Thursday, January 8, 2009

Elvis, the Actor: A Reevaluation

In honor of what would have been Elvis Presley's 74th birthday, TCM is showing a marathon of his movies on Thursday, January 8th. One of the common misconceptions about Elvis is that he was a lousy actor. Sure, many of his films were a waste of his talent; if Elvis were alive today, he'd probably own up to the fact that Harum Scarum wasn't Citizen Kane. However, it's asking a lot when you think about some of the weak plots/scripts that were put in the Pelvis' lap. For the majority of his post-Army movie career, the plots of Elvis' films were nearly identical:

1. Put him in an exotic locale

2. Have him ogle a bevy of lovely ladies and sing a handful of mediocre tunes

3. Roll the credits

Because of the substandard quality of most of his 1960s pictures, I can envision Elvis throwing a tirade at Col. Tom Parker similar to the one that Jack Lemmon directed at Kevin Spacey in Glengarry Glen Ross.

Elvis (to the Colonel): How do you expect me to become a better actor? With dreck? With this toilet paper you're giving me?

On those rare occasions when Elvis was given decent movie material, he acquitted himself rather nicely. For those doubters, check Elvis out in Jailhouse Rock, Loving You, King Creole, Wild In the Country, Flaming Star, and Roustabout. Another one of his films worthy of another look is the 1969 western Charro. I enjoyed it as a kid, but haven't seen in years; I'd be interested to see if it holds up well.

One of the interesting aspects of Elvis' movie career is the number of films that he was allegedly offered. According to, Elvis was offered roles in such classics as The Defiant Ones (he reportedly would have starred opposite Sidney Poitier in the role that eventually went to Tony Curtis), Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, West Side Story, and True Grit. We can only speculate, but it's interesting to ponder how things may have turned out for Elvis had he been allowed to grow as an actor.

Below is the schedule of Elvis films that TCM will air on his birthday (all times are EST).

7:30 AM King Creole (1958)

A singer with a criminal past gets drawn back into the mob. Cast: Elvis Presley, Carolyn Jones, Walter Matthau. Dir: Michael Curtiz. BW-116 mins, TV-PG, CC, Letterbox Format
9:30 AM G.I. Blues (1960)

An American stationed in Germany bets that he can make an icy entertainer fall for him. Cast: Elvis Presley, Juliet Prowse, Robert Ivers Dir: Norman Taurog. C-104 mins, TV-G, CC, Letterbox Format
11:15 AM Blue Hawaii (1961)

A Hawaiian playboy defies his possessive mother to take a job with a tourist agency. Cast: Elvis Presley, Joan Blackman, Angela Lansbury Dir: Norman Taurog. C-101 mins, TV-PG, CC, Letterbox Format
1:00 PM Girls! Girls! Girls! (1962)

A Hawaiian fisherman is torn between a sexy nightclub singer and a nice girl with a secret. Cast: Elvis Presley, Stella Stevens, Jeremy Slate Dir: Norman Taurog. C-99 mins, TV-PG, Letterbox Format
2:45 PM Fun in Acapulco (1963)

A trapeze artist tries to use love to conquer his fear of heights. Cast: Elvis Presley, Ursula Andress, Elsa Cardenas Dir: Richard Thorpe. C-97 mins, TV-PG, CC, Letterbox Format
4:30 PM Roustabout (1964)

A female carnival owner hires a hot-blooded young singer to save her touring show. Cast: Elvis Presley, Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Freeman. Dir: John Rich. C-101 mins, TV-PG, CC, Letterbox Format
6:15 PM Elvis on Tour (1972)

Extensive concert footage highlights this documentary about the King's touring in the early '70s. Cast: Elvis Presley, James Burton, Glenn D. Hardin. Dir: Robert Abel, Pierre Aldridge. C-93 mins, TV-G, Letterbox Format

Below is the trailer for arguably Elvis' best film, King Creole:


Pop Art Diva! said...

I always thought Elvis could act and was always sad at the level of films he was forced to do - primarily because of his manager, Col. Parker, but I won't harp about that here!

Elvis was also offered the role of John Norman Howard (eventually played quite nicely by Kris Kristofferson) in the Barbra Streisand/Jon Peters production of the 1976 movie A Star Is Born. Colonel Parker ended up killing what could have been the beginning of a real acting career for Elvis by demanding top billing and too much money for Elvis role in the movie. (oops, had to harp a little!)

I believe you and I spoke of this once before but I have to say it again - this would have been such a gigantic pairing (Elvis and Barbra!) and I believe we all lost a great moment in film history when Elvis lost this part.

According to most sources, Elvis' favorite movie he did was King Creole. I was always partial to Viva Las Vegas because of the theme song - I just love that song, I'm so tacky, lol!

clnmike said...

I definitely would of liked to see him in the movies he turned down.

But with the exception of Charro everything else was forgettable.

jenn said...

In honor of Elvis' birthday this week, I'm having Elvis week on my site. We're featuring folks who collect all things Elvis and interviewed some of them.Check it:

Malcolm said...

Pop Art Diva: When I did a T13 about Elvis' female co-stars, I listed Barbra Streisand at #13 as an "almost co-star" because of "A Star Is Born". Along with the Colonel's demands, I also read that Elvis turned the movie down because he didn't want to be bossed around by Barbra. As for the Colonel, he clearly didn't have Elvis' best interests at heart.

Another favorite Elvis film of mine is "Kid Galahad". I liked Gig Young's performance as Elvis' trainer in the movie. One line that cracked me up was when Gig's character called Elvis' a "cream headed clown".

Clnmike: I was watching the trailer to "Charro" on You Tube not too long ago. I haven't seen the film itself since I was a kid; I wonder if there is a distribution issue and that's why it isn't shown much anymore.

Jenn: Thanks for the heads up.

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