Film Review: King Creole
In 1958, Michael Curtiz released King Creole, based off the 1952 novel, A Stone for Danny Fisher by Harold Robbins. Starring Elvis Presley, Carolyn Jones, Walter Matthau, Dolores Hart, Dean Jagger, Liliane Montovecchi, Vic Morrow, Paul Stewart, Jan Shepard, Brian G. Hutton, Jack Grinnage, Dick Winslow, Raymond Bailey and Gavin Gordon, the film grossed $2.64 million at the box office. Presley’s favorite role to have played, it peaked at #5 on the Variety box office earnings charts. Presley was also inducted into the US Army 12 days after completing the film and he had to request special permission to defer said enlistment in order to finish the film.
Working before and after school in the French Quarter, Danny rescues a woman from her abusive date one morning. But when his aggressive reaction to being teased about the woman kissing him gets Danny in trouble, he decides to drop out of school and eventually finds himself mixed up in the New Orleans criminal underworld.
A good film, King Creole really features Presley’s best acting thus far, put into a role that stretching him as an actor due to it being different that all his roles prior, namely due to it neither being a period piece nor about a rising singer. He exudes frustration to a great extent when told that he’s not going to be able to graduate because of his fighting and it’s really heard in his voice when arguing with his father about staying in school. Presley also does well in capturing the feeling of a young man trapped between a rock and a hard place, when Maxie blackmails Danny into signing with him as a singer or else he’ll tell his father that Danny was involved in his mugging, as well as the rage thereafter when Maxie tells him anyway.
And speaking of the blackmailing, the film does a good job at portraying a sort of criminal underworld, portraying a small gang, led by Shark, and the shady night club owner, Maxie, who really owns all but one night club in the area. Maxie’s dealings are very indicative of being the area’s crime boss, seeing as he wants Danny for his clubs but when he’ll only work for the other club owner. His reaction is to use Shark’s beating up Danny’s father to pull the aforementioned blackmail scheme after paying for the operation. It’s a good demonstration of how a crime boss won’t just do something because they feel like doing it, there’s going to be something in it for them and only them. Shark is also good as a demonstration of someone who works for a crime boss, figuring that if he can’t beat up the right guy, he’ll take the opportunity to rough up and mug somebody else if it’s going to better further the whims of his boss.
The film also gives Danny two love interests, Ronnie and Nellie. While it does make it obvious that one of them isn’t going to make it to the end of the film, it’s not obvious as to who it’s going to be. The former is Maxie’s girlfriend who ends up falling in love with Danny and the latter is just some girl that figured out Danny was complicit in the robbing of a variety store, but was smitten with him and chose not to tell anyone. What’s interesting is that Nellie has all the trappings of being the spare woman, seeing as she’s just the average girl working a snack bar who just so happened to see him. Whereas Ronnie is Maxie’s main squeeze and has more characterization. And though Danny really wanted to be with her, he does learn from Ronnie before her death and it’s shown in the song he sings at the end asking to “think of the future, forget the past,” and that while Nellie may not have been his first love, she’ll be the last one he loves.
But if there’s any problem this film has, it’s that there are no consequences for Danny in anything he does that’s outside of the law. From robbing the variety store, he gets a girlfriend and though it looks as if his father comes to forgive him in the final scene, nothing’s going to happen to Danny from dropping out of school. In fact, the only consequences he does face in the film is being prevented from graduation, which drives the start of the plot.
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