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Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Kid Creole (1958)

Elvis Presley goes to the Movies might have been a better heading. Between 1956 and 1969 "The King" made (or was forced to make) an incredible 31 movies, pushed on ruthlessly by his so-called 'Colonel' manager.  I would not like to claim that I have actually seen all of them, although I may have, since the cheap-jack plots are pretty interchangeable. They were churned out relentlessly to coin pots of money, based on Elvis' fame and appeal to pubescent females and other gullible ladies.  It must have been a soul-destroying exercise for the young man.


His first few movies were actually pretty decent, featuring able supporting actors and a sprinkling of classic tunes: "Love Me Tender", "Loving You", and "Jailhouse Rock".  "Kid Creole" was his fourth film and quite possibly his very best -- it was certainly his own favourite among the dreck that the studio vomited forth with their colourful locations, interchangeable leading ladies, and a star that was obviously not enjoying himself.  While one would be hard-pressed to claim that "Kid" is anything more than a competent piece of film making, it is one of the few films in his filmography which suggest that Elvis could actually act and emote, given the chance -- rather than just playing a troubled juvenile who could wiggle his hips and sing.  For a start it was directed by the more-than-able Michael Curtiz of "Casablanca" fame and it boasts probably the best cast of any Elvis flick: Walter Matthau in full-on villain mode (he didn't begin his film career as a comic actor), TV's Morticia Addams, Carolyn Jones as Matthau's troubled mistress and an unsuitable love interest, a very young Vic Morrow as a street tough, Dean Jagger as his pathetic father, Paul Stewart as a seedy nightclub owner who gives the youngster a break, and Dolores Hart (with whom he co-starred in two movies and subsequently a convent Mother Superior) as his more innocent love interest.


The film is based on Harold Robbins' novel "A Stone for Danny Fisher", once considered as a suitable vehicle for James Dean, reset on the mean streets of New Orleans.  Elvis is no Jimmy Dean, but he does throw himself into the story of a young man who rebels against authority, who reluctantly gets involved with Morrow's street gang, who wants to earn money to save his family, and who challenges Matthau's iron grip on both the nightclub scene and sassy Jones. Elvis was 21 when he made his first film and 23 here, but still playing a high school student. However the mixture of a fairly solid screenplay, crisp black and white photography, and the chance to spotlight some of his best-loved tunes make this film a winner and Elvis' character rather more believable than was often the case.  Too often in the later movies he comes across as a surly thug, and when the attempt was made to soften this image, he seems to morph into something of a soppy lunk.  While the later films have their occasional pleasures, if one wants to remember Elvis for his musical talent, one is far better off searching out his various late concert films, rather than sitting through the technicolor glories and insipid storylines of the likes of "Blue Hawaii", "Girls Girls Girls", or "Fun in Acapulco".


"Kid Creole" reminds us that he just might have had a respectable film career had he been given something of a real chance, rather than just funnelled into the next available production-line fancy.
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