Wednesday, January 10, 2018

A little gem

When I think of my favorite Elvis movie, King Creole, I think of two of my favorite numbers: "Trouble" and "King Creole." When he performs "Trouble," he seems to be having so much fun (both here and on his 1968 TV special). And "King Creole" has him in such fine and versatile voice as he swings that guitar. Those two songs overwhelm another number from the film, which is just so cinematically sound it's left me gobsmacked.

Look at the shadows. Michael Curtiz and his cinematographer Russell Harlan treat it like a set piece in a film noir. These two were masters of black and white: Curtiz is best known for Casablanca, and Harlan went on to do To Kill a Mockingbird.

So this is what Elvis could do, would have done, if his manager and producer allowed it. But Col. Tom saw they could make more money off the movie soundtracks than the movies themselves, and Hal Wallis seemed to believe the bubble would burst and Elvis would fade into oblivion at any moment, so once Elvis got out of the Army they cranked out movies at an alarming rate.

Amazingly, those subpar films all made money. Elvis fans are nothing if not loyal -- his continued popularity proves that. They would have enjoyed him in good movies as well as the Technicolor mediocrity they saw him in.

Of course, Elvis earned some culpability in this sad situation. The teenage usher at Lowe's Palace in Memphis, the kid who loved movies and John Wayne and especially Tony Curtis, wanted to be a good actor and wanted to appear in prestigious films. Then he went into the Army and a switch was flipped. Drugs, the loss of his mother, ennui ... He stopped standing up for himself and for quality. Which is tragic.

So as delightful as I find King Creole, it also makes me sad. I watched it twice this year in honor his birthday week. I think next time, I'll stick with Jailhouse Rock. It's not as good, but it is more fun.