Combustible Celluloid
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With: Elvis Presley, Debra Paget, Barbara Eden, Dolores del Rio, Hope Lange, Tuesday Weld, Millie Perkins, Charles Bronson, etc.
Written by: Charles Lederer, Robert Buckner, Nunnally Johnson, Clifford Odets, etc.
Directed by: Don Siegel, Phil Karlson, Gordon Douglas, Robert D. Webb, Philip Dunne, Frederick De Cordova, Arthur H. Nadel
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 690
Date: 03/19/2013

Elvis 75th Birthday Collection (2010)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

King of the Whole Wide World

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

For what would have been Elvis Presley's 75th birthday, Fox has released a seven-disc DVD set (crammed into two snap cases). The discs appear to be the same as the original issues, not remastered or updated or anything. The titles include Love Me Tender (1956), Flaming Star (1960), Wild in the Country (1961), Kid Galahad (1962), Follow That Dream (1962), Frankie and Johnny (1966) and Clambake (1967). It retails for about $40, which works out to about $5.71 per movie. Of these, Flaming Star holds the most interest.

Though Elvis made mostly harebrained musicals during his Hollywood career, famed action director Don Siegel (Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Dirty Harry) saw an element of raw danger in the singer, and gave him his very best role in this excellent Western. Siegel also knew enough to eliminate needless musical numbers; we get one song ("Flaming Star") over the opening credits and Elvis sings a second number ("A Cane and a High Starched Collar") at a party during the first five minutes, and that's it.

Elvis plays Pacer Burton, a half-breed with a Kiowa Indian mother (Dolores Del Rio) and a white father (John McIntire). He also has an all-white half-brother named Clint (Steve Forrest). When the Kiowas begin attacking the neighboring villagers, Pacer finds himself in a bind; should he stay true to his heritage or help his neighbors? It doesn't help that those same neighbors suddenly turn on him, treating him with hatred and racism.

Siegel suffers through some obvious budget and/or time constraints, such as many annoying day-for-night shots as well as the very obvious studio set used for Pacer's family home. But the director makes up for it with some nice touches like showing his characters conversing through little slats in the doors and windows. And when it comes to staging his scenes outdoors, in the open daylight, Siegel can't be beat.

Moreover, for perhaps the only time in all his films, Elvis finds a center to the character and ignores his fan club and his musical talent. He locates a deeply rooted pain and loneliness. And Siegel doesn't make it easy for him, layering complex morals and ideals into the plot. It's enough to make one wish Elvis had gone with either an acting career or a music career, instead of constantly straddling both.

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