Elvis Early On
King Creole a Safest Wallis Bet For 1958
For much of 1958, and certainly all of 1959, King Creole was so much gold deposit. This was the period in which Elvis Presley served as draftee in the peacetime military, during which there would be no new Elvis movies to feed his ravenous fan base. Four had been generated from onset of stardom to bus-out for basic training, and an arid '59 would see them all re-played into guitar picks. Fortunately for
|L to R: Hal Wallis, Presley, Mike Curtiz, and Dean Jagger|
Wallis had made his Elvis vehicles for modest price and realized stunning returns, $3.3 million in domestic rentals for Loving You (helped considerably by being the only one of the four in color), with $2.7 million flowing from King Creole. The $600K difference amounted to lesson learned for the producer: Presley in serious mode was not the selling brand; once mustered from ranks, the singer sensation would be deployed to froth (and G.I. Blues proved Wallis right to tune of $3.8 million in domestic rentals). Fans who longed of better things would have Creole to recall in terms of dramatic opportunity extended, then withdrawn, in favor of juvenilia to be his lot for most of remainder of a screen career.
King Creole had been conceived, not for Elvis, but in terms of an angry young man school of dramaturgy. Names bandied to lead once Wallis bought the Harold Robbins literary source included Paul Newman, John Cassavetes, the inevitable Marlon Brando. The novel had been about a teen boxer with father issues. Wallis dumped the ring angle, but kept Dad. What he couldn't do was relieve melo-lift that might, in fact did, bum out Elvis-crazed teens. Only downer King Creole lacked was their idol dying at the finish, which for a climactic reel's harrowing while, looked as though just that might happen.
Creole was old-fashioned in ways similar to Warner mellers playing TV late nights, that invoked by factory foremen Mike Curtiz laying on noirish composition to mint a juve crowd's John Garfield. But was Elvis here to emote or sing? In King Creole, he was accomplished at both. No personality since Errol Flynn had improved so markedly within so short a time. Presley picked up acting as instinctively as rhythm to a song, but seems not to have had as great an interest in dramatic expression, other than through music. Was he intimidated by "craft" others said he must learn? He'd certainly never look better than in King Creole.
The black-and-white actually enhances sullen Elvis. His hair looks black enough to have been drawn from an ink well. What oceans of dye it must have taken to maintain that affect. I don't see, never did in fact, Presley imitating Brando or Dean the way so many young players did. His work beside others is relaxed and spontaneous. Did experienced actors complain of scenes shared with him? Not that I'm aware of. There is stellar talent in support of Elvis here, and he doesn't once ride their backs. Chemistry with Carolyn Jones may have the best he'd achieve with an actress. What a shame she never made it to top rungs. I wanted these two to have a happy fade in King Creole, but cruel fate of Act Three denied them. Did letdown from this diminish repeat admissions? I suspect a lot of Elvis money derived from kids going twice or more to see his early flicks, but King Creole, unlike Loving You, may have been once-only for intensity and play-for-keeps violence that Wallis would avoid from there on. King Creole has shown up on Retro Plex HD in 1.85, a richer to say the least experience of finally seeing it as 1958-59 audiences did.