Elvis Presley died on August 16, 1977. I remember it like it was yesterday. It was my 8th day of Air Force Basic Training. I returned to the dormitory with some other trainees and we saw several of the members of our unit in tears. We asked what was wrong and one of them said, between sobs, “the King is dead.”
Forty years later and Elvis Presley’s footprint on the planet remains indelible. It is Elvis Week 17 in Memphis and there was a large crowd at the candlelight vigil last night at Graceland. Before satellite radio, there was a commercial radio station playing Elvis music around the clock. Now there are several such “stations” available via satellite or online.
It was the extraordinary success of the music of Elvis Presley that opened the door for him to start making movies. His first movie was supposed to be titled The Reno Brothers but when sales of his song “Love Me Tender” soared past the one million mark, the title of the movie was changed to Love Me Tender.
He would go on to make 30 more movies and here are our five favorites, in no particular order:
In Jailhouse Rock, Presley plays “Vince” a construction worker who gets into a barroom brawl and unintentionally kills another man. That results in a two year stint in the state pen, where he is cellmates with “Hunk” (Mickey Shaughnessy). Hunk was a successful country singer and he teaches Vince to play the guitar. As the result of Vince’s performance in an inmate ‘show’ seen nationwide on television, he becomes a star.
In King Creole, Elvis is 19 year old “Danny” who drops out of high school after being told he won’t be allowed to graduate. His father “Mr. Fisher” (Dean Jagger) tries and fails to convince Danny to go back to school. Walter Matthau is “Maxie” a nightclub owner who Danny worked for until the owner of the King Creole nightclub (the only club Maxie doesn’t control) hears Danny sing and gives him a job. There is music, betrayal and better still, a movie directed by the legendary Michael Curtiz.
1964’s Viva Las Vegas was a film with ten musical numbers. “Lucky” (Eivls) was a race car driver in town for a race, but saddled with the need to put a new engine in his car. After raising the money, he loses it thanks to swimming instructor “Rusty” (Ann-Margaret). Now his only hope is to win the hotel’s talent show to pay for that new engine. Directed by George Sidney, the film also stars William Demarest, Cesare Danova and Teri Garr in an uncredited early role as a showgirl. Nicky Blair, who had dozens of film credits but was much more famous as the owner/operator of Nicky Blair’s on the Sunset Strip, plays “Shorty,” Lucky’s sidekick.
Kid Galahad was a remake of a 1937 film of the same name. “Walter Gulick” (Elvis) takes a job near a quiet resort in the Catskills as a mechanic. He agrees to act as a sparring partner for one of the boxers being managed by “Willy Grogan” (Gig Young) and winds up knocking the boxer out. They tag Walter with the nickname “Galahad” and “Lew” (Charles Bronson) begins training him. A young Ed Asner is also in this movie.
“Charlie Rogers” (Elvis) is a musician who gets on his motorcycle and heads off into the distance after being fired from his job as a musician. He wrecks his bike when he is run off a road by “Joe” (Leif Erickson). “Maggie Morgan” (Barbara Stanwyck) offers him a job with her carnival so he’ll have a place to stay and a way to earn the money needed to repair the bike. He quickly goes from “carnie” to singer and is a big hit.
We aren’t saying these are the “best” movies from Elvis Presley, just that they are our favorites. RIP, King.