Roustabout seriously but if you want some low brow fun in the sun then 1964-1969 will take tick that box very nicely. Prior to 1964 most of his films were as good as any of the movies being made by pop stars of that time, if not better. Cliff Richard anybody?
Deano1, I made the comment of smoking as a joke. I did not mean to infer you are into that. You sound like a gentleman & a good person.
Well said Dean01, you've summed up the movie years pretty much perfect there. We all know they went on too long and between 65 - 68 the quality dropped but there's only a handful out of 31 films that i don't really watch anymore. Have to disagree about Harem Scarum though, agree it's a poor film but i actually love the soundtrack, pity the film didn't match.
well said Deano1. I first discovered elvis through hid movies on Tv as a kid in the 70's and loved them!during the school holidays it was always a time to stop what we were doing and sit down for tea when his movies were on. Funnily enough even as a kid I remember how cool he looked in 'Change of Habit' but the BBC rarely showed it. I love them now. I can still appreciate them for what they were. Ok maybe he didn't like making them but no-one among my family and fiends realised till after his death! Maybe we need to pan them a little less and then the companies that own them will treat them with more respect eg by releasing them with documentaries and interviews the way the Bond films are ( and they're not all winners either!)
I posted this on another Elvis site, but I think it is valid to this discussion:
I have just listened to Paul Morley's examination of Elvis' movie career (Part of Radio 2's Elvis Season). I am angry and disappointed with Morley's whole approach which was full of snide comments about the loss of the creative rebellious rocking Elvis. The programme did finish with a few comments praising the films for keeping Elvis in the public eye through the 60s when most of his contemporaries faded, but by and large any praise about the films was grudging.
Now I am very glad that the BBC is actually making programmes about Elvis but this was so unsympathetic and lacking in any balance. It was as if Morley had already decided the films were rubbish and trotted out the same old formula we hear from Elvis critics (ironically one of his criticisms was the formulaic nature of Elvis films). Morley quoting the Lennon line that Elvis "died when he went into the army" was typical of this programme. I wonder if he has actually watched the films (I recommend he reads Suzy Qs reviews on this site).
I think that there was merit in many of Elvis films, there were many good songs, top actors and top directors - and they ENTERTAINED. Just because they reached a wider audience does not mean that they had no creativity.
It is often said that Elvis would have benefited from doing a film like "A Star is Born" or "Midnight Cowboy". Those who say that (usually Morley-type popular culture quasi-intellectuals) just don't get it. Elvis in the 60s was probably the most famous individual on the planet - certainly in entertainment; how could he appear in any film that WASN'T an Elvis vehicle. He could not play a bit part or co-star part (and no he did not share equal billing with Ann-Margret), he was just too big. Elvis himself was probably too modest to realise this - he felt he could be just another actor, but (sadly for him) that option closed very early.
I'm only writing this because I am sick of the snide, "Elvis sold out" kind of rubbish that gets trotted out. All these has-beens and never-weres who get paid good money to advise us how Elvis could have done this or done that. Well, 32 years after he died, Elvis is still one of the most famous people ever, his songs, his image, his films still have huge impact today - So, I'd say that despite all the smartasses, the Boy done pretty good.
I hope that, in remembering his 75th anniversary, we celebrate how great Elvis was and is.
MickeyN Elvis career would have been served better had he starred in better pictures even if he wasn't top billed. Case in point Sinatra. Won the Oscar as best male supporting role.
Sorry, oldscudder, I must disagree. Elvis was too big a star to be a supporting actor - they tried in "Love Me Tender" (Richard Egan was supposedly the top draw) but they ended up even changing the film title and it became an Elvis vehicle. Frank Sinatra was big, too, but not in Elvis's league when it came to all round fame (the Timex special was a good indicator of the power shift). For whatever reason, Elvis became an unique brand - second billing was no longer an option. On the subject of "good films" and "good actors" and "art", I happened to watch the Clint Eastwood film - "The Gauntlet" - if that is what a good film with a good actor is supposed to look like, give me "Clambake" any time!!
MickeyN, Clint Eastwood had his share of misses for sure. But Elvis cannot be compared to Clint. Was Love Me Tender, Charro, Flaming Star as good af Unforgiven. No Elvis movie comes close to that one. Was Kid Galahad better than Million Dollar Baby. Compare Elvis Oscars to Clints. Elvis was the biggest singer of course but he should have paid his dues as an actor. Then maybe he would have had a fine acting career instead of a mediorce one. Many on this site will disagree with me. On the same hand many on this site will probably consider Elvis a finer actor than Spencer Tracey, Brando, & Robert DiNero.
Sorry, I am being misunderstood. I am not trying to rank Elvis as an actor. What I was trying to say was that, in my opinion, Elvis's unique standing and prominence as an entertainment idol would always have stood in the way of his trying to be a serious actor ( and especially a supporting actor) - he was good in eg King Creole, Jailhouse Rock, even (I think) Change of Habit and Wild in the Country but no matter what, they were Elvis vehicles. I just can't imagine Elvis playing a supporting or bit part - his stage presence and image just would not allow it. Close your eyes and imagine Elvis in some of the roles people quote - Star is Born; West Side Story; Midnight Cowboy - it doesn't work for me - Elvis is Elvis and the films would just become Elvis movies. All I am saying is that he was that big!
MickeyN - Im sure a Sinatra fan would disagree with you. I work with one and you cannot even mention Elvis in the same breath as Sinatra, so everyone has their own opinion. This thing about Elvis being too big for this or that is nonsense. He could have and should have shared billing in a good movie if the Colonel allowed it. Perhaps a seriously made film and NOT an Elvis vehicle would have made him an even bigger star. Elvis should have demanded it. It certianly would have given his movie career a boost in the right direction and silenced some critics. Also this notion about him being too big to tour the world is nonsense also. Every major star has done a would tour except Elvis. Security not good enough? If world leaders can get the proper security, surely a singer can.