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Film Review: Wild in the Country
In 1961, Philip Dunne released Wild in the Country, based on the 1958 novel, The Lost Country, by J. R. Salamanca. Starring Elvis Presley, Hope Lange, Tuesday Weld, Millie Perkins, Rafer Johnson, John Ireland, Gary Lockwood, William Mims, Raymond Greenleaf, Christina Crawford, Pat Buttram, and Jason Robards, Sr., the film has an unknown box office gross. The film won no awards and was Presley’s last dramatic lead role until Charro!
After Glenn Tyler gets into a fight with his drunken brother, badly injuring him, a court releases him on probation into the care of his uncle in a small town while Irene Sperry is appointed his psychological counselor. He’s marked as a trouble maker and is continually suspected of various misdemeanors.
Coming off the heels of Presley’s trying to become a more dramatic actor in Flaming Star, it appears that Wild in the Country succeeds in nearly every way where the former film failed. The acting is very well done and all the actors give great performances, which really help the believability of the plot and makes Glenn’s character more realistic. Take the courtroom scene at the end of the film, it has a lot of thick, heavy tension and the somber mood present in the scene is furthered by Presley’s body language as well as the realistically desperate pleas from Irene towards the judge and her attempts to apologize to Tyler that everything had transpired like it did and the father initially stating that his son didn’t have a heart condition before doing what’s right and going with the truth. It’s all very well done. Also like the previous film, this one is light on the songs, with only a few of them scattered here and there. But where one of the two songs in the other film felt out of place, they all feel like they fit here, especially the song Presley sings in the car, as many do like to sing while driving, or when he’s serenading Irene.
The plot is just as heavy as the film it follows. But while that one failed to live up to its potential, this one was able to hit everything it aspired to. It’s a very interesting and engaging plot as Tyler wants to leave his troubled past behind him and go off to college in order to become a writer. The problem is that nearly everybody in the town won’t let him let go of the past as they won’t do the same. What’s more is that he’s suspected of misdemeanors he never did and no one believes him because of his troublemaking past. There’s also one time he tries to leave town with Irene and during a stay in a motel, where the two of them don’t do anything but talk, he realizes that running away from his problems isn’t going to solve anything, so the two return to town, where true to form, the people don’t believe that the two didn’t do anything. It’s a good and relatable story as everyone has something they’d like to let go of in their past and possibly strive to become better people.
That’s also why Tyler is such a good character. He knows he got into trouble with his brother, which is why he’s in the position he’s in. However, he also has designs on becoming a better person, going to school and doing something with his life. But he’s still got a bit of a temper and the one time he made a threat came back to bite him when the person he threatened ended up dead, which put him on trial. Though it turned out that Tyler didn’t kill the person, who died because of a heart condition, throughout the film, it’s easy to see the struggle Tyler’s facing and the difficulty he’s having in being falsely accused of things he didn’t do.
It’s interesting that Presley’s career went right back to musicals following this film as it seemed like he was well on his way to becoming a serious actor. Granted, he was at the whims of Colonel Parker, who convinced him that people didn’t want to see him in serious roles. Though he would later take another serious role in 1969, it would have been interesting to see a serious Presley develop on film alongside his musical persona.
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