Love Me Tender premiered Nov. 15, 1956 at New York's Paramount Theater.
Love Me Tender is a western drama set immediately after the Civil War. In Elvis Presley's first film, he appears in the secondary role of Clint Reno. This was the only time in his acting career that Elvis received second billing. Clint, the youngest of the four Reno brothers, stayed behind to run the family farm during the war while his older brothers were off fighting for the Confederacy.
Star Richard Egan plays Vance Reno, the eldest brother whom the family believes to have been killed in battle. Upon returning home, Vance is shocked to discover that Clint has married Vance's former sweetheart, Cathy, played by Debra Paget. The love triangle, complicated by the greedy actions of some unscrupulous ex-Confederates, eventually pits brother against brother, resulting in Clint's death. The downbeat ending is tempered by the brothers' reconciliation as Clint dies in Cathy's arms.
Actor Richard Egan who played Vance Reno, older brother to Elvis' character, Clint, was a high ranking officer in the U.S. Army during W.W.II. He received a master's degree at Stanford and taught school at Northwestern before deciding to become an actor. He won a Golden Globe award in 1953 as Most Promising Male Newcomer.
Neville Brand played Mike Gavin, the man who shot and killed Elvis' character.
Brand had joined the Army in 1939, intending to make it his career, and became the fourth most decorated GI in World War II. While in the army he made his acting debut in army training films, which changed the direction of his life. Brand went on to play in 79 movie roles and 29 TV roles. His heavy features and gravel voice made him a natural tough guy. He would play gangster Al Capone in four different projects.
Mildred Dunnock played Elvis' mother.
Dunnock was nominated twice for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar - first for Death Of A Salesman (1951) and then for Baby Doll (1956). She was a schoolteacher before becoming a character actress.
Bruce Bennett played Major Kincaid. Bruce Bennett was his name as an actor. Before that he was known as Herman Brix, a silver medal winner for shot put in the 1928 Olympics. He was personally picked by Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs to follow in the footsteps of fellow Olympic stars Johnny Weissmuller and Buster Crabbe to play the role of Tarzan on the silver screen. He would go on to play in 119 movies.
Barry Coe, who played Mr. Davis, won a Golden Globe in 1959 as Most Promising Male Newcomer, nominated with Troy Donahue, George Hamilton and James Shigeta. Shigeta's greatest fame came with the film Flower Drum Song and he later co-starred with Elvis in the film 'Paradise, Hawaiian Style'
Producer David Weisbart would go on to produce three more Elvis movies: 'Flaming Star', 'Follow That Dream' and 'Kid Galahad'. Weisbart's credits included producing Rebel Without A Cause (1955) and an Oscar nomination for Best Editing for Johnny Belinda (1948).
Writer Robert Buckner had won both a Writers Guild Of America award and a Golden Globe award for Bright Victory (1951) and had received an Oscar nomination for writing for the film Yankee Doodle Dandy.
Behind The Scenes of Love Me Tender
Elvis' first experience as a Hollywood actor was closely followed in the entertainment press from the day he was assigned a role in Love Me Tender until the day the film was released. The close scrutiny affected the outcome of the film in several ways. Originally called The Reno Brothers, this western drama was retitled after a number of articles announced that advanced sales for 'Love Me Tender' -- one of the songs recorded for the film -- exceeded a million copies. It was the first time advanced sales for a single release had ever surpassed the million mark, and the producers capitalized on the publicity by changing the film's title.
The enormous amount of press coverage also affected the film's conclusion. During production, fanzines leaked that Elvis's character was supposed to die near the end of the film. As originally shot, the final scene features Mother Reno solemnly ringing the dinner bell as her three remaining sons toil in the fields. Pain and loss are registered on the faces of Mother Reno and Cathy, who mourn the death of Clint. Elvis' legion of fans were disturbed by the news that their idol was to be killed off in his first film.
In an attempt to counter an 'adverse public reaction,' Twentieth Century-Fox shot an alternative ending in which Clint is spared. For reasons known only to the producers, this second ending was rejected. A compromise ending was used instead. Clint is killed as called for in the original script, but the final shot superimposed a ghostly close-up of Elvis as Clint crooning 'Love Me Tender' as his family slowly walks away from his grave. The fans were then left with a final image of Elvis doing what he was famous for -- singing.
Prior to the film's premiere at the Paramount Theater in New York, a 40-foot likeness of Elvis as Clint Reno was erected atop the theater's marquee. Part of the ceremony surrounding the unveiling of the huge cutout included placing the world's largest charm bracelet, which measured nine feet, around the figure's wrist. The charms depicted various events in Elvis's career, and the bracelet was a giant replica of one being merchandised across the country. Some fans attending the unveiling carried placards that complained about Elvis's on-screen death, but Presley biographers have speculated that Colonel Tom Parker, the singer's notorious manager, passed them out to garner even more publicity.
If the promotion surrounding Love Me Tender generated excitement among Elvis fans, it generated loathing among the critics. Reviewers around the country were lying in wait for the film, and many were brutal in their assessment of Elvis' performance. In a particularly scathing review for Time magazine, one critic compared Elvis' acting and screen presence to that of a sausage, a 'Walt Disney goldfish,' a corpse, and a cricket -- all in the same brief review. Many did not confine their criticism to Elvis' screen performance. Critics used the opportunity to reiterate the same complaints the Establishment had always hurled at Elvis, including his singing style, his hair, his Southern background, and his fanatical following.
If Elvis cried over the mean-spirited reviews, then he cried all the way to the bank. The film recouped its production costs within three days of release, guaranteeing that Elvis' Hollywood future would be lucrative.
Directed-Robert D Webb
Writing Credits-Robert Buckner
Produced by David Weisbart
Screenplay Robert Buckner
Based on a story by Maurice Geraghty
Music by Lionel Newman
Assistant Director Stanley Hough
Technical Advisor Colonel Tom Parker
Hair styles Helen Turpin
Sound Alfred Bruzlin and Harry M Leonard.
Richard Egan - Vance Reno, Debra Paget - Cathy Reno, Elvis Presley - Clint Reno, Robert Middleton - Mr. Siringo, William Cambell - Brett Reno, Neville Brand - Mike Gavin, Mildred Dunnock - Martha Reno, Bruce Bennett - Mr. Kincaid, James Drury - Ray Reno, Russ Conway - Ed Galt, Ken Clark - Kelso, Barry Coe - Davis, Paul E Burns - Jethro, LQ Jones - Flemming, Jerry Sheldon - Train Conductor.
The Story Behind The Song: Love Me Tender
Photos : Elvis on the Love Me Tender Movie Set
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