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Flaming Star

While in development Flaming Star was a vehicle intended for Marlon Brando or Frank Sinatra. Enter Elvis Presley, an actor of underrated talents too often stuck in quickie (but fun) escapist fare that didn't stretch his abilities. Directed by Don Siegel, later known for seminal classics of pulp cinema (Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Killers, and Dirty Harry), the film is often considered one of Elvis' best (though this writer would argue for King Creole and Viva Las Vegas). His "serious" picture with only two songs, the western Flaming Star (released in 1960) isn't a masterpiece, it's more a picture that's been deemed important because of its more daring content: racial prejudice. But it's a good film, filled with well-directed action sequences and an intriguing glimpse into Elvis as serious actor. Elvis plays Pacer Burton, the half-breed son of a white cattle rancher (John McIntire) and full-blooded Kiowa Indian mother (played by the still lovely screen legend Dolores Del Rio), living on a Texas ranch with his white half-brother Clint (Steve Forrest). In a truly scary beginning sequence, a tribe of Kiowa Indians go on a rampage, intent on taking the land back from white interlopers. The white settlers fear and hate the Indians, as the Indians resent the settlers, thus setting off a conflict with Pacer and his mother. Though his white family remains loyal, Pacer feels unwanted in both worlds, and his attempt to reconcile his place is the film's refrain. Politically correct folks won't think Flaming Star makes any great contributions to the Indians (or rather, Native Americans), as the film still contains what some would consider stereotypical, and even racist, moments. But there is an effort to humanize them. Obviously, by casting one of the entertainment world's greatest stars as a half-breed, the film was attempting to make a statement. Elvis fans and non-fans have always been impressed by Elvis' intensity within this story, and he does give a huge dose of heart to the movie. Perhaps his own earlier reverse-racism in performing "black" music helped guide his performance. He's genuine and touching. But though we're happy Elvis got some good work in which he could impress an audience with a more earnest accomplishment, one still wonders what Marlon Brando would have done with this. Probably halted production so long the film would have been significantly changed and released a year later. Elvis's Colonel Parker would never have allowed for that. Fox's DVD release of Flaming Star offers a good anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) that nicely displays the stagy but sometimes rugged scenery and lovely wide-open cinematography. Audio comes in Dolby 2.0 Surround, which is great for the gunfire, clomping of horses (who doesn't love that sound?), and of course, Elvis's beautiful voice. Trailers, keep-case.
—Kim Morgan

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