King Creole is terrific entertainment. Directed by Michael Curtiz, the man who made Casablanca and 172 other films, the story is an adaptation of a popular Harold Robbins novel called A Stone for Danny Fisher, which explains the unusually strong narrative, interesting characters and their dramatic interplay. Any accommodations made for Elvis Presley are innocuous; one could even say that King Creole benefits from its make-over as an Elvis Presley star vehicle. Since none of the songs in the film are big Elvis hits, they keep the audience involved rather than being awkward showcases, although this is not to say that the numbers are substandard. Furthermore, they are quite well integrated into the story, popping up at logical moments to illustrate Danny's showbiz potential early on, then later to verify his rising status as a big fish in a little pond. This development is not hard to swallow with Elvis Presley in his prime, circa 1958. Old Charlie LeGrande certainly gets his $85 dollar's worth!
Elvis the Pelvis is great in the role of Danny Fisher, conveying just the right mix of arrogance, charm, sympathy and brooding resentment. Is he playing himself? Could be. Everyone else is convincing, too, from the sultry Carolyn Jones, who escaped The House of Wax and The Invasion of the Body Snatchers to eventually play the original goth Morticia Addams in The Addams Family, through to Vic Morrow as the shifty punk (Morrow was later beheaded by a helicopter blade on the set of Twilight Zone: The Movie). Lastly, the incomparable Walter Matthau steals the show with his cigar-chomping portrayal of hoodlum Maxi Fields, swilling expensive booze and keeping poor Ronnie on a short leash. His character provides a marvellous foil to Danny Fisher -- the mutual loathing they have for each other is apparent whenever they share a scene together.
Sandwiched between Jailhouse Rock (1957) and GI Blues (1960), King Creole endures as one of the best Elvis Presley musicals ever made.
King Creole is another Elvis film presented on DVD with a smashing anamorphic transfer, framed at 1.78:1, which is close to its 1.85:1 theatrical ratio. Film artefacts are the only snares that prevent it from being reference quality.
The level of sharpness and detail evident on this DVD release makes the 1958 King Creole look years younger. The widescreen, VistaVision panoramas of cinematographer Russell Harlan (Rio Bravo, To Kill a Mockingbird) are captured here with astounding clarity, especially considering a release print appears to have been the source, which was probably mastered to hi-def first then downconverted for MPEG-2 compression. Black levels have to be nudged up to reveal all of the shadow detail, but even then blacks in the darkest parts of the image are inky, with no low level noise or chalkiness. Thankfully, there is no edge enhancement either, and highlight detail is fine.
Being a black and white film, the rich and subtle grey scales in this one are excellent. I normally watch black and white content with the colour turned all the way off, a habit that evolved when trying to hide random colour noise on VHS for movies such as Night of the Living Dead, and for TV broadcast screenings of various golden oldies. I still do this for DVDs, but King Creole was reviewed at normal colour levels.
Both black and white film artefacts drizzle past at a constant, though not distracting, rate during the first half of the feature. Ugly reel change marks also pop up at the expected intervals in the top right-hand corner, and a dusting of film grain is visible if one looks for it. While none of this chaff jolts you out of the captivating story, its steady omnipresence makes it obvious that King Creole could be improved another quantum leap by fully restoring the negative. If Paramount have already squeezed off a hi-def version, this could be as good as Elvis Presley's Southern escapades will look.
Transfer and compression artefacts are restricted to the occasional instance of aliasing, for example on the white edge of the acoustic guitar Danny uses to dupe the owners of a Five-and-Dime store.
Two English soundtracks and a number of foreign ones are included. The English Dolby Digital 5.1 track (compressed to 448 kb/s) leaves the two-track monaural variation in second place in terms of fidelity, although it is thoughtful of Paramount to include what I assume to be the original mono recording.
Dialogue is distinct and synchronized with the visuals. Sibilants are slightly harsh, but this could be due to the new preamplifier I am using, so this judgement is unconfirmed. Elvis Presley's dubbed singing voice is strong and forceful in the centre channel.
There is not much to say about the nimble, responsive score by Walter Scharf, which could be overlooked in light of the rousing Elvis tunes penned by five different songwriters. A funny moment occurs when Danny/Elvis serenades shoppers in a Five-and-Dime store. Though armed only with an acoustic guitar, a double-bass accompaniment can be heard on the soundtrack. Which of Danny's punk friends was playing that instrument, and how?!?!
Apart from the faint buzz from an imperfect amplifier noise-floor, the surround channels remain largely mute. This may be a 5.1 discrete mix, but the sound engineers decided to retain the original mono soundstage. Ambient noises trickle through just enough to shift the front stage toward the viewer slightly, not to mention adding depth to some portentous thunderclaps in a pivotal scene. The left and right front speakers are engaged to create the illusion of space in the club scenes and dimension to the music cues. Quite often, though, they hand over dialogue and effects completely to the centre channel in the many talky sequences. But do not worry, the track as a whole plays more coherently than this description implies, as long as you have a solid centre speaker. Note that the mono track uses the left and right channels only, making it sound hollow compared to the 5.1 mix.
Dynamic range and frequency response is acceptable given the age of the film, and the audible background hiss remains in check, so feel free to turn it up for the neighbours or some coffee table soft-shoe. The subwoofer carried forward discrete and redirected low frequency tones from the double-basses and tubas that accompany most musical numbers. Both English soundtracks generally sound warm, counteracting the brassiness of the upper-ranges.
|Surround Channel Use||*|
Theatrical Trailer (2:27)
This is presented at a ratio of 1.78:1 and 16x9 enhanced, with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. The picture quality is not quite up to the standard of the feature.
R4 vs R1
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
The Region 4 DVD misses out on:
The Region 1 DVD misses out on:
- German Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack
- Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack
- Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack
- French Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack
- 8 x foreign language subtitles
Both releases are basically identical, and the UK release is the same as ours. One source says that the intended ratio is 1.96:1, which does fall into the VistaVision range. One hopes that our 1.78:1 transfer reveals more of the upper and/or lower frame, rather than zooming in for 16x9 to hide the mattes, thereby losing information on the left and right sides.
As Charlie LeGrande would say, King Creole is swell. The performances are uniformly swell, the story is swell, and the songs by Elvis Presley are . . . you guessed it, swell. Apparently, Elvis himself said that King Creole was his favourite of all the movies he made.
This DVD from Paramount mirrors the virtues of its acclaimed US cousin, with a great video transfer and a boisterous Dolby Digital 5.1 mix lead by the centre channel.
Ratings (out of 5)
|DVD||Pioneer DV-737, using Component output|
|Display||Loewe Ergo (81cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.|
|Audio Decoder||Marantz AV9000 Pre-amp.|
|Amplification||Arcam AV50 5 x 50W amplifier|
|Speakers||Front: ALR/Jordan Entry 5M, Centre: ALR/Jordan 4M, Rear: ALR/Jordan Entry 2M, Subwoofer: B&W ASW-1000 (active)|