Elvis Presley's Hollywood Years
The King sings, dances and acts a bit too...
Between 1956 when he made his first film Love me Tender and 1969 when he closed his Hollywood career with Change of Habit, Elvis Presley starred in 31 movies!
Starting out with James Dean and Marlon Brando as his movie idols the fledgling actor's pre-army movies gave him plenty of scope to snarl and pout. It was with the 1961 release of Blue Hawaii, however, that the prototype of almost all Elvis' subsequent movies was established.
This is an attempt to reassess Elvis Movies - for years the stuff of critical derision - and argue the case for their collective recognition as a genre in themselves.
Agree with me? The please vote for your favourite movies and movie soundtracks on this page!
Focus on Fun in Acapulco - 1963
Directed by Richard Thorpe
I've always had a soft spot for Elvis Presley's thirteenth movie Fun in Acapulco - it was one of the first Elvis movies to have made a big impression on me as a child when it was shown on British television and that affection has stayed with me. Certainly to adult eyes it's clear that Paramount's production values were poor - Elvis never actually made it to Mexico for this film and any location shooting was done with a clumsily obvious stand-in - which is a great shame because Elvis is in amazing shape and fine voice. Frankly, as a major box office star at this stage in his movie career, he deserved a better vehicle for his talents.
Imperfections aside, Fun in Acapulco is still immensely watchable with the usual sterling supporting cast which includes the then new starlet Ursula Andress, veteran star Paul Lukas and child actor Larry Damison. This time around Elvis plays Mike Windgren a circus performer who has fled to Mexico after a family tragedy and is working as a lifeguard by day - and, yep! you've guessed it - a singer in a nightclub by night!
The soundtrack is one of my movie favourites too and features the classic Leiber and Stoller penned Bossa Nova Baby.
Celebrate Elvis Presley's 75th Anniversary with this DVD Collection - Long live the KING!!! This Elvis collection contains some of his finest acting performance
Bossa Nova Baby - From Fun in Acapulco - 1963
Buy Fun in Acapulco on DVD
Focus on Kid Galahad - 1962
Directed by Phil Karlson
Kid Galahad, a remake of the 1937 film starring Edward G. Robinson, Bette Davis, and Humphrey Bogart, was Elvis Presley's tenth appearance on the big screen yet he still retains something of the innocence and raw appeal that was so apparent in his earlier films - watching him tackle the role of the boxer Walter Gulick aka Kid Galahad, we still believe in Elvis' own belief in himself and his dream of one day becoming a great actor.
After the lukewarm box office results of the dramatic Elvis vehicles Flaming Star and Wild In The Country which were followed by the phenomenally successful Blue Hawaii and then the critical success of Follow That Dream, in some ways this is a film that maybe tries to please everyone - the songs are there of course, but clocking in at only six (including the opening credits during which Elvis sings King Of The Whole Wide World), they are few enough to allow the dramatic storyline to develop. Elvis trained for the fight scenes in the ring with professional boxing coach Mushy Callahan and although he's a little pudgy looks convincing as he deals and receives those blows!
The cast in Kid Galahad is also top notch - working alongside such notables as Gig Young and Charles Bronson Elvis rises to the occasion, although legend has it that Bronson was cool towards the young actor and even dismissive of him.
Kid Galahad - 1962 - The Trailer
Kid Galahad on DVD
Focus on Frankie and Johnny - 1966
Directed by Frederick De Cordova
With Frankie and Johnny Elvis clocked up his twentieth Hollywood movie, yet this somewhat overlooked musical is well worth rediscovering. Of all the films Elvis made it is the one that comes closest to being a "classical" musical and takes its plot from the old 1904 music hall song of the same name; audiences at the time would have been familiar with the standard which follows the story of lovers Frankie (here played by Donna Douglas of The Beverly Hillbillies fame) and riverboat gambler Johnny (Elvis) and the tragic events of Johnny's dalliance with the infamous Nellie Bly (Nancy Kovak). Indeed, the story had been previously filmed in 1934 starring Helen Morgan and Chester Morris, although the decidedly upbeat Elvis version written by Alex Gottlieb strays from the original tragic ending.
Elvis is impossibly handsome in period costume and gives a credible performance as the superstitious gambler down on his luck and is supported, as ever, by a fine cast - the bickering riverboat show business couple Cully (Harry Morgan) and Peg (Audrey Christie) are particularly entertaining and are given some great lines in Gottlieb's script , whereas the riverboat on which the action takes place is the perfect backdrop for the musical numbers. The soundtrack is worth having for the title track alone! Filmed in glorious Technicolor, the new DVD release breathes new life into a forgotten Elvis classic!
Frankie and Johnny - 1966 - The Frankie and Johnny Theatrical Trailer
Buy Frankie on DVD
Focus on Girls! Girls! Girls! - 1962
Directed by Norman Taurog
In this, Elvis Presley's eleventh film and the second of the so-called Hawaiian Trilogy which had begun the previous year with the box office smash Blue Hawaii and closed in 1966 with the weakest of the three, Paradise, Hawaiian Style, the title yet again would seem to warn the cynical or casual viewer that this will be yet another beach 'n' babes Elvis vehicle hung around a wafer-thin plot. Of course, the plot presents us with the usual fare, with Elvis - this time in the guise of a fisherman called Ross Carpenter who moonlights as a nightclub singer - caught in the inevitable love triangle between a streetwise fellow nightclub chanteuse played by Stella Stevens and the love of a "good girl" Laurel Goodwin (who also happens to be filthy rich). Instead of the usual lure of racing cars or motorbikes or speedboats, this time Elvis' other great love is a sailing boat he'd built with his late father, called the West Wind. And, of course, there are the usual fist fights with a no-good rival, solidly played this time by Jeremy Slate.
Watch Girls! Girls! Girls! without prejudice, however, and you'll be pleasantly surprised! Judged in terms of pure entertainment value the film is actually a resounding success. It benefits from the fact that a great deal of the movie was shot on location in Hawaii - even the scenes filmed with a backdrop in Hollywood are skilfully blended into the whole picture and Elvis looks tanned, fit and like he's genuinely enjoying himself. In fact, Girls!Girls!Girls! was the only Elvis musical to achieve a Golden Globe nomination.
Worth noting - as in It Happened at the World's Fair the following year - this is another Elvis movie with positive Asian roles with its depiction of the Sino-American community living on Hawaii.
The soundtrack is a curious but enjoyable mix of love songs, sea shanties - We're Comin' in Loaded, being particularly enjoyable, and even a tango in The Walls Have Ears. Probably the most famous song other than the title theme from the movie however, is the classic Return to Sender which made the top of the charts in the UK and number 2 in the States.
Return To Sender - From Girls!Girls!Girls! - 1962
Girls! Girls! Girls! on DVD
Focus on King Creole - 1958
Directed by Michael Curtiz ; adapted from the Harold Robbins novel A Stone for Danny Fisher.
One the finest films Elvis starred in during his entire movie career is undoubtedly his fourth - King Creole. Directed by Michael Curtiz of Casablanca fame, the young Elvis showed just what could be achieved with a solid script and clear direction. Playing the part of rebellious youth Danny Fisher he stepped quite literally into the shoes of James Dean who had been originally slated to play the part, and showed his critics that he really could act.
With a supporting cast of soon-to-be stars such as Carolyn Jones (later of Addams Family fame) and Walter Matthau, as well as Dolores Hart, playing once again the innocent female love interest as she had in an earlier Elvis film, Loving You and 1949 Oscar winner Dean Jagger in the role of Danny's weak father, the film was a critical success. Unfortunately, it was the lowest grossing of all his pre-army movies and with the commercial success of GI Blues on his return to public performance two years later Elvis would struggle to find such high quality material ever again.
The soundtrack album is also one of Elvis finest and with almost all the songs in the film performed in the plausible context of the King Creole nightclub in New Orleans, they fit seamlessly into what is otherwise a dramatic and often violent movie set in the sleazy gangland of the city. The Leiber and Stoller penned title song King Creole and Trouble have become classic tracks. The opening duet Crawfish in which we find Danny joining in with the song of a street vendor (Kitty White) sung from the balcony of his home in the French Quarter is a stunning and relatively little known gem.
Crawfish - Duet with Kitty White - From King Creole - 1958
King Creole on DVD
Focus on It Happened at the World's Fair - 1963
Directed by Norman Taurog
Elvis Presley's twelfth movie It Happened at the World's Fair is often cited in film trivia quizzes for what turned out to be the curious start of film star Kurt Russell's cinematic career. Russell plays the part of a small boy whom Elvis bribes to kick him in the shins as part of a ruse to attract the attentions of a nurse; Kurt Russell later went on to play Elvis himself in John Carpenter's well-received and extremely watchable 1979 biopic Elvis.
The film is, in fact, notable for many firsts. Filmed in sumptuous Metrocolor by cameraman Joseph Ruttenberg of Gigi fame, it was the first to feature the 1962 Seattle World's Fair and plays rather like a touristic guide to the sights and sounds of this event with a wafer thin plot hung around it.
Another first well worth noting is the importance of Elvis' young co-star Vicky Tiu (who grew up to be First Lady of Hawaii) who was a very early positive example of an Asian character in western cinema.
Although the plot is inconceivably innocent by today's parameters - a man leaves his young niece in the custody of Elvis, a crop dusting pilot down on his luck that he has just picked up as a hitchhiker! - Elvis is still clearly interested in making movies at this stage and gives a solid performance. He is well supported by a credible cast including Joan O'Brien as the love interest and Gary Lockwood (who would later appear in 2001: A Space Odyssey) as his unreliable, gambling sidekick.
The best musical number is probably the ballad I'm Falling in Love Tonight sung in the restaurant at the top of the famous Seattle Space Needle.
It Happened At The World's Fair - The famous Kurt Russell scene!
It Happened at the World's Fair...2007 DVD reissue.
On Location with the King! - Home movie footage of Elvis at the Seattle World's Fair
Focus on The Trouble with Girls (and How to Get Into It) - 1969
Directed by Peter Tewksbury
By the time Elvis Presley's penultimate film The Trouble With Girls (and How to Get Into It) was released he had almost totally lost interest in making movies. The year was 1969 - Elvis had 29 films already under his belt, and significantly, the Singer sewing machine sponsored TV Special had aired at the end of 1968 - the show that became known as The 1968 Comeback Special. Elvis Presley the rock and roller was back! In fact, he had recorded the soundtrack for The Trouble with Girls in October 1968 whilst the TV show had been recorded in June of that year. His next visit to a recording studio in January 1969 would result in the legendary and critically acclaimed 1969 album From Elvis in Memphis.
The great irony, of course, is that this film is one of the better later movies. Its title may hark back to his racing-driver-meets-girls-on-the-beach musicals but that's where the similarity ends! Instead, this is a quirky 1920s period piece with Elvis playing the part of Walter Hale, a Chautauqua manager (the Chautauqua was a bit like a travelling fair) and centres on his efforts to keep the troupe together as they move around small town America. Mid way through the film its plot changes direction and it becomes a kind of murder mystery...
Once again, the supporting cast make the whole film extremely watchable - Charlene, the long suffering Chautauqua stalwart played by Marlyn Mason is particularly good, and look out for Vincent Price's turn as Mr. Morality.
The best song in the movie is undoubtedly Mac Davis & Billy Strange's Clean Up Your Own Back Yard.
The Poster here is for the Italian version of the film - Guai Con Le Ragazze!
Clean Up Your Own Backyard - From The Trouble With Girls - 1969
Brand new The Trouble With Girls reissue on DVD
Focus on Double Trouble - 1967
Directed by Norman Taurog
With Elvis, the King of Rock 'n' Roll, distracted by his 1960s movie career, trouble hit his realm when four court jesters in the shape of The Beatles threatened to shake him from his throne. Certainly Elvis' attempts to stave off the mop-topped usurpers wasn't helped by the fact that he was churning out soundtrack albums whilst they, as Elvis had done a decade previously, were changing musical history. Double Trouble, in fact, can be seen as a woefully slow response by Hollywood in 1967 to the zany Beatles' flicks A Hard Day's Night and Help which had been released in 1964 and 1965 respectively.
Be that as it may there's still lots to be enjoyed in this caper which feels more like a musical Carry On than a traditional Elvis movie, with Elvis himself particularly good as a comic actor and at the very least looking as if he's enjoying himself! His somewhat insipid British co-star Annette Day promptly disappeared from show business after the film's release, whilst the rest of the cast including veteran character actor John Williams, comedy trio The Wiere Brothers and Austrian born actor Leon Askin, add to the mayhem with enthusiasm.
The songs range from the brilliant to the banal - Elvis actually stormed out of the recording of Old MacDonald - although with a total of 8 songs in all Elvis inevitably shines in most with City By Night being excellent and Could I Fall in Love consisting of a curious duet with himself as he sings along to a record of the same song.
Double Trouble - 1967 - The Trailer
Double Trouble reissued on DVD!
Focus on Jailhouse Rock - 1957
Directed by Richard Thorpe
Elvis' third movie Jailhouse Rock is considered by many to be his best film, an opinion supported by the United States National Film Registry which has selected it for preservation.
With two box office smashes - Love Me Tender and Loving You - already under his belt, Elvis delivers a confident and well rounded performance as a rebel in the James Dean mold. The supporting cast of Judy Tyler (tragically killed in a car accident shortly after completing the movie), Mickey Shaughnessy, Jennifer Holden and Dean Jones help bring a potentially run-of-the-mill script to life.
The most famous scene in the film is the stunning dance sequence in which Elvis sings the title track Jailhouse Rock written by Leiber and Stoller. The songwriting team provided another four numbers for the movie - I Want To Be Free, Don't Leave Me Now, Baby, I Don't Care and Treat Me Nice. These songs, with the addition of Young And Beautiful (Schroeder and Silver) also made the soundtrack EP a must have for any Elvis fan.
Elvis dancin' to the Jailhouse Rock!
Buy the Jailhouse Rock British theatre release poster!
Jailhouse Rock Dance Sequence - The Trailer
That ain't tactics, honey, it's just the beast in me.
NEW! Jailhouse Rock in Blu-ray format!
Focus on Wild in the Country - 1961
Directed by Philip Dunne; screenplay by Clifford Odets from the novel by JR Salamance
Perhaps more so than any in other Elvis movie it is Wild in the Country that Elvis demonstrates his enormous instinctive ability as an actor...and the talent the studios were to squander in subsequent films.
In addition to the obligatory title tune Wild in the Country, it features only three songs - In My Way - I Slipped, I Stumbled, I Fell and Husky Dusky Day - all in strictly realistic situations.
The movie cast Elvis (once again) as a troubled youth and deals with his tangled relationships with the three women in his life - his court appointed psychiatrist played by Hope Lange, teenage-mom and sexy temptress Tuesday Weld (who co-starred with Lange in Peyton Place) and his childhood sweetheart played by Millie Perkins (star of The Diary of Anne Frank). All the women breathe life into what are essentially female stereotypes.
Sadly, box office returns weren't impressive enough to convince studio bosses or his ever dollar-hungry manager Col.Tom Parker that Elvis should continue with dramatic parts and when his next film Blue Hawaii was a smash hit the die was cast for Elvis' movie persona.
Wild in the Country - The Trailer - Vintage movie trailer 1961
Focus on Harum Scarum (aka Harem Holiday) - 1965
Directed by Gene Nelson
Often cited as the absolute nadir of both Elvis' musical and film career, Harum Scarum has today acquired huge, if inadvertent, kitsch value - filmed as a quick, cheap flick on the Hollywood sets originally used by Cecil B. DeMille in 1925 for the silent film King of Kings and with costumes from the 1944 movie Kismet the film consequently looks very stylish.
If Elvis appears rather bemused throughout the film - with the notable exception of his stand-out prison cell performance of So Close, Yet So Far (From Paradise) - the supporting cast camp up their roles with relish. Fran Jeffries as the villainous temptress Aishah and the suave bad guy Prince Dragna played by Michael Ansara are particularly good - not to mention the all-singing, all-dancing, tambourine shaking, belly dancing slave girls!
Today the plot actually sounds depressingly familiar for it hinges on a Middle Eastern plan to kill an Arab leader to gain power and wealth from ...yep! you've guessed...the country's petroleum supplies.
So Close, Yet So Far (From Paradise) - From Harum Scarum - 1965
Buy the Harum Scarum DVD reissue!
Focus on Love Me Tender - 1956
Directed by Robert D. Webb
1956 was the year of Elvis' celebrated television appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show. In fact, in his first appearance on Ed Sullivan he sang the title track to his brand new movie - Love Me Tender.
The film that established Elvis as a movie star - a Western filmed in black and white - was a tale of romantic jealousy set in the aftermath of The American Civil War. Originally titled The Reno Brothers it became Love Me Tender because the song - credited to Elvis Presley & Vera Matson but actually written by her husband Ken Darby - was such a big hit at the time. The soundtrack features three other songs by Ken Darby - Let Me, Poor Boy and We're Gonna Move.
Panned by the critics at the time, but adored by fans who flocked to cinemas and made it a hit, more than fifty years later Love me Tender is still enjoyable. Elvis' acting has the rough diamond appeal of enormous potential talent, whilst the supporting cast of Richard Egan as his brother, Debra Paget as the woman both brothers love, and Mildred Dunnock as his mother, all giving warm and credible performances.
Poor boy - From Love Me Tender
Buy Love Me Tender on DVD
Focus on Viva Las Vegas - 1964
Directed by George Sidney
If the plot line for Viva Las Vegas sounds familiar - a blend of Vegas gambling, racing car action and hit song and dance routines - what makes it enduringly popular is the palpable on screen electricity between Elvis and his co-star Ann-Margaret. Their off screen affair at the time of filming has since been well-documented and was the stuff of contemporary gossip columns.
Whilst the stars were getting along just fine, the behind the scenes haggling between Elvis' manager 'Colonel' Tom Parker and the film's director George Sidney over screen time dedicated to his client meant that the pair's sizzling version of Leiber and Stoller's You're The Boss was not included in the film.
RCA's subsequent failure to release a full album of all fifteen songs originally recorded for the movie, choosing instead to release a single and EP, denied Elvis what would have certainly been one of his best soundtrack albums. In 2003 the (almost) complete soundtrack was finally released on Follow That Dream Records (the Danish division of BMG), including all master takes plus alternate versions although the Ann-Margret solo tracks are still missing.
I don't work for anybody, I never come second to anybody and one small thing - I intend to win.
Viva Las Vegas - 1964 - The Trailer
NEW! Viva Las Vegas in Blu-ray format!
Full list of Elvis Films - Clint, Vince and Tulsa...the characters he portrayed.
- 1956 Love Me Tender
- 1957 Loving You
Jimmy Tompkins / Deke Rivers
- 1957 Jailhouse Rock
- 1958 King Creole
- 1960 G.I. Blues
- 1960 Flaming Star
- 1961 Wild in the Country
- 1961 Blue Hawaii
- 1962 Follow That Dream
- 1962 Kid Galahad
Walter Gulick aka Kid Galahad
- 1962 Girls! Girls! Girls!
- 1963 It Happened at the World's Fair
- 1963 Fun in Acapulco
- 1964 Kissin' Cousins
Josh Morgan / Jodie Tatum
- 1964 Viva Las Vegas
- 1964 Roustabout
- 1965 Girl Happy
- 1965 Tickle Me
Lonnie Beale / Panhandle Kid
- 1965 Harum Scarum
Johnny Tyrone aka Harem Holiday
- 1966 Frankie and Johnny
- 1966 Paradise, Hawaiian Style
- 1966 Spinout
- 1967 Easy Come, Easy Go
Lt. Ted Jackson
- 1967 Double Trouble
- 1967 Clambake
Scott Heyward/'Tom Wilson'
- 1968 Stay Away, Joe
- 1968 Speedway
- 1968 Live a Little, Love a Little
- 1969 Charro!
- 1969 The Trouble with Girls
- 1969 Change of Habit
Dr. John Carpenter
My favourite Elvis sites...
- Elvis on Stamps
Collect Elvis Presley postage stamps from around the world - a fun and interesting hobby for Elvis fans and philatelists of all ages!
- Elvis Information Network - Celluloid Elvis
In this section EIN takes a varied look at Elvis' film career & films about The King
- Elvis Presley
Elvis Presley on IMDb: Movies, TV, Celebs, and more...
- Elvis Presley's Movies.
Elvis Presley made 31 films as an actor. All have been available on home video at one time or another. Many currently are. Gradually, more are also becoming available on DVD.
- For Elvis CD Collectors Only
All the latest info on Elvis Presley, Import News, BMG News, Picture Vault, Jumpsuit Junkies and many many more
- Elvis In Norway
One of the better Elvis sites on the net. News on CD releases, both official and imports, and a complete discograpic.
- Elvis International Fan Club
Elvis International Fan Club is the premier Elvis Presley Fan Club on the internet. Uniting Elvis Presley Fans from around the world! Elvis Fan Club. Jason Edge President
- Elvis on DVD Official Site (Warner Bros)
WHV is releasing Deluxe Editions of Viva Las Vegas and Jailhouse Rock and 2 Disc Special Editions of Elvis: That's the Way It Is and This is Elvis (making its DVD debut). WHV also will debut Elvis: The Hollywood Collection, containing six Elvis films
- The Elvis Magazine from Essential Elvis
Now the UK's largest Elvis Presley fan-based organisation
Some Elvis Movie Links
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2007 Deborah Swain