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Monday, April 25, 2016

Elvis Early On

King Creole a Safest Wallis Bet For 1958

For much of 1958, and certainly all of 1959, King Creole was so much gold deposit. This was the period in which Elvis Presley served as draftee in the peacetime military, during which there would be no new Elvis movies to feed his ravenous fan base. Four had been generated from onset of stardom to bus-out for basic training, and an arid '59 would see them all re-played into guitar picks. Fortunately for Paramount and producer Hal Wallis, there were two, Loving You and King Creole, enabling a reissue double-bill not unlike the happy circumstance of Warner Bros. with East Of Eden and Rebel Without A Cause after James Dean died. In the Elvis instance, there would be a return, barring service extend, not a likelihood as there were no hot wars in progress, and the Cold one was (so far) a safe simmer.

L to R: Hal Wallis, Presley, Mike Curtiz, and Dean Jagger

Wallis had made his Elvis vehicles for modest price and realized stunning returns, $3.3 million in domestic rentals for Loving You (helped considerably by being the only one of the four in color), with $2.7 million flowing from King Creole. The $600K difference amounted to lesson learned for the producer: Presley in serious mode was not the selling brand; once mustered from ranks, the singer sensation would be deployed to froth (and G.I. Blues proved Wallis right to tune of $3.8 million in domestic rentals). Fans who longed of better things would have Creole to recall in terms of dramatic opportunity extended, then withdrawn, in favor of juvenilia to be his lot for most of remainder of a screen career.

King Creole had been conceived, not for Elvis, but in terms of an angry young man school of dramaturgy. Names bandied to lead once Wallis bought the Harold Robbins literary source included Paul Newman, John Cassavetes, the inevitable Marlon Brando. The novel had been about a teen boxer with father issues. Wallis dumped the ring angle, but kept Dad. What he couldn't do was relieve melo-lift that might, in fact did, bum out Elvis-crazed teens. Only downer King Creole lacked was their idol dying at the finish, which for a climactic reel's harrowing while, looked as though just that might happen.

Creole was old-fashioned in ways similar to Warner mellers playing TV late nights, that invoked by factory foremen Mike Curtiz laying on noirish composition to mint a juve crowd's John Garfield. But was Elvis here to emote or sing? In King Creole, he was accomplished at both. No personality since Errol Flynn had improved so markedly within so short a time. Presley picked up acting as instinctively as rhythm to a song, but seems not to have had as great an interest in dramatic expression, other than through music. Was he intimidated by "craft" others said he must learn? He'd certainly never look better than in King Creole.

The black-and-white actually enhances sullen Elvis. His hair looks black enough to have been drawn from an ink well. What oceans of dye it must have taken to maintain that affect. I don't see, never did in fact, Presley imitating Brando or Dean the way so many young players did. His work beside others is relaxed and spontaneous. Did experienced actors complain of scenes shared with him? Not that I'm aware of. There is stellar talent in support of Elvis here, and he doesn't once ride their backs. Chemistry with Carolyn Jones may have been the best he'd achieve with an actress. What a shame she never made it to top rungs. I wanted these two to have a happy fade in King Creole, but cruel fate of Act Three denied them. Did letdown from this diminish repeat admissions? I suspect a lot of Elvis money derived from kids going twice or more to see his early flicks, but King Creole, unlike Loving You, may have been once-only for intensity and play-for-keeps violence that Wallis would avoid from there on. King Creole has shown up on Retro Plex HD in 1.85, a richer to say the least experience of finally seeing it as 1958-59 audiences did.


Blogger Reg Hartt said...

David Bowie said of his film, "JUST A GIGOLO," "It is my 32 Elvis Presley movies rolled into one." He forgot that Presley made a few films that are exceptional. "JUST A GIGOLO" is a far, far better film that it is given credit for. I've been running it as part of a Bowie fest. People are responding to it excitingly. Marlene Dietrich is incredible as the icing on a very rich cake.Bowie's character has no center which may be why it failed to connect in the moment. Considering what that character went through it is no wonder he is not really there. Thanks for drawing my attention to this. The recent "Elvis" cameo on the TV Series VINYL showed a man completely dominated by those who pulled his strings, namely The Colonel. As Mick Jagger is one of the series' producers he would have more first hand knowledge of that then most of us. It's been a long time since I looked at this.Going to have to now.

8:22 AM  
Blogger Mark Mayerson said...

I agree with you about Carolyn Jones. Too often she was typecast as the "bad girl." She needed to co-star with Rock Hudson or James Garner in a romantic comedy to make her more likeable. In A Hole in the Head, she wants Sinatra to abandon his son to go off with her. That's not going to endear her to the audience.

11:38 AM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

KC = EP's (not extended play) best acting on the screen. The kid was great with great material. Too bad the Colonel locked him into a box.

1:04 PM  
Blogger Stinky Fitzwizzle said...

As for movies about newfound pop-singing sensations who get mixed up with gangsters and their molls, I prefer "Blues Busters".

5:49 PM  
Blogger Stinky Fitzwizzle said...

There are a couple good Leiber/Stoller songs, and Walter Matthau is fun to watch.

11:16 AM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

I read somewhere that Michael Curtiz reminded Elvis of a young Humphrey Bogart. Elvis wanted to be a serious movie actor, but Col. Parker and the studios decided that they would make more money if they ditched the top-shelf talent (onscreen and off). They knew that Elvis' fans would see him in anything, no matter how silly. Over time, Elvis was gradually beaten down by Parker, and just did whatever he was told to do. A wasted talent.

5:31 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Craig Reardon considers Elvis, King Creole, and method actors:

I enjoyed all your comments and as usual I find them to be congruent with my feelings, as to Elvis Presley's natural acting ability (certainly analogous to Frank Sinatra; both of them must be considered as two sides of the same coin, the greatest singer/entertainers of the century in America), AND your salient comment that he had no truck whatever with that often intolerable, constipated Method bullshit (how irreverent of me) practiced by Brando and his idolators (and Kazan said that Dean was DEFINITELY speechlessly in awe of Brando). That heresy aside, Brando and Dean and certainly Clift were often magnificent, creative and riveting actors, but I'm less impressed with what little I know of 'The Method'. I only respect the fact, and it is a fact, that a lot of damn fine actors of that generation came up respecting and benefiting each in their own way from its suggestions and techniques. I'm not an actor so my petty criticisms aren't valid in the face of so many endorsements. I even got to WATCH certain Method proponents do their stuff, during my career, e.g., Shelley Winters, and Martin Landau. But I know what you're getting at when you say that Presley (not to mention Sinatra!) seemed throwbacks to the Tracy or the Cagney attitude of just know your lines and "tell the truth" (Cagney's phrase, I think.) It's ALL a 'method', really, isn't it? Believing? Or, call it "make-believing". All actors do that.

I'm amused that I didn't notice (though it could have been there, as I'm not a careful enough reader) ONE mention to the as-yet-un-famous Walter Matthau in your piece! Yet, he's the big, bad ass in this! The Big Threat! Kinda funny. But, fair enough, as he does not dominate the picture---at all!---at this stage in his own career. And, hooray for your mention of the brilliant, versatile, down-to-earth Carolyn Jones. I had the great privilege of meeting her, and not only was she still beautiful to my mind (in 1976), but I just admired the hell out of her, and everything she'd ever done. She did a kind of/sort of 'rehearsal' for her wonderful Morticia Addams playing a kooky, half creepy Beatnik chick in "A Hole in the Head", which I saw with my parents when it came out in 1959, and even aged only six at the time, she made an impression, and believe me, a SEXY impression, on my little male brain. The idea that little boys don't think or dream in sexual terms is totally naive or mistaken. I keenly remember that I thought Carolyn was one hot chick in that otherwise rather rambling (and, surprisingly serious) Capra film.

Keep 'em coming, John!


10:05 AM  
Blogger Anthony Britch said...

Hi john

The King Creole theatrical rental figure doesn't appear in Variety, The Hollywood Reporter and other publications. I have seen an unverified $2.64 million quoted before. I was wondering if you could shed some light on the $2.7 million quoted in your blog post above - where did you get that figure? The re-release mentioned in your blog in 1959 of Loving You & King Creole proved unsuccessful with rentals of $74k.

Its possible the King Creole figures may exist in the Hal Wallis papers at the AMPAS library but there seems to be no way of accessing the files unless you go in person -

An interesting trend i discovered regarding Elvis' initial films produced between 1956-1958:

The unverified $2.64million for King Creole may have some truth to it as after Love Me Tender Elvis' films appeared to be on a downward trend.

Box office rentals (North American (USA and Canada original release only)

Love Me Tender ($4.5 million - The Top Box-Office Hits of 1956', Variety Weekly, January 2, 1957)
Loving You ($3.7million - Variety staff 2 (1957). "Top Grosses of 1957". Variety (Variety Media, LLC) 209 (6).)
Jailhouse Rock ($3.2 million - The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study.)
King Creole ($2.64 million - unverified)

Between Love Me Tender and Loving You there is an 18% drop($800k), between Loving You and Jailhouse Rock there is a 14% drop($500k), between Jailhouse Rock and King Creole a 18% drop(560k). A total drop between Love Me Tender to King Creole is $1.86 million or a 41% drop. (November 1956 - July 1958)

This would seem to shed more light on to the business reasoning of Hal Wallis and Col Parker to turn Elvis into the all-round entertainer found in GI Blues ($4.7 million in rentals at the North American box office)

During its initial run Jailhouse Rock also made $1.075 internationally, outside of the USA and Canada. The only film from the 50's that there is a known international figure.

Variety reported that Jailhouse Rock, through re-releases by 1969 had comparable figures to The Wizard of Oz according to Templeton, Steve; Craig, Yvonne (2002). Elvis Presley: Silver Screen Icon: A Collection of Movie Posters.

a bit shocking that Elvis films were not gaining in popularity 1956-1958.

1:43 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Greetings Anthony, and Thanks very much for these fascinating rental figures. The figure I have for "King Creole" came from an "insider" who worked for a number of film companies over many years, and during that time gathered info that he has generously shared with Greenbriar. Over a past ten years of Greenbriar, I've had a number of readers pass along info not otherwise available, most asking only that I not publicize their names. I've made a point to honor their wishes. Part of price that comes with that is rental figures like "King Creole" staying in "unverified" category. Again, I do appreciate your interest and contribution. Hope you'll visit Greenbriar again soon.

6:11 AM  
Blogger Anthony Britch said...

Thanks John.
Without publishing names can you reveal how the "insider" obtained the rental figure (Col. Parker's files, Hal Wallis Papers, studio box office reports, telegrams etc...)? Any more info would be greatly appreciated.

also can you help with the other missing rental figures for Elvis' films

Clambake (1967) United Artists
Live a Little, Love a Little (1968) MGM
The Trouble With Girls (1969) MGM
Change Of Habit (1969) Universal
Elvis: That's The Way It Is (1970) MGM
Elvis On Tour (1972) MGM

A re-edited Elvis: That's The Way It Is was released in 2001 in a limited theatrical run.

A remastered Elvis On Tour was released in 2010 in a limited theatrical run.

any help is appreciated.

thank you

9:22 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Could you send me an e-mail, Anthony? It's at top of the GPS main page.

8:20 AM  

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