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Our reviews of Elvis: 75th Birthday Collection (published August 16th, 2010), Love Me Tender (published March 30th, 2006), and Love Me Tender / Flaming Star / Wild In The Country (published September 5th, 2002) are also available.
Mr. Rock n' Roll in the story he was born to play!
It's a widely-accepted fact that Elvis Presley's cinematic career never came close to approaching the heights of his musical career, but for a brief period of time, Presley was a genuine box office sensation. For a decade or so, Presley churned out one cheesy hit movie after another. Critics didn't respond favorably to the vast majority of these movies—after all, they were essentially insubstantial vehicles for Presley's musical performances—but the singer/actor was able to coast on his superstardom for quite some time.
The rock heartthrob's first big-screen appearance was in the cinemascope western Love Me Tender, which differs from the rest of Presley's filmography for a number of reasons. First, it's the only film of Presley's career that finds the actor playing a supporting role (he receives third billing after Richard Egan, Pollyanna and Debra Paget, The Ten Commandments), it's a more fully-formed movie than the other Presley vehicles (with the songs as a pleasant side item rather than as the main course), and it's the rare movie that asks Presley to do some serious acting. It's not a particularly good film, but it's worth noting for its unique nature (and it's a good deal more watchable than Clambake).
The movie's central figure is Vance Reno (Egan), a former Confederate soldier returning home after the conclusion of the Civil War. Towards the end of the war, Vance and a handful of his fellow soldiers rob a federal train and plan to use the money to make a fresh start. However, it's going to be a while before the men can feel free to start spending the money, as they don't want to do anything to raise suspicion. Meanwhile, Vance heads home to his mother's ranch and begins making plans to wed his longtime fiancee Cathy (Paget). Unfortunately, all of Vance's family and friends had been mistakenly informed that Vance was killed in the war, and Cathy has married Vance's younger brother Clint (Presley). As you might imagine, romantic complications ensue.
Despite the scenes of action and suspense that bookend the film, for the most part Love Me Tender is a laid-back, unhurried western melodrama that devotes its lengthy midsection to these fairly simple characters attempting to sort out their feelings. It's the sort of thing we've seen before in a thousand old westerns (and a thousand old romances, for that matter), but Egan's performance is solid and director Robert D. Webb keeps things moving with a workmanlike professionalism. It doesn't benefit from the cinemascope format as much as a sprawling color spectacle like How the West Was Won, but it's a good-looking movie that certainly has a greater sense of scale than most of Presley's flicks.
As for Presley himself, well…he certainly fares best when he's singing. His musical performances are breezy high points, even if his swiveling hips prove exceptionally anachronistic. Presley manages to handle his early scenes as a wet-behind-the-ears charmer well enough, but struggles when things turn dramatic in the second half. The character was originally supposed to be a fairly small supporting figure, but the role was expanded when Presley was given the part. Based on the evidence Love Me Tender offers, it's probably for the best that Presley quickly abandoned "serious" roles in favor of strutting around in campy vehicles built around his limitations. The film's most peculiar moment comes at the end, as an image of Presley singing is superimposed over the film's concluding shot. The weird thing is that it's the dreamy rocker Presley (complete with jet-black, slicked-back hair) rather than the naive farm boy version of Presley presented by the rest of the film. It's as if the film is quietly acknowledging that, yes, this guy is a star rather than an actor.
Love Me Tender (Blu-ray) has received an attractive 1080p/2.35:1 transfer. I honestly wasn't expecting something quite this attractive, but the image offers terrific detail, considerable depth and strong shadow delineation. There are a few moments of softness, but these are likely due to the source material rather than the transfer. A light, satisfying layer of natural grain is present throughout. Well done, Fox. The DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track isn't exactly immersive, but the track is crisp and vibrant throughout. The musical performances in particular sound strong, which is likely what this film's fans are going to care about most, anyway. Supplements are repeated from the previous special edition DVD release: a commentary with Elvis' friend Jerry Schilling, a handful of featurettes ("Love Me Tender: The Birth and Boom of the Elvis Hit," "Elvis Hits Hollywood" and "The Colonel and the King") and a couple of theatrical trailers. A solid package overall.
Love Me Tender isn't great cinema, but it's an important movie in Elvis Presley's career and one of the music legend's better outings on the big screen (if not quite as much fun as Jailhouse Rock or Viva Las Vegas). The Blu-ray release is solid.
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