It all depends what you're looking for in a movie. If you enjoy Elvis' on screen persona, most of his movies are relatively pleasant.
I would say though that amongst those you've missed Flaming Star, Follow That Dream
(which critics aside I believe contains Elvis' best work as an actor), Kid Galahad
and The Trouble With Girls
are honest to gosh good movies. Flaming Star
was directed by Don Siegel, a first class director who directed very fine films including Dirty Harry, Charlie Varrick, Escape From Alcatraz
and Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
It's very interesting look at race and at the harsh realities of a race war which is what the conflict between whites and American Indians essentially. Although it's a little heavy handed at times, mostly it's very sober and subdued and hesitates away from villains and heroes. It has some good action sequences and Siegel got a good performance out of Elvis. I'm not the biggest fan of the last half hour but when the BFI compiled a list of essential westerns for its history of the form in the late 1980s Flaming Star
was one of the choices. Follow That Dream
is also a very, very good movie which makes a lot of points about the survival instinct, about the ingenuity of the common man and the corruption of bureaucracy. One of the screenwriters was Charles Lederer who was one of the greats of all time. This is actually one of the rare Elvis movies where the songs detract from the film's interest. Aside from the title song and "Angel" the songs are weak and not presented especially well on the screen. Still, that's a minor flaw when you take in the whole especially Elvis' acting, where he displays a gift for light comedy and has a few big dramatic moments Of course, beyond Elvis. there's well used Florida locations a first rate supporting cast including Arthur O'Connell (a two time Oscar nominee), Howard McNear who played Floyd on the Andy Griffith Show and is very funny here, Joanna Moore, Simon Oakland and Jack Kruschen and as I mentioned probably the best screenplay of any Elvis movie. Kid Galahad
is probably Elvis' most underrated movie. I think because it was a remake of a well loved '30s boxing classic and was directed by Phil Karlson, a director who specialized in extremely tough action films like Walking Tall
and The Phenix City Story
(which contains a scene of a child's dead body being thrown from a car), people expected something different. It's not an action film. And it's only a boxing film by strict definition. It's actually a pastoral type movie, a tribute to small town America, multiculturalism, and the power of positive thinking. It's a gentle rather than hard hitting movie. Elvis' character comes into town and sees beauty in the place that the jaded town residents have taken for granted. His success in the ring helps the town residents find common ground and pride in themselves and their hometown. Boxing is just the way he does it. The scenery is very beautiful and you can see what Walter/Elvis sees in the place (although it's actually California not upstate New York). This is another case of the songs derailing the dramatic impact although unlike FTD all the songs here save "A Whistling Tune" emphasize and expand the character. The boxing sequences are also not what we would consider super realistic today. However, this is still well, well worth seeing. The supporting cast which includes Academy Award winner Gig Young, Charles Bronson, period favorites Lola Albright and Robert Emhardt along with Joan Blackman, who is much, much sexier here than she was in BH, is among the best of any Elvis film. Just don't go looking for a hard hitting gangster/boxing film. The gangsters are merely the challenge to the hero's belief in himself and his hometown. Elvis is not as good here as he was in FTD or FS but his character is not nearly so complex or interesting. He's required to convey a gentle likability and an interior strength and he does that. It's not the type of thing that wins Oscars but it helps make an enjoyable movie.
Of the four good movies I mentioned, The Trouble With Girls
is the weakest but it's still very good with a very strong sense of place and era (despite some anachronisms). It captures the sense of disruption an event like a Chautauqua could bring to a small town where life seldom varies. It's an ensemble piece and there's probably too many plot strands to cover and get everything down. But the story with Sheree North is definitely worth watching. There's a fairly wonderful sequence where North's child and a young friend watch a handful of fire crackers explode. It captures a little kid's sense of wonder in the world. In a few scenes Peter Tewksbury gets a little too modern as when Elvis sings the very good movie song "Clean Up Your Own Backyard" but still he keeps on course most of the way. A lot of fans don't like this movie because Elvis plays a much smaller role than he plays in any of his other movies. However, I think you can see some growth in Elvis as an actor here. There's an attempt at an interpretation of a character as opposed to the way he tried to inhabit some of his earlier characters. I'm not saying he's as compelling as he is in those other roles, but he is doing something different. This film actually got a three and a half star of four review in a prominent film guide in the early 1980s.
I would say for Elvis fans that Wild in the Country
is also an essential view because of the role it played in Elvis' greater career. It's very ambitious with a (not very good) screenplay by Clifford Odets. It's not well directed but Elvis does well as does most of the cast. As a fan of '60s cinema I find it very interesting because it has a slew of up and coming actors Elvis included, none of whom really lived up to their potentials. Elvis' co-star the great Tuesday Weld, who is enough reason alone to watch the movie, seldom got the roles due her amazing talent. Millie Perkins, who two years before had led an Oscar nominated film, had already peaked. Hope Lange seemed ok with secondary roles on TV but could have done more. Garry Lockwood (playing a character that doesn't exist in the novel the film is based upon) had his greatest success playing second banana to a computer.
As George said many of the movies also capture changes afoot in the 1960s or social movements or events. A generous look at It Happened at the World's Fair
could see that film as an excellent infotainment with songs about the fair rather than a failed musical. The Seattle World's Fair was a pretty big deal in its time and you can step back and experience a bit with Elvis and songs while watching the film. In Live a Little, Love a Little
you can see some of the bewilderment 30 and 40 somethings had at the emerging sexual revolution.
If you like the Elvis movie as a form of entertainment (which I'm assuming by your post you don't) or those trashy '60s beach movies, Girl Happy
is a good zippy watch because it because it is self-consciously an Elvis movie. It opens with a shot of Elvis' face on a billboard.
1965's Tickle Me
has interest from a historic perspective because Elvis finally gets to play Dean Martin in a cut rate Martin and Lewis knockoff with Jack Mullaney taking the Lewis role.
I would recommend Stay Away Joe
as a rental. It's a chore and a half to sit through but if you can get through it, you'll see one of Elvis' best acting performances lost in the mud that surrounds him. Again, this one is to be taken with extreme
The only Elvis movies that have absolutely nothing to see are Paradise Hawaiian Style
(in that one you can see Elvis' frustration with the project through some of his gestures) and Kissin' Cousins
which despite Glenda Farrell, Jack Albertson and O'Connell is an insult to Elvis and country music and its cheapness is reflected on the screen. Again, though, this does not make Harum Scarum
anything but a tough view, but I think watching that film again today holds some interest when you consider our changing views of the Middle East, Elvis' semi-resemblance to Valentino, and the overt use of karate before it became mainstream. Doesn't make it a good movie, but they're a semi-redeeming qualities if you're inclined to take the dive.
RJM- On FTD, I think your concerns are more an issue with Kissin' Cousins.
In FTD, Toby is an innocent but not a rube. His view of the world and mankind is actually kind of beautiful. Some of the trouble he gets in is because he sees people (until they prove him absolutely wrong) in the best possible light. He's got a lot of common sense though and when he's on his guard he can be wily and crafty. The small minded people are the sophisticates, although not all of them. The movie sees the Kwimpers (from New Jersey in the novel by the way) as industrious role models. They just need a challenge.
Last edited by likethebike on Tue May 22, 2012 7:25 am, edited 1 time in total.