Elvis Movies 4
4) KING CREOLE (1958). The last pre-Army movie (only could be filmed because the studio got Elvis’ draft board to postpone his induction for 2 months), it’s also the end of the line for Elvis as a legitimate potential Hollywood star. This was supposed to be what happened: he was supposed to be his generation’s version of Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra, but it didn’t take. In part because he was a limited actor, in part because his manager was a penny-pinching tasteless con man, but also in that the celebrity Elvis had created was such that the movies seemed too limited for him.
But King Creole is a tantalizing example of what could have been—E. playing something close to an actual character here: a poor, desperate young man who’s been left to fend for himself once his mother dies (storyline eerily predicts E’s mother’s death 6 months later, which he never got over). The story’s by Harold Robbins and it’s pulpy, nasty and fun—the New Orleans location shooting gives it far more depth than the typical Elvis feature, shot in a Hollywood fishbowl.
The best supporting cast he ever had: Vic Morrow as an ambitious thug; Walter Matthau as a local mob boss who seems to sweat poison; Dean Jagger as Elvis’ father, a man with the life thrashed out of him; Paul Stewart as Matthau’s rival, a man of more refined corruption. The two romantic rivals for Elvis are comically devil or angel roles: for the latter, Dolores Hart, who actually became a nun. And the fantastic Carolyn Jones (later Morticia Addams), a woman repulsed by the world she’s been forced to survive in, and who refuses to keep her disgust hidden. Collectively they lift Elvis up to a plane he’d never come close to reaching again.
Songs: solid but a mixed bag: “Hard Headed Woman” (prominent trombone irritated the young Lennon & McCartney, who wondered if E was selling out to jazz); title track (”if I have to write another ‘King Creole,’ I’ll slash my throat”—Leiber to Stoller); the wonderfully spare, even funky “Crawfish” which sounds a decade ahead of its time; “Trouble” (Leiber: “a song that only Hell’s Angels and Elvis Presley took seriously”; E. sells it, at least); “Dixieland Rock” (an obvious potboiler—let’s rewrite Jailhouse Rock & call it a morning); “Lover Doll” (crap); “New Orleans” (does the job) ; “Don’t Ask Me Why” (see previous); “Young Dreams” (see previous)