There is no doubt that he appeared in a number of real 'turkeys' (Easy Come Easy Go, Paradise Hawaiian Style and Clambake to name a few) but it is unfair to write off his movie career completely as many were excellent or above average and showed that, given the right material, Elvis was a damn fine actor. Unfortunately he was not allowed to pursue a career as a serious actor as the plots for the films became more and more ridiculous – a singing racing driver, a singing pilot, a singing Indian and even a singing frogman… you get the picture!
With each film completed in a matter of weeks with Elvis just expected to act a little, sing an albums worth of songs, have a fight and kiss a few girls it was understandable why they were panned by the critics. However, they were a major part of Elvis' career and have often been overlooked in print with very few books examining his movie career. Fortunately that has now been corrected with the publication of James L. Neibaur’s latest book, The Elvis Movies.
Neibaur, a film historian, is well qualified to write such a book as his previous work has included studies of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harry Langdon, among others.
In The Elvis Movies he offers in-depth and critical discussions about each movie starting with Love Me Tender in 1956 and ending with Change Of Habit in 1969. The concert documentaries (Elvis That's The Way It Is and Elvis On Tour) are also included but, and it is my only complaint about the book, he only gives a brief overview and I feel they deserved much more detail. Of course they weren't acting role as he played himself but I would have still loved to have read more about the background and reaction to both of them.
Besides the details of each film (producers, directors, actors, actresses, songs, box office gross etc) Neibaur examines the impact the movies had on Elvis’s career and popular culture at the time. By including chapters on The Rise of Elvis Presley, Elvis In The Army, The Comeback Special and The Final Years Neibaur also tracks the evolution of Elvis’s career and personal life. The book is also illustrated with movie stills, posters and trade ads which help illustrate the story.
Neibaur is quick to point out Elvis’s acting abilities and talent for both drama and comedy and it is apparent as you work through the book that he has a lot of respect for Elvis as an actor and a musician even when commenting that a film was not particularly good. It is just sad that after appearing in Jailhouse Rock, King Creole and the post-army western Flaming Star his acting abilities were not put to better use.
The Elvis Movies reveals an often overlooked aspect of Elvis Presley’s career in a way that should change the mind of those who dismiss it as unimportant in the history of film and is highly recommended.