King Creole


The Screening Room @VTIFF Fri, Aug 16 7:00 PM


It’s Elvis Presley’s Death Day!!
King Creole (1958)
Friday, August  16 | 7:00 pm


U.S. | 116 minutes
Director: Michael Curtiz


“An Elvis movie? Really?!”


Yes, absolutely. It’s true that, as a rule, Elvis movies are terrible. Who’d argue with that? They tend to be lazy enterprises with cookie-cutter scripts, embarrassing songs, mediocre production values, baked-in misogyny, and deeply uninspired – and often utterly indifferent – performances from Big El himself. 


But King Creole, his fourth film, is fabulous, I swear. Really!


It’s one of two actually GOOD Elvis movies (Jailhouse Rock being the other). I’ll grant you that 2 out of 31 is not a very good batting average (.064), but taken on its own merits, King Creole is a fabulous entry in the canon of 1950s Juvenile-Delinquent/Rock & Roll movies. 


What does this movie have that other Elvis movies don’t? Let’s list them:

  • A real director, Michael Curtiz. The guy won the Oscar for directing CasablancaCasablanca, for god’s sake!! – and helmed such classics as The Adventures of Robin Hood, Yankee Doodle Dandy, Captain Blood, Mildred Pierce, and White Christmas. He was a highly qualified pro with a proven track record, not the usual Elvis hack (sorry, Norman Taurog). 
  • A quality villain, Walter Matthau. He’s Maxie Fields, the evil mob boss of New Orleans, and maybe that sounds ridiculous if Bad News Bears is your Matthau touchstone, but he’s a very fine actor (Oscar winner, fwiw) and he has no trouble oozing menace. 
  • An alluring femme fatale, Carolyn Jones. Elvis movies are well-known for being populated by flavor-of-the-month actresses with a certain physical unanimity – yes, Ann-Margret is a clear exception – but Carolyn Jones, the future Morticia Adams, is several cuts above. As female characters in Elvis movies go (a low bar, admittedly), her take on the self-loathing, tortured gun moll who just wants to be good is downright deep. 
  • Songs that are grounded in the plot. Mostly Elvis performs on stage because he plays a performer, and the other musical numbers – like the fabulous duet with the crawfish vendor or that weird drugstore-robbery-with-acoustic-guitar – are based on musical interactions. None of that egregious stuff like him singing “A Dog’s Life” with full backing band while piloting a helicopter full of dogs in Paradise Hawaiian Style…I mean, that’s just stupid! 
  • A moderately believable plot. Is 23-year-old Elvis a bit old to be playing high-school senior Danny? Yeah, maybe. But the New Orleans locale, and Elvis’ moral struggles with family, art, love and crime actually make sense, for a change.
  • Good songs. These are blues-drenched, R&B-heavy rock songs, many of them written by the legendary team of Lieber & Stoller, making for that rare Elvis movie for which the standalone soundtrack is a valuable addition to a record collection. There’s not a “Queenie Wahinie’s Papaya” or “No Room To Rhumba in a Sports Car” or “Yoga Is As Yoga Does” to be found.
  • A good performance from Elvis. Stranger things have happened, and Elvis responds to the quality material by bringing his brooding A-game. Is he on par with Brando or James Dean? Well, no. But is he thoroughly believable as a sullen loner prone to fits of violent rage who can drive a crowd wild with an off-the-cuff version of “Trouble”? Hell, yeah!
  • Absolutely rocking musical sequences. On tunes like “Crawfish,” “Trouble,” “Hard Headed Woman,” Elvis is absolutely electric, and it’s easy to see what America saw in the young man. 


So, for one day, let’s set aside his complicated legacy and just enjoy what Elvis Presley did well (i.e., that rock & roll thing). We’ll have some treats to commemorate, probably involving peanut butter and bananas (his favorite), though certainly not fried.