Film Review: Love Me Tender
In 1956, Robert D. Webb released the western film Love Me Tender, named after the song by Elvis Presley of the same name. Starring Presley, Debra Paget, Richard Egan, Robert Middleton, William Campbell, James Drury, Neville Brand, Mildred Dunnock, Russ Conway, Ken Clark, and Barry Coe, the film grossed $4.5 million at the box office. The first of many films starring Presley, it was originally The Reno Brothers, but advance sales of the single passed one million and the title was changed. It garnered a DVD rerelease in 2006 for its 50th anniversary.
While his three brothers are fighting the Civil War for the Confederate Army, Clint Reno stays home to take care of his mother and the family farm. Mistakenly informed that Clint’s eldest brother, Vance, has been killed, Clint marries his girlfriend Cathy. However, Vance soon returns home and though he accepts the marriage, the family must still struggle for stability. Meanwhile, the US government is trying to find money stolen by Confederate soldiers a day following the war’s end.
Up until this point, Presley had just been a singer, albeit one loved by hordes of teenaged girls. Love Me Tender introduced him to the world of acting. And his performance was actually very good as far as theatrical debuts go. He gives believability to the character of Clint from the time he finds that Vance didn’t actually die as he thought to his decision that he’s going to help his brothers out when they’ve been taken by the officials. Everything from his confusion to his determination and loyalty to his family is realistic.
The film’s story is also really good, intersecting the love triangle between Clint, Vance and Clara and the robbery. For the former, there’s really good familial conflict when Vance discovers that Clint had married his girlfriend. It really does feel that a fight is going to break out, but notably, like a family would do, Vance comes to accept it because his family was acting on faulty information, namely that he was dead. After all, as long as Clara’s in the family, then all is good. As for the latter, where Presley’s acting makes Clint’s determination and loyalty realistic, Clint going off with his brothers’ friends to save them from the federal agents is played out really well. It interestingly demonstrates that while there is conflict and a love triangle between the two of them and Clara, that they’re still family and family sticks up for each other.
And within everything that goes on, Vance gets a pretty good character arc. When first confronted about the missing money, he insists that he and his brothers didn’t steal it and considers taking it as the spoils of war. But as he’s on a train with the federal agents, he starts realizing that with the war ending a day prior to the robbery that maybe it was just plain robbery and not the spoils of war that he thought and decides to cut a deal in order to avoid being incarcerated. It shows that he knows what’s right, but needs a little thinking things through to arrive at that point. And had the train not been held up by Vance’s friends and Clint in order to free them, the film might have had a very different ending.
Speaking of the ending. It’s abrupt, like shoving the film off a cliff in order to end it that way. It makes sense due to Clint having died, the money returned, the brothers acquitted, the other Confederates arrested and the triangle between him, Vance and Clara ending. However, it feels like the climax arriving at the point of Clint’s death was rushing to get to that point and what followed was a rush to close everything out. It had been a pretty tight film prior to that though.
There’s also the songs present throughout the film. Using the title of Presley’s song makes sense for a western, seeing as it’s based off a Civil War Ballad. But even so, the way he sings it and the other songs (“Let Me,” “Poor Boy,” and “We’re Gonna Move”) feel more at home in contemporary 1950s than out on the western range. Further, his rendition of “Poor Boy” features his trademark hip-swivel, which is met with cries of glee. But back in the 1860s, it would have been considered a display of public indecency.
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