Friday, July 05, 2019

Tonight's Movie: King Creole (1958) at the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival

I'm working backwards as I catch up on reviews of the last couple new-to-me films seen at this year's Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival!

Yesterday I reviewed SHAKEDOWN (1950), a not-on-DVD film I enjoyed on Sunday morning.

Backing up now to Saturday evening, I very much enjoyed the Elvis Presley film KING CREOLE (1958), seen in the world premiere of a new 4K digital restoration. KING CREOLE was directed by Michael Curtiz, so it was great to have the film introduced by festival producer Alan K. Rode, inasmuch as he has written the definitive biography of the director.

Even better, actress Jan Shepard, who played Elvis's older sister in the film, was present to be interviewed after the movie. Here she is signing autographs in the lobby before the screening.

I was completely sold on the movie from the opening minutes, set in the quiet early morning in the French Quarter of New Orleans. The evocative pre-credits singing of "Crawfish" by local tradespeople, combined with the opening credits and then Elvis joining Kitty White on the song, was completely magical. There's currently a clip of this on YouTube, although most of the credits are cut out. You can really see why Elvis was such a phenomenon, he sure got my attention in this scene.

Elvis plays Danny, a 19-year-old high school senior who's having some trouble graduating, particularly as he is also working to help support his family. His father (Dean Jagger) lost his job as a pharmacist after Danny's mother died and is somewhat unmoored emotionally, leaving Danny and his sister Mimi (Shepard) to keep the family going.

When Danny learns he won't graduate after being involved in a fight, he decides to focus on work instead of school, to his father's dismay. Charlie LeGrand (Paul Stewart), owner of the King Creole nightclub, hears Danny sing and offers him a regular job. Charlie is also smitten with Mimi, and despite a substantial difference in their ages a romance develops.

Charlie is kind and honest, attributes which definitely don't apply to Maxie (Walter Matthau), owner of another nightclub who wants to hire Danny away. Maxie is a no-good crook who later blackmails Danny into signing a deal, in part by paying for a specialist after Danny's father is beaten up by one of Maxie's henchmen (Vic Morrow).

As all this unfolds, Danny is torn between two women, the sweet and innocent Nellie (Dolores Hart) and Maxie's jaded mistress Ronnie (Carolyn Jones), who wants to break away from her abusive relationship with Maxie but can't seem to do it.

Those expecting a lighthearted, more typical Elvis musical will find something far different in KING CREOLE. There's plenty of music, as one might infer from the opening sequence, but it plays at times almost more as a drama which happens to have music. The tone is fairly dark at times, as Danny struggles with myriad problems regarding his father, his employers, his love life, and his future; it might not be classic film noir yet it fit in perfectly at the film noir festival.

Elvis is quite good, musically powerful and almost surprisingly on target from a dramatic point of view. He completely sells his role as a basically decent kid with talent who can't quite seem to rise above his problems much of the time; one wonders if he'll follow Ronnie's downhill path or manage to move on to a better life.

After the film, Jan Shepard shared that Elvis was as sweet and kind as one might hope; she clearly enjoyed working with and knowing him.

Among the supporting cast, it was a real pleasure to see Paul Stewart, who so often played villains, in the role of Charlie. At first I was expecting some kind of catch, but nope, he really is a nice guy who hopefully will provide a role model for Danny in terms of both business ethics and how to treat a lady. Stewart is always interesting to watch and he was my one of my favorite things about the movie.

I can't ever see too much of Dolores Hart, and she's wonderful as a young lady who's all too anxious to introduce Danny to her priest, clearly hoping for marriage down the road -- yet even she isn't perfect; she's aware Danny has participated in the theft of her employer when they first meet, yet is dazzled by Danny and doesn't say anything. Though she has far fewer problems than Danny, she has some maturing to do as well.

I found Jones's Ronnie less interesting simply because she's mired in misery from the outset and can't (or won't) find a way out. It wasn't particularly enjoyable watching her used and mistreated repeatedly by Maxie, who was effectively portrayed as an incredible sleaze by Matthau.

The supporting cast also includes Liliane Montevecchi, Brian G. Hutton, Jack Grinnage, Gavin Gordon, and Ned Glass.

KING CREOLE was filmed in black and white by Lionel Lindon. It runs 116 minutes.

KING CREOLE is available on DVD as a single-title release or as part of a four-film DVD set.

I've been interested in seeing this film for quite a while, thanks in part to posts I've read about the film at The Sheila Variations and by Deb at Sidewalk Crossings.


August 2019 Update: Alan K. Rode's interview with Jan Shepard is now available at the Film Noir Foundation website in two parts.


Blogger DKoren said...

Yay! So glad you got to see this, and on the big screen too! That would be really nice. I love that we both love Paul Stewart as a good guy in this one.

8:22 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

It was beautiful seeing such a nice print, Deb! And I just added in to my post a detail I forgot to mention, it was the world premiere of a digital restoration. The movie looked great!

I wished there had been even more of Paul Stewart and Jan Shepard in the movie! He was great, and she's delightful.

Best wishes,

10:56 AM  
Blogger StevensScope said...

This older ELVIS fan reckons KING CREOLE to be his BEST FILM ever, another major triumph for legendary producer HAL WALLIS, and a WOW! 'cause it contained the BEST SONGS/SOUNDTRACK ALBUM EVER* of all of his films; BEST CO-STARRING CAST; and certainly the BEST DIRECTOR ELVIS ever had; here was MICHAEL CURTIZ! (*ok! I like blue Hawaii, too...! &*ROUSTABOUT! … AND..)

6:14 AM  
Blogger dfordoom said...

Loved your review. I've just watched this movie and what can I say? I loved it. Elvis in great form in both the singing and acting departments. And Walter Matthau as a villain, which surprisingly works.

5:29 AM  

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