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Film Review: Flaming Star
In 1960, Don Siegel released Flaming Star based on the 1958 book Flaming Lance by Clair Huffaker. Starring Elvis Presley, Barbara Eden, Steve Forrest, Dolores del Rio, John McIntire, L. Q. Jones, Douglas Dick, Richard Jaeckel, Rodolfo Acosta, Karl Swenson, and Ford Rainey, the film grossed $2 million at the box office. Originally supposed to star Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando, the film reached #12 on the Variety box office survey for the year.
Pacer Burton is the son of a Kiowa mother and a Texan father and lives with them and his half-brother Clint, on the Texan frontier. However, life for Pacer gets turned upside down when a nearby tribe of Kiowa begin raiding neighboring homesteads and he gets caught between both worlds.
Looking at previous films starring Presley, Flaming Star is not only an extremely mediocre film, but one that feels very much not like a Presley film. Though he was trying to turn himself into a serious actor, he had set a specific style and tone in his other films. Noticeably lacking in this film are a large number of his songs, which were signatures of his previous works. While there are two songs during the opening credits and at the beginning of the plot, Presley doesn’t do any singing outside of those two instances. It brings a feeling that there’s something missing as the rest of the film goes on because while Presley had done dramatic roles before, there was always room for a couple more songs, whether they fit in the overall structure of the story or not. Even then, the one song Presley is actually shown singing doesn’t quite fit the mood and it comes off as too silly. At least with his other films, they may have had to be forced into it, but they always at least fit the plot’s mood.
What’s more is that Presley is the only actor in the film that does any halfway decent acting. Every other actor either overacts and turns themselves into a near parody or underacts and removes any emotion from the dialogue. Further, even though he gives the only decent performance, Presley still underacts in many of his scenes, taking any believability out of what he says. One of the worst instances is early on in the film, after one of the homesteaders has been raided by the Kiowa and Pacer walks into a store with Clint. The actor playing the store’s clerk seems to be trying to go for a mix of sorrow and rage, but goes way too far and he ends up chewing the scenery, spitting it out and then picking his teeth with the remains. What’s more is the howl he lets out could give dogs a run for their money. It’s hard to get the emotion in the scene when the acting is so bad it’s comical.
The film’s ending is also nothing short of awful. Throughout the film, Pacer has been torn between the two worlds he belongs to. The Kiowa wants him to renounce his Texan heritage and join them while the Texans want him to fight with them against the Kiowa. Through most of the film, it’s easy to tell what’s going on, but towards the end, everything gets convoluted with Pacer trying to get help for someone hurt fighting the Kiowa while trying to remain on the Kiowa’s good side and then the film just abruptly ends with him leaving. There isn’t any resolution to anything whatsoever. The film just ends as Pacer claims that there’s nothing left for him there and that everyone and everything will be better off if he just leaves. It feels like the film just falls apart and then wraps up by falling off. The war between the Kiowa and the homesteaders is still going on and Pacer is heading off to who knows where and it leaves the audience feeling like nothing’s been resolved.
What’s interesting is that the film had a pretty decent premise in trying to tackle racism and prejudice with those elements causing a man to question himself. It had a lot of potential, but wasn’t able to fully live up to it with the bad acting and terrible ending.
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