Elvis Films FAQ by author by Paul Simpson ('Elvis The Rough Guide') is a 400-page marvellously entertaining look at Elvis’ movie career and with a very engaging agenda covering all aspects of this important part of his legacy.
The first few chapters examine each film individually and are nicely grouped into four distinctive periods. There is a general overview of the chosen time frame and then a detailed look at each film.
Loving Who?: - Love Me Tender to King Creole
Where Do I Go from Here? - G.I.Blues to Kid Galahad
Please Don't Stop Loving Me: - Girls! Girls! Girls! to Roustabout
A World of Our Own: - From Girl Happy to Clambake
I Want to Be Free: - Stay Away, Joe to Change of Habit
These key chapters take up the first 130 pages of the book.
While there is, of course, a real fascination as Elvis’ early film career develops how Simpson found enough enthusiasm to write in detail about Elvis’ awful mid-to-late 60s movies is pretty impressive. He even finds some positives about the dreadful ‘Double Trouble’ and ‘Easy Come, Easy Go’!
The real enjoyment of this book is the deep exploration of all facets of Elvis’ movie career. Simpson really does seem to try and cover most reader’s questions in the extensive 65 chapters examining everything from ‘Did Col Parker really provide any Technical Advise’ to ‘What do You do When You’re Asked to Write A Song Called ‘A Dog’s Life’.
In the book Simpson not only looks for blame in Elvis’ terrible mid-sixties period movies – and it is certainly not all of Colonel Parker’s fault - but also examines the reasons for the triumphs of Elvis’ best movies.
His detailed investigation into the influence of Hal Wallis throughout Elvis’ film career both good (King Creole, Blue Hawaii etc) and bad (Easy Come, Easy Go etc) is very interesting.
The book is honest, very detailed, and extremely well researched and best of all a very enjoyable read. The book also features a nice selection of photos to illustrate the narrative.
Simpson also looks at Elvis’ soundtrack music in depth and discusses whether the importance of it in Elvis’ movies was good or bad – and amusingly also looks at some of the crazy aspects of it.
Some of the more off-beat & interesting themes that Simpson explores are…
- The King's Consorts: Elvis's Leading Ladies and the Part They Played in His Life
- The Last Farewell: Proof That Elvis's Movies Could Damage Careers
- Something in the Way He Moves: Elvis the Dancer
- "Your Time Hasn't Come Yet, Baby": Child Stars in the King's Movies
- The King's New Clothes: Presley as a Fashion Icon
- Pieces of My Life: Were the Movies Elvis's Autobiography?
- "Elvis Cannot Be Fat or Pudgy Looking": The Continuing Struggle over the King's Weight
- The 50 Percent Men: The Abundance of Svengali Parker Figures in Elvis Movies
- Girls! Girls! Girls!: Elvis as a Very Chaste Kind of Super Stud
- There's So Much World to See: The Elvis Travelogues
One of the key chapters examines whether Elvis really was a good or bad actor and here Simpson investigates the diverse range of opinions from a myriad of people who worked with Elvis.
… So how good an actor was Elvis? At times, very good. Watch him leer at Judy Tyler in Jailhouse Rock, flirt with Carolyn Jones in King Creole, mourn Dolores Del Rio in Flaming Star, show sensitivity and vulnerability as he falls for Hope Lange in Wild In The Country, quarrel with Angela Lansbury in Blue Hawaii, innocently unnerve the gangsters in Follow That Dream, stroll moodily through a nightclub in Viva Las Vegas, argue with Barbara Stanwyck in Roustabout, and debate the chautaqua's prospects with Edward Andrews in The Trouble With Girls and you see an actor for who has the ability to transcend his own image. And that, for someone one as famous as Presley, is no mean feat.
Perhaps the real triumph of this book was that it actually makes me want to revisit these Elvis films that I’ve seen too many times already – yes, even the dreadful ones like Double Trouble.
Some fascinating new trivia is revealed along the way.
- Who would have thought that it was Harriet Ames the sister-in-law to a Warner Brother’s lawyer who was one of the real keys in getting Elvis’ movie career kickstarted back in 1956. (It was the Warner Bros lawyer who then called Hal Wallis after her recommendation.)
Also how future movie projects have been influenced by Elvis’ films.
I love Pulp Fiction and know that Quentin Tarantino is an Elvis fan but never realised the connection of Speedway’s "Hangout" bar to Pulp Fiction’s "Jack Rabbit Slims" bar.
It is also interesting to see how varied the reviews of the time were towards Elvis movies with even some of the most successful movies like ‘Jailhouse Rock’ receiving dreadful reviews. Similarly some of Elvis’ worst films received some surprisingly OK comments in the media.
Another positive of this new book is that Simpson adjusts Elvis’ movies earnings and budgets to compare to today’s figures which really helps one understand the relevance of Elvis’ films in the marketplace at the time.
The book also provides some interesting insights into the movies and how they fitted into Elvis’ own personal journey. For instance about 'Wild in the Country' Simpson discerningly writes...
"It's like I'm always walking around with a cupful of anger, trying not to spill it." That line, uttered by Elvis in his seventh movie, reflected his real personality much more accurately than most fans would have suspected at the time.
Presley epitomized smiling, obedient professionalism in many of his musical comedies. He was an essentially gentle man but could be as short-tempered as his antihero in Jailhouse Rock. By 1960, when he shot this movie, his boyhood dream had come true, though not at all in the manner he had envisaged. His grief at the loss of his mother two years earlier must have been stirred by his father's marriage, four months before shooting for this melodrama started, to Dee Dee Stanley. The swirling emotions infuse his performance in 'Wild in the Country' and when he discusses his late mother with psychiatrist Hope Lange in this movie, it is almost as if Elvis himself is having therapy for his bereavement.
There must also have been anger about the way his movie career was progressing."
Simpson’s writing is often humorous and found myself laughing out loud at times. The book is a very enjoyable read unlike some other investigative essays which can seem a little dry and factual at times.
For instance in the chapter - "If You're Going to Start a Rumble"- The Importance of the Fight in an Elvis Movie, and a Celebration of the Five Best and Worst’ - Simpson writes..
"When Cosmopolitan interviewer Joseph Lewis visited Elvis on the set of 'Stay, Away Joe' he found the star "bored and bemused", hiding behind a "plastic grin." Presley snapped out of his purposeless splendor whenever there was a fight scene, becoming, Lewis noted "all sinews and cartilage exploding with kinetic energy... At the end of the day he nurses a bruised cheek and a sore shoulder but he is happy." Elvis had always nursed a tough-guy complex.
Part of the fun was guessing where exactly Elvis's buddy Red West, who threw a punch in so many Elvis movies, was going to slug him. It could be anywhere: a restaurant (Paradise, Hawaiian Style), a club (Tickle Me), a newspaper plant (Live a Little, Love a Little), or the family barn (Wild in the Country). The formula for these confrontations varied little - Red usually threw the first punch and always lost the fight."
Some key directors or actors such as Elvis create a genre of movie all of their own, for instance the ‘Gidget/Beach Party" genre or more seriously a "Tarantino" movie. In the chapter about whether Elvis movies were autobiographical Simpson fascinatingly compares the genres of the John Wayne movie vs Elvis Presley movie.
In the end we Elvis fans too often forget how Elvis’ films had to fit into the "Hollywood System" which had been producing studio musicals since 1927 and The Jazz Singer. Elvis was hardly likely to feature in ‘Midnight Cowboy’ when the early sixties movie musicals were generally lightweight fluff which basically stiffled his whole film career.
In the book Simpson has a detailed look comparing Elvis’ films to the other stereotypical types of movies from the time such as the fifties Crooners to the early post-war Teen Movies and sixties Beach Movies.
Elvis in G.I. Blues talking with director Norman Taurog
Simpson also investigates Elvis’ directors (good and bad), script writers, the co-stars and everyone you can imagine who has been involved with Elvis’ films. Norman Taurog (above) directed nine Elvis movies. By the time he directed 'Live A Little Love A Little' he was nearly blind! But as Simpson notes, if you want to see what an Elvis film might be like without Norman Taurog's involvement then check out Paradise, Hawaiian Style!
Finally there is over 75 pages dedicated to a very detailed look at Elvis’ film music, the great over-looked songs, the dreadful songs and how the soundtrack albums were both good and bad for his career.
The book also check how Elvis’ music features in more recent films. One of the classics is of course the Promised Land quote from 'Men in Black'....
… "Promised Land," Men in Black (1997)
It's always a pleasure to hear Elvis's turbocharged interpretation of the Chuck Berry classic, and it prompts one of the funniest exchanges in this blockbuster sci-fi comedy.
Agent Will Smith says, "you know Elvis is dead, right?" only to be told flatly by Tommy Lee Jones, "Elvis is not dead, he just went home."
And how could I have missed "Summer Kisses, Winter Tears" by Julie Cruise in Wim Wender’s crazy road-movie ‘Until the End of the World’ (1991)?
|Jocelyn Lane, one of the many British leading ladies in Presley movies. One of the highlights of 'Tickle Me'.
The book is of course subtitled ‘All that’s left to know about the King of rock ‘n’ roll in Hollywood’.
However keen eyes might notice a couple of mistakes and omissions along the way.
For some reason Gladys’ death is noted wrong on page 30 stating that she died March 24 1958. This was of course the date Elvis went into the army & Gladys had to say her sad good-byes. However this does look like an editorial mistake as there is no mention of the draft board experience and on page 5 the book states that Gladys died August 14, 1958.
Unfortunately the book doesn’t state the dates when Elvis’ movies were actually filmed instead noting only their release date. This might mislead the reader into believing that ‘Viva Las Vegas’ was filmed after the dreadful ‘Kissin’ Cousins’. This is important as the low budget for ‘Kissin’ Cousins’ was due to the overspending on the earlier filmed ‘Viva Las Vegas’ which unfortunately was released afterwards.
Of course there is the theory that if perhaps ‘Viva Las Vegas’ had been released first and been a super-smash with a Number 1 soundtrack album things might have been very different.
Another Elvis film oddity is that ‘Hard-Headed Woman’ released as the hit single was basically cut from the film ‘King Creole’ and only plays for a few seconds on-screen. This is another odd mystery not mentioned in this book.
These are however minor quibbles in such a large book that covers all bases.
In the end ‘Elvis Films FAQ’ is a marvellous examination of our hero as he created one successful movie after another and with perfect timing finally escaping his movie contracts at the right point.
It is after all likely that the all-important Memphis Sessions would not have occurred had Elvis’ later films been better produced.
Director Cameron Crowe neatly explains the appeal of the Elvis Film... , "Elvis' catalogue of 31 movies is never less than fascinating, even when he was banging out three a year and barely keeping track of which girl, animal, car, co-star, or guitar he was performing with. Either a performer has built-in screen presence or he doesn't. Most don't. Elvis did, every time he stepped in front of the big glowing camera."
In a final note I’d like to note that EIN’s good friend Harley Payette (RIP) wrote a lot of articles for our website about Elvis’ movie career and I feel it is a real shame that he isn’t around today to read this fascinating book.
Overall verdict: ‘Elvis Films FAQ’ is one of the most enjoyable books I have read this year. If you are interested in Elvis’ film career, as well as wanting to learn some new and fun trivia, then this is the book for you. Paul Simpson has examined every angle of Elvis’ film career and writes about it in a very engaging and enjoyable style. The real triumph of this book is that it will make you want to watch all of Elvis’ films one more time! Highly recommended.
Review by Piers Beagley.
-Copyright EIN December 2013
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