'Elvis Films FAQ'

A book by Paul Simpson

Book Review - By Piers Beagley

If Elvis Presley had not wanted to be a movie star, he would never have single-handedly revolutionized popular culture. Yet this aspect of his phenomenal career has been much maligned and misunderstood – partly because the King himself once referred to his 33 movies as a rut he had got stuck in just off Hollywood Boulevard.

Elvis Films FAQ explores his best and worst moments as an actor, analyzes the bizarre autobiographical detail that runs through so many of his films, and reflects on what it must be like to be idolized by millions around the world yet have to make a living singing about dogs, chambers of commerce, and fatally naive shrimps.

Elvis's Hollywood years are full of mystery, and Elvis Films FAQ covers them all! Which of his own movies did he actually like? What films did he wish he could have made? Elvis Films FAQ explains everything you want to know about the whys and wherefores of the singer-actor's bizarre celluloid odyssey; or, as Elvis said, "I saw the movie and I was the hero of the movie."

EIN's Piers Beagley investigates whether this new book by author Paul Simpson really answers all the questions you need to know ....


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.
It includes…

… 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
EIN Website content © Copyright the Elvis Information Network.

Go here for other relevant EIN ELVIS articles

Elvis Music FAQ - Mike Eder Interview:

'Follow That Dream' 50th Anniversary Spotlight

EIN Spotlight on 'Girl Happy'

'Flaming Star' Elvis' great 60's drama

'Blue Hawaii' - A flawed film or great success?

The Real Failure of Elvis' Movie Career

'Love Me Tender' Special Edition DVD review

A Kick Upwards for Elvis' Movies

 




EIN Website content © Copyright the Elvis Information Network.
Elvis Presley, Elvis and Graceland are trademarks of Elvis Presley Enterprises.
The Elvis Information Network has been running since 1986 and is an EPE officially recognised Elvis fan club.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Did You Miss these Popular Interviews?
Linda and Sam Thompson in Australia:
John Wilkinson Tribute & 1972 Interview:
'Elvis: Walk A Mile In My Shoes' - Arjan Deelen Interview:
RIP - Bernard Lansky talks to EIN:
Allyson Adams 'The Rebel and The King' Interview: 
Joseph A. Tunzi
David Stanley (2012)
Author Chris Kennedy Interview about D.J. Tommy Edwards:
Vernon Presley Interview:
EIN interviews John Scheinfeld director of  'Fame & Fortune'
Jerry Leiber Interview for EIN
Elvis Paradise Hawaiian Interview - with Peter Noone
Sam Thompson, Elvis' bodyguard, 2011 Interview
James Burton Interview - Rick Nelson & Elvis:
Elvis Drummer Jerome "Stump" Monroe EIN Interview:
Donnie Sumner Remembers his friend Sherrill Nielsen: 
Lamar Fike EIN Exclusive Interview
Jamie Aaron Kelley - EIN Interview:
Ernst Jorgensen interview about 'The Complete Masters' and more:
D.J Fontana Interview - Elvis Week 2010 special: 
Red West Interview:- 2010 Elvis week special
Linda Thompson - Interview Special:
Elvis in 1969 - Ann Moses & Ray Connolly Interviews:
Ernst Jorgensen interview about 'On Stage' and Elvis' Legacy in 2010:
Paul Lichter
Dr. Nick talks to EIN
Alanna Nash
Ernst Jorgensen (2009)
Joseph Pirzada
Jeanne LeMay Dumas
Larry Geller
Mac Davis
Roger Semon
Ernst Jorgensen
Wayne Jackson (Memphis Horns)
Ernst Jorgensen (Record Collector)
 
Did You Miss these Popular EIN articles
'The Nation's Favourite Elvis Song' Spotlight
Linda and Sam Thompson in Australia:
Elvis Passwords - We’ve Hacked them all! 
Fourteen Key Elvis Singles:
Remembering ELVIS in 2013:
ELVIS WEEK 2013
Elvis And The Vocal Group Tradition:
Happy Birthday EIN EIN turns 100 – a retrospective!:
Aloha From Hawaii - The Concert 2013- EIN Exclusive
Elvis at Madison Square Garden 40 Years Ago
'The Wedding' Elvis & Priscilla EIN special Spotlight:
'Elvis In Ottawa' Spotlight & Elvis Interview:
'Elvis: Live at the International' Book Review:
Book Review: Elvis in Vegas
'Promised Land' FTD CD Review:
'The Complete Louisiana Hayride Archives 1954-1956’ Review:
Elvis By Special Request '71 At 40 (Book Review):
"Kissed By Elvis" Janet Fulton Interview:
'1956, Elvis Presley’s Pivotal Year':
"ReBooked At The International'- in-depth Review:
EIN Spotlight on Alfred Wertheimer:
'Elvis Memphis to Madison 1977' The Gas Station Incident:
'The Elvis Files Vol. 2' Book Review:
'Elvis In Concert' 1977 TV special; Should it be released officially?
Ernst Jorgensen interview about 'The Complete Masters' and more:
Dark Side of the Colonel
 
Did you miss these Reviews
'Elvis Files Magazine ISSUE 5' Review:
'The Elvis Files Vol. 6 1971-1973'  Book Review:
'Love Me Tender' Blu-Ray Edition Review:
'Houston We Have A Problem' - CD review:
'SOLD OUT' FTD CD Review:
‘Elvis At Stax’ [Deluxe] Reviews:
‘The King Revealed’ Magazine Review:
'Hot August Night' FTD CD Review:
‘The King Revealed’ Magazine Review:
'Elvis - The Man & His Music'#100 review:
'Elvis Files Magazine ISSUE 4' - Review:
'Elvis - Aloha Via Satellite: A 40th Anniv Release' Book Review:
'The Elvis Files Vol. 1 1953-56' In Depth Book Review:
'Aloha From Hawaii' 40th Anniv LEGACY CD Review:
'Elvis Files Magazine ISSUE 3' - Review:
Aloha From Hawaii - The Concert 2013- EIN Exclusive Review:
‘Elvis On Tour’ E-book Review - with Great jumpsuit photos-
'From Elvis Presley Boulevard' FTD In-Depth Review:
'Prince From Another Planet’ In-Depth Review:
'Elvis: Walk A Mile In My Shoes' - EIN Review:
‘Greatest Live Hits of the 50s’ MRS CD Review: 
Once Upon A Time: Elvis and Anita (Memories of My Mother) - Book Review:
'A Boy From Tupelo' special In-depth Review:
Bootleg Elvis (Book Review)
'G.I.Blues Vol.1' FTD Soundtrack - CD review:
'The Elvis Files Vol. 5 1969-70'  Book Review:
'From Hawaii to Las Vegas' FTD CD Review:
'Blue Hawaii - The Expanded Alternate Album' Review:
'Elvis: Live at the International' Book Review:
'The Complete Louisiana Hayride Archives 1954-1956’ Review:
'48 Hours To Memphis' FTD CD Review:
Elvis By Special Request '71 At 40 (Book Review):
'The Elvis Files Vol. 4' Book Review:
'Young Man with the Big Beat' In-Depth Review:
'Fashion For A King' FTD in-depth Review:
"ReBooked At The International'- in-depth Review:
'Stage Rehearsal' FTD Review:
 
Audio-Visual
Best of Elvis on YouTube
Graceland cam
EPE's Multimedia Elvis Gallery
Sirius Elvis Satellite Radio
Elvis Radio (ETA's)
Elvis Express Radio
Ultimate Elvis Radio
Elvis Only Radio
"Images in Concert" PhotoDatabase
Radio Interview: Vernon & Gladys Presley
Sanja's Elvis Week 2007 Photo Gallery
'EIN's Best of Elvis on YouTube'
The Music of Elvis Presley - Australian Radio Show
Reference
All about Elvis
All about Elvis Tribute Artists
All about Graceland
All about Lisa Marie Presley
Ancestors of Elvis
Art Archives
Book Releases 2009
Contact List
Elvis and Racism
Elvis as Religion
Elvis CDs in 2007
Elvis DVDs in 2006
Elvis Film Guide
'2007 New Releases'
Elvis Presley In Concert "downunder" 2006
Elvis Online Virtual Library
Elvis Research Forum
Elvis Rules on Television
Graceland - The National Historic Landmark
How & where do I sell my Elvis collection?
Is Elvis the best selling artist?
Links to Elvis' family & friends
Links to other Elvis sites
Marty's Musings
Online Elvis Symposium
Parkes Elvis Festival 2009 (Australia)
Presley Law legal archives (Preslaw)
Presleys In The Press
Sale of EPE (Archives)
6th Annual Elvis Website Survey
Spotlight on The King
"Wikipedia" Elvis biography