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Elvis Lives! (at least he does on DVD)

Today, Hollywood aggressively seeks actors through the music industry, not necessary because musicians are talented actors (or talented musicians, for that matter), but because their names sell tickets. Today’s generation probably doesn’t realize that music pop stars laced the silver screen long before Britney Spears and Mariah Carey. In fact, it probably all started with the king of rock and roll himself, Elvis Presley.

In 1956, Elvis Presley made his feature film debut with the smash hit Love Me Tender. Twenty-five years after his untimely death, the king continues to impact today’s world of movies and music. To celebrate the anniversary, Fox Home Entertainment is releasing three classic Elvis films, Love Me Tender, Flaming Star, and Wild in the Country, on DVD for the first time.

For his first major role in the film Love Me Tender (), Presley illuminates the black and white screen as Clint Reno, who stays home while his older sibling, Vance (Richard Egan), fights for the Confederate Army in the Civil War. When Vance returns and finds his old girlfriend, Cathy (Debra Paget), married to Clint, tensions quickly rise. As Vance and Cathy struggle to heal their emotional scars, they must also deal with Vance’s theft of Union Army money from a Federal train at the end of the war.

Fueled with strong performances and a premise that surely inspired the apathetic Pearl Harbor, Love Me Tender features Elvis songs ‘Poor Boy,’ ‘Let Me,’ ‘We’re Gonna Move,’ and, of course, ‘Love Me Tender.’ The layered Robert D. Webb film doesn’t surface the brotherly conflicts with contrived confrontations like in Pearl Harbor, but establishes complex moral dilemmas by keeping them internal. It’s one of Elvis’ most compelling works, despite a forced, artificial ending.

Four years after his first film, Elvis landed a role for which Marlon Brando was first considered. In Flaming Star (), Presley plays Pacer Burton, the son of a white father (John McIntire) and an Indian mother (Delores del Rio). As trouble starts brewing between the whites and Indians, the Burton family find themselves split between loyalties. When his parents are killed, Pacer sides with the Indians while his half-brother, Clint (Steve Forrest), follows the whites.

Flaming Star, directed by Don Siegel, proves that Elvis didn’t just get lucky with his first performance; the boy could actually act. The movie puts the audience in the center of the racial tensions post Civil War while portraying the foolishness of racism and its tragic consequences. Featuring Elvis songs ‘Flaming Star’ and ‘A Cane and a High Starched Collar,’ the movie is high energy until about halfway through when things become predictable and rather boring, concluding with another obligatory ending.

In 1961, Elvis delivered one of his most emotional roles in Philip Dunne’s Wild in the Country (). Presley plays a rebellious farm boy who faces manslaughter charges after a fistfight turns deadly. To complicate matters, he also becomes romantically involved with three women (Hope Lang, Tuesday Weld, and Millie Perkins) in the Shenandoah Valley. The film features the Elvis songs ‘Wild in the Country’ and ‘I Slipped, I Stumbled, I Fell.’

The film begins a little too quickly and unable to maintain an equally active plot throughout. However, Presley holds nothing back with his untamed performance and propels the story through slow points.

There are no extras to speak of in any of the three DVDs, but they do contain the original theatrical trailers, which themselves show exactly how far we’ve come with the art over the years. These trailers are far too long, overworked, and they reveal way too much about the movie plots-a problem Hollywood still encounters today.

Ah, if only Elvis were around….

Buy Love Me Tender on DVD from
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Buy Flaming Star on DVD from
Buy Flaming Star on VHS from
Buy Wild in the Country on DVD from
Buy Wild in the Country on VHS from

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