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Our reviews of Elvis: 75th Birthday Collection (published August 16th, 2010) and Love Me Tender / Flaming Star / Wild In The Country (published September 5th, 2002) are also available.
Martha Reno: Clint thinks the sun rises and sets in you.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Love Me Tender, so it's time to bring out the old war horse one more time even though a perfectly fine edition surfaced in 2002. I can't imagine why there is a need for another release—other than if there is one things Elvis fans will do, it's buy as many products they can find. Consider this: Elvis Presley sells more records and DVDs now than when he was alive, and remains one of the top-grossing musical recording artists even compared to all the new ones. His longevity has lasted over half a century, and it's hard to believe any modern artist could hope to compete. Imagine if, in 2030, this much attention was lavished on Madonna appearing in Desperately Seeking Susan, or a collector's edition of The Wiz showing up in 2020 to celebrate Michael Jackson. The pop luminaries of our era in those respective movies filled the same slot Elvis did in Love Me Tender—the supporting role. Presley was not the star, but millions of people the world over seem to forget that. The movie wasn't even much above an ordinary melodrama, but it's become iconic because it was the very first time a certain member of rock royalty hit the screen.
Facts of the Case
Elvis appears as Clint Reno, a man who stayed home as his brothers went off to fight in the Civil War for the Confederate army. His older brother Vance (Richard Egan, Bright Victory) is assumed dead in a battle, and Clint ends up marrying Vance's sweetheart Cathy (Debra Paget, The Ten Commandments). Problem is Vance is very much alive; when he returns, he is none too happy to find out about the nuptials. Adding to Vance's problems is the fact he got involved in a train robbery—of Federal Government payroll money—not knowing the war was over. He wishes to return it, but some of his Confederate veteran brothers don't want him to do so. Cathy reveals she still loves Vance. Meanwhile, the U.S. Army is hunting down the Reno brothers. The tale can only end in tragedy.
Odd that in the middle of a western we are treated to Elvis singing "Poor Boy," "We're Gonna Move," "Let Me," and, of course "Love Me Tender." Even stranger to see Elvis in an actual movie instead of a tailor-made vehicle for him, and in a story that he doesn't even live through. Truth is the movie wasn't supposed to be his in the first place. He was just smartly cast in one of the less demanding roles, and given a chance to do what he does best—sing a few tunes to liven up the proceedings. Love Me Tender is not a musical, so Presley sings on the porch and at a county fair. Yet this is where the whole "Elvis as a movie star" craze begins.
Whether or not you actually like Elvis movies, Love Me Tender is still just standard melodrama in black and white. Yet the movie studio, and Elvis's manager Colonel Tom Parker, knew what this moment meant in 1956. Re-shoots were demanded to let Elvis sing a "Love Me Tender" encore over the finale. We see him with shockingly black hair, which doesn't match his look in the movie. His minor role was greatly expanded just to accommodate his young stardom. Love Me Tender had a record number of prints made and distributed to satiate the demand from his fans for the film. Hell, even the title was changed from The Reno Brothers to Love Me Tender, just to cash in on the anticipation of a hit record.
Presley comes off fine as Clint. He plays everything understated, except when he sings. Somehow, the director let him go ahead and gyrate those hips during his performances—even though that probably wouldn't have gone over well in post-Civil-War Texas. Sadly, Presley wanted to be taken seriously as a dramatic actor very badly. He wasn't even supposed to sing in Love Me Tender, but his plans were thwarted by his own manager and the studio. Yet it all makes sense, when you consider Elvis was not trained as a thespian. The best thing he had to offer the world in 1956 was his music, and it would be silly to assume he would ever be taken as just an actor.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Love Me Tender is a double dip—it debuted on DVD in 2002. That release didn't feature many extras, other than a handful of trailers. Fox has wisely decided to screw over anyone who bought the initial release by loading this disc up. Noted Elvis historian and documentarian Jerry Schilling provides a deeply personal commentary for the film. He grew up with Elvis, so he has a ton of stories to relate. It's a great track that only falls silent when Elvis sings. Also included with this release are featurettes covering Elvis hitting Hollywood, his relationship with Colonel Tom Parker, and a look at the birth of the Elvis cinema craze. There is also a photo gallery, and lobby card reproductions included in the package. The transfer remains beautifully gritty and quite impressive for a fifty-year-old black and white release. You can choose between an English stereo or mono track, and even a Spanish dubbed version.
Colonel Tom Parker began managing Elvis Presley in 1955, and his touch is all over the screen debut of his client. While Elvis wanted to be a serious actor, he made sure it was the music we'd remember. He wasn't wrong, because fifty years later I can sing every word to the movie's title song. In comparison I had to watch this feature, because I had forgotten most of it from the last time I saw it, three years ago. But that's common with rock stars on screen. Like Madonna in Desperately Seeking Susan, Prince in Purple Rain, or Paul McCartney in Give My Regards to Broad Street, I remember the musical moments most. The magic of Love Me Tender really lies in the presence of a hip-shaking crooner stepping out for the first time in Hollywood.
Guilty of whitewashing Elvis's image, and making him a movie star. Love Me Tender is the movie that made the King of Rock and Roll a crooning leading man. Elvis fans will rejoice at the chance to see him here again fifty years later, looking as young as ever. And the rest of the movie? Well, it's alright.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary by Elvis Historian Jerry Schilling
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