Elvis Presley was probably the most famous man in America by the end of the fifties. He had several hit singles as well as a handful of films. He had his detractors, to be sure. However, his fan base was vast. They came out in droves to see his shows, buy his records, and watch his films.
Over the course of his all-too-short career, Elvis Presley appeared in thirty-one films. Among those are classics like Viva Las Vegas and Jailhouse Rock. There are also several films that we will just say didn’t quite make “classic” status. The truth is that many of the films that Elvis was in just weren’t that great. Elvis would have agreed. In fact, he never watched his own films because he didn’t like them. They paid him well to be in them. However, he never had any control over his roles or the songs they used in the films.
As usual, Tom Parker, Elvis Presley’s manager, is at fault here. He picked most of the roles. At the same time, the studios used Elvis as a gimmick to get people into theaters. It was a sad state of affairs.
However, today marks the 63rd anniversary of what is arguably one of Elvis Presley’s best films, King Creole.
Elvis Presley Stars in King Creole
King Creole was an adaptation of the novel A Stone for Danny Fisher. It is a combination of crime noir, musical, and drama and takes place in New Orleans. That combination was a gamble but it paid off.
The studio originally wanted James Dean to star in the film. However, he died before they could begin production. So, they got Elvis Presley. After all, he had a rebellious teenage image that was almost on par with Dean.
However, the studio didn’t just use him as a gimmick to get eyes on the movie. The film’s producer. Hal Wallis, saw something in Elvis Presley, according to Medium. More specifically, he thought that Michael Curtiz, who would direct the film, would be the man to bring out Elvis’ acting talent.
He was right.
Elvis Presley plays Danny Fisher, a New Orleans nightclub busboy and singer. When a mobster played by Walter Matthau hears him sing, he wants Danny to sing in his clubs. However, Danny doesn’t want to work for the mob. So, he sings at King Creole, the only club in town that Matthau’s character doesn’t own. This makes Danny a powerful enemy.
You can see the difference between this and many of Elvis Presley’s other films just from the trailer. The King delivers a nuanced performance that incorporates the rebellious image that Parker wanted to cultivate for him as well as the dramatic acting that Presley wanted to do all along.
If Elvis would have landed more films like this one, he might have been prouder of his acting career.