HomeEntertainmentOn This Day: Elvis Presley Begins Shooting ‘Harum Scarum’ in 1965

On This Day: Elvis Presley Begins Shooting ‘Harum Scarum’ in 1965

by Katie Maloney
(Photo by Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)

Could Elvis Presley make a bad movie? Many thought it was impossible until he started filming Harum Scarum.

By the time, Elvis Presley starred in Harum Scarum he had a slew of successful movies under his belt. So there was no evidence to show that Elvis was actually capable of making a movie that wouldn’t be profitable. But Harum Scarum proved differently. The movie stars Elvis as Johnny Tyronne, an American singer and movie star. He travels to the Middle East to promote his new movie when he is kidnapped by a group of bumbling assassins. Because Johnny plays a swashbuckling hero in his movies, they think he’s a real-life assassin and they want him to use his skills to kill the king. During the movie, he deals with the would-be assassins all while managing to woo beautiful Princess Shalimar.

The plotline doesn’t sound too bad. Yes, a little cheesy, but throw in some Elvis Presley tunes and all would be right. That’s what Elvis thought too. Until he showed up on set in March 1965 and realized that the whole film was actually a bit of a joke. After the first day of shooting, Elvis’s heart was no longer in it, and it shows throughout the film.

The film is listed in Golden Raspberry Award founder, John Wilson’s book The Official Razzie Movie Guide as one of The 100 Most Enjoyably Bad Movies Ever Made. And the reviews for the movie weren’t much better.

How Did People React to Elvis Presley’s New Movie?

For as much as Elvis Presley didn’t like the movie, movie reviewers were even more critical. Vincent Canby of the New York Times wondered if Elvis had been sedated before filming.

He wrote, “Mr. Presley wanders through the improbable whimsies of Harum Scarum with all the animation of a man under deep sedation, but then he had read the script, which has to do with a Hollywood star, a mythical Arab kingdom, and some oil rights. Every line of dialogue sounds like a song cue, and about every other one actually is.”

A reviewer for Variety acknowledged that the movie was pretty bad but admitted that most people would give it a pass since Elvis “can do no wrong.”

“If Presley were any more relaxed, Perry Como and Bing Crosby would have to retire,” said the reviewer. “But he gets into the general spirit of things and he’s Elvis. With anybody but Elvis Presley to gun possibilities, this would be a pretty dreary affair at the box-office. Elvis, however, apparently can do no wrong…”

No, the film wasn’t a box office hit. And no, the reviews for the movie weren’t great. But, dedicated Elvis fans still came through for the King of Rock n’ Roll. Many fans still enthusiastically declare their love for Harum Scarum today.