Early in his career, Elvis Presley realised that if he wanted to promote all his records, it would be impossible to keep on doing exhausting concert tours.
So, not having the incredible television networking facilities of later decades, he took a chance and threw himself whole-heartedly into the lap of the Hollywood Dream Machine – the movies.
In 1956, 20th Century Fox signed Elvis up for a cheap black-and-white CinemaScope western called The Reno Brothers. The effect was shattering . . .
That one lucky stroke of casting would ensure their production costs back within the first three days of opening.
When the movie opened in New York the city’s truancy officers had to be called out because 3,000 kids, mostly girls, had lined up outside the cinema before eight o’clock in the morning.
The title of the movie was changed to that of its ballad, Love Me Tender, and Elvis proved to be a natural screen presence and, although third-billed to stars Richard Egan and Debra Paget, effortlessly dominates the film.
During the last days of the Civil War, a bunch of Confederate soldiers hijack a Union payroll. The pursuit that follows is destined to set brother against brother and tear a loving family apart.
There’s a marvellous mid-section where the whole plot stops to give audiences a taste of the singin’ sensation in his prime, as Elvis performs Let Me and Poor Boy with that wonderful self-mocking air that distinguished his early performances. He knows he’s good, and here the talent is still fresh and raw.
The film’s producers made one mistake, though. They had Elvis killed off at the end. There was such an outcry that they had to re-shoot the ending and have Elvis singing his way to heaven (as a ghost superimposed over a tombstone).
Recognising a gift horse when they saw one, the studio produced Loving You (1957), Jailhouse Rock (1957) and King Creole (1958) in rapid succession. But Elvis’s film career stopped abruptly in 1958 when he was drafted into the army.
Robert D Webb