Of course, there's a price to be paid for this choice. While legitimate offers for his singing beckon from good-guy King Creole Club owner Charlie Le Grand (Paul Stewart), a twisted desire by malevolent mob boss Maxie Fields (Walter Matthau) to pressure Danny to either sing or steal for him, puts Danny in a very dangerous place. This situation isn't helped by the fact that he shares strong feelings for one of Maxie's 'girls', Ronnie (Carolyn Jones), a 'good girl gone bad' who sees something of herself before she went wrong, in Danny. Creating additional conflict in Danny's emotional state is his equally strong attraction for nice girl Nellie (Delores Hart), who waits patiently for Danny to decide which path his life will take.
Quite often cited as Elvis' best performance (including by the King himself), King Creole holds up very well today, with Elvis' best cast and film crew aiding him enormously in this proto-film noir musical. Shot in silky, oppressively dark black & white widescreen, King Creole fulfills quite a few film noir requirements, including an angry, rebellious protagonist caught in criminal social forces beyond his control; a choice between a blonde 'good girl' who offers salvation and a brunette 'bad girl' who, though aware of her better nature, is doomed to never cross back over into the light; and a perverted kingpin who enjoys using his spider web of influence to crush people. These noir elements fit comfortably, for the most part, with the film's musical structure when the songs Elvis sings maintain a nasty, mean tone (the celebrated Trouble and Hard Headed Woman could be noir theme songs).
King Creole has atmosphere to burn, with its rather startlingly opening, when the funky bass line of Crawfish thuds on the soundtrack as the camera travels over Bourbon Street to settle on Elvis, lazily singing along on his squalid bedroom fire escape with Kitty White, giving the Elvis fans in the audience plenty of time to ogle their idol. It's a surprisingly modern moment for a 1957 film, and promises to keep King Creole firmly in line with Elvis' previous assured films. Director Michael Curtiz (Casablanca, The Adventures of Robin Hood), always good with neophyte actors (he guided Doris Day to screen stardom), is a good choice for this adapted Harold Robbins story (Curtiz did great work with the similarly toned Young Man with a Horn). And Elvis' costars here are probably the best ensemble he worked with in his career. Jones, complex in her simultaneously cynical, hopeful, and neurotically sexualized desires, has a compelling asymmetrical beauty perfect for noir. Hart offers a nicely shaded version of the stock girl-next-door character, while Matthau, fully ripe in his screen villains stage of his career, is smoothly menacing here (and does a believable punch-up with Elvis, too).
Elvis is quite good here in King Creole, bringing an obviously heartfelt and earnest, restless energy to his role that no doubt was encouraged by Curtiz.
The Video: The anamorphically enhanced, 1.78:1 widescreen transfer for King Creole, looks fantastic, with screen anomalies kept to a minimum. Blacks are absolute, and the image is super-sharp.
The Audio: A nice surprise is the Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround English mix, which gets a good workout during some of the musical numbers. The film's original mono mix is available for you traditionalists. English subtitles and close-captioning are available.
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