Review - King Creole

By: Elvis Australia
May 31, 2008

In only his fourth film role, Elvis plays Danny Fisher, a sensitive but angry teenager trying to adjust to his new life in the old French Quarter of New Orleans. His pharmacist father (Dean Jagger) is a drunk who can't hold a job ever since his wife was died three years before. Danny resents his father's weakness (despite his sister Mimi's (Jan Shepard) entreaties to understand their father's troubles), and decides that school (twice he's been held back from graduating) and a staid, 'normal' life isn't for him. He wants money and his freedom from the grinding poverty of his home life, with either his singing talents or crime (he falls in with Shark's (Vic Morrow) gang of hoods) being his best bet to accomplish his goals.

Elvis Presley in King Creole
Elvis Presley in King Creole

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.

Elvis Presley in King Creole
Elvis Presley in King Creole

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 DVD:

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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Never before have we seen an Elvis Presley concert from the 1950's with sound. Until Now! The DVD Contains recently discovered unreleased film of Elvis performing 6 songs, including Heartbreak Hotel and Don't Be Cruel, live in Tupelo Mississippi 1956. Included we see a live performance of the elusive Long Tall Sally seen here for the first time ever. + Plus Bonus DVD Audio.

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