[box cover]

King Creole

Lots of people know that producer Hal Wallis and director Michael Curtiz teamed up for the legendary Casablanca in 1941, but less are aware that the duo also reunited on the 1958 King Creole, a sexually charged melodrama that was Elvis Presley's fourth film, and the last one he appeared in before he joined the Army (which, according to virtually all Elvis historians, marked the end of The King's early career). Based on the novel A Stone for Danny Fisher by Harold Robbins, Presley stars as young New Orleans tough-guy Danny Fisher, who is having a hard time balancing his education and the need to maintain a job after his father has fallen on hard times. Working as a busboy in a local cabaret, the impulsive Danny is soon drawn into a gangster underworld as two club owners, Maxie Fields (Walter Matthau) and Charlie LeGrand (Paul Stewart), vie for his talents as a rising young singer. While trying to do the right thing, and avoid a group of small-time hoods lead by Shark (Vic Morrow), Fisher also is drawn between two women — young, innocent Nellie (Dolores Hart), and former nightclub singer Ronnie (Carolyn Jones), who is under Maxie's thumb. Presley never made his mark as a serious actor (even though it was well known he admired and wanted to be compared to the late James Dean), but King Creole is about as near as Elvis got to a film that resembled Rebel Without a Cause, as the tormented Danny tries to cope with a number of outside influences while attempting to forge out a meaningful identity for himself. It is in the handful of substantial monologues that Presley's acting is the most creaky, but there are also many lighter moments where he banters with leading ladies Hart and Jones, and Curtiz even gets that famous stutter on screen for posterity ("W-w-w-we-well, where would you like to go?" Elvis asks Hart before their first date). But don't think the folks at Paramount were going to green-light a movie from the phenomenal singer without a few tunes, and King Creole's most rewarding moments come when Presley drops the method acting and belts out a song. The memorable numbers here include "Hard-Headed Woman," "Lover Doll," the title tune "King Creole," and especially the sneering "Trouble," most all done in cabaret performances and with backing vocals by The Jordanaires, who appeared on The King's early records. The sun-soaked Elvis frolics Blue Hawaii, Fun in Acapulco, Viva Las Vegas, and others would arrive over the next decade, but the gritty black-and-white bayou of King Creole offers Elvis fans a glimpse of how the iconic ducktailed rocker wanted to make his mark in dramatic films, and with a talented supporting cast and a seasoned director like Curtiz behind the cameras, this is the closest Presley ever got to serious filmmaking. Excellent anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) from a pristine source print that has remarkable low-contrast details. Audio is available in the original mono or a great DD 5.1 mix that shines during the musical bits. Trailer, chapter selection with direct access to musical numbers. Keep-case.
—JJB



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