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Elvis Presley, Film Star. Underrated Film Star, Even

A very long time in the past, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tony Curtis, one of many final of the old school film stars. As his daughter, Oscar nominee Jamie Lee Curtis just lately noticed, “He beloved being Tony Curtis.” 

In our dialog, we obtained on the topics of fandom and film iconography. Though Curtis was right now in his 70s, he nonetheless spoke with boyish awe about Cary Grant, whom Curtis idolized when he was rising up poor within the Bronx. He might scarcely imagine that in 1959 he really costarred with Grant in *Operation Petticoat––*that was the identical 12 months he impersonated Grant in Some Like It Sizzling.

Curtis then informed me how blown away he’d been when he realized that Elvis Presley, when starting his storied profession in present enterprise, dyed his hair jet-black, attempting to look extra like…Tony Curtis.

Now, after all, Presley solely ever seemed like himself. However rising up in poverty in Tupelo and Memphis, the formidable younger man of the Nineteen Fifties had his sights set on Hollywood early in his present enterprise profession. His selection of function mannequin was apt. As a lot as Presley additionally admired Marlon Brando, attending to Curtis’s stage appeared a extra instantly attainable objective. 

That Elvis by no means did—that he by no means obtained an opportunity to shine past matinee-idol ranges, as Curtis did in The Defiant Ones or Some Like It Sizzling—was after all largely because of the machinations of his supervisor, Colonel Tom Parker, the confounding villain of each Presley’s life and Baz Luhrmann’s carnivalesque 2022 biopic, Elvis. 

However, it’s a fallacy to insist that Presley solely ever acted in unhealthy films. There are extra good ones than it’s possible you’ll imagine, although it helps when you preserve your expectations within the realm of B footage. In his day—and this was early on in his movie profession, largely earlier than Colonel Parker devised a sort of nefarious assembly-line scheme—Presley labored with better-than-solid administrators, together with Michael Curtiz (he’s the man chargeable for Casablanca, amongst different classics), Don Siegel, Phil Karlson, and Gordon Douglas.

Hollywood had an unofficial sample when it got here to introducing singing idols to the large display. Take Frank Sinatra. The Forties slayer of films for bobby-soxers was examined in a few nonmajor RKO musicals earlier than graduating to larger MGM footage. The rock-and-roll musical was not but a factor when Presley first obtained to Hollywood, and in any occasion, Presley was too large to suit comfortably right into a multi-performer omnibus image like The Woman Can’t Assist It, which might open a few weeks after Presley’s film debut, Love Me Tender.

Love Me Tender was not a musical however a Western with a handful of songs, the titular ballad being an iconic hit. It’s a serviceable image, no higher or worse than the handfuls of Westerns Hollywood churned out in that period, and Presley is ok within the sort of function he would come to play pretty usually: a good-hearted, uncomplicated fellow caught up in probably overwhelming circumstances. He additionally will get to romance sultry Debra Paget, whose character for some cause prefers B image main man Richard Egan over the King. 

The next years noticed Presley doing his greatest performing work. 1957’s Jailhouse Rock is after all self-explanatory, a visible knockout in wide-screen black-and-white, with Elvis in a task arguably near dwelling as an ex-con who makes it large within the rock racket. It additionally has the most effective songs of any Elvis Presley film, 4 supplied by the songwriting staff of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, together with “(You’re So Sq.) Child I Don’t Care.”  

1958’s King Creole, directed by Curtiz, is a no-apologies-necessary good image, and Presley knew it; he cited the function of Danny Fisher (one other good-hearted easy man almost engulfed in a dangerous state of affairs) as his favourite. Despite his otherworldly magnetism, or maybe because of it, Presley did exceptionally nicely with a robust performing ensemble, and the supporting forged right here—together with Walter Matthau, Carolyn Jones, Vic Morrow, and Dean Jagger—is a strong one. The songs are nicely built-in into the story. 

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