Spotlight: King Creole

Elvis Presley in King Creole (1958)

Elvis Presley in King Creole (1958)

Filmed and released in 1958, King Creole was Elvis Presley’s fourth film. Elvis’ induction into the US Army was postponed so that he could complete this movie, and by the time it hit theaters, he was already a soldier.

Despite some outward similarities, King Creole is not just any Elvis movie. All discussions of his best performances as an actor have to include this film. Directed by Michael Curtiz (Casablanca), King Creole is probably the most artistic film in Elvis’ body of work.

Elvis stars as Danny Fisher, a high school student in New Orleans on the verge of graduating. After a chance encounter with Ronnie (Carolyn Jones), a woman tied to crime boss Maxie Fields (Walter Matthau), Danny’s life turns upside down as he is lured into a dark world and ensnared by Fields.

Along the way, Danny does indeed become a singer as well as the object of the affections of Nellie (Dolores Hart). He also proves to be great with his fists, for King Creole is perhaps Elvis’ most violent movie. Sure, there are fistfights in many Elvis movies, but the King Creole fights are at a different intensity.

When I went to pull out the DVD of King Creole a couple weeks ago, I found it still in its original shrink wrap. I’ve had the movie long enough to not even remember how I obtained it, yet in all those years, I had not once opened and watched it.

This meant that it had been over ten years since I had watched King Creole, as my previous copy was a VHS tape. Thinking back, it was probably more like 14 years ago. I know, I know, time to turn in my Elvis fan card.

Among his four 1950s movies, Jailhouse Rock and Loving You seem to be the ones I gravitate towards. I enjoy watching most Elvis movies, though, so why had I neglected King Creole – undeniably one of his best – all these years?

When I watched the DVD of King Creole that night, I began to remember my impressions of it as a 23-year-old and understand why I did not revisit it often. There were really two reasons I did not connect with King Creole very well back then.

The first was that I found it really frustrating to watch Fields manipulate good-hearted Danny. I kept wanting Danny to see through the ruse. Of course, that would have made for a much shorter movie.

Dolores Hart as Nellie in King Creole

Dolores Hart as Nellie in King Creole

The second reason was that I just could not understand why Danny found the broken Ronnie so compelling compared to the innocent Nellie – who he treated rather coldly at times.

After watching the movie twice last month, however, I realized that this actually has much more to do with the fact that I find Dolores Hart (Nellie) to be one of his most attractive co-stars (right up there with Ann-Margret and Shelly Fabares) rather than anything the movie actually presents.

Plus, since Hart also appeared in a larger role in Loving You, I was really combining her two characters into one. While I view some aspects of Danny’s conflict differently than I did when I was 23 (more on that in a future post), I still love Dolores Hart. I would not have been torn. (As it turned out, Hart had a higher calling and left Hollywood a few years later to become a nun.)

While I’ve not seen the movie often, I’ve listened to the soundtrack countless times. It was fun to see Elvis perform the songs I’ve been listening to for so long.

I have at least a dozen ideas for posts around King Creole. I’ll try to squeeze in as many as I can over the next few months.

My grandmother worked in the ticket booth of a theater for decades. I dedicate this series of movie posts to her, who would have turned 103 this month. I often remember her when I watch movies.

5 thoughts on “Spotlight: King Creole

  1. Wonderful, and thanks for that information about your grandmother! I love King Creole and do think Elvis is best when he is “triangulated” between a series of different types of women. This is sort of the model for that. Michael Curtiz is a master – so he filmed Elvis in a way that is iconic. Those music numbers are not rote, or formulaic – each one is deeply stylized. I wrote that whole piece about Elvis taking the hair out of the comb on his dresser as he sings the opening number. It shows his natural gifts as an actor – and Curtiz was smart enough to just let Elvis be Elvis. I’m excited for this series of posts, Ty – thanks!


  2. That was really nice what you said about dedicating this post to your grandmother. It’s good to hear and see that her grandkids remember. Plus the post was very interesting. It’s amazing how much I have forgotten about Elvis and you sure bring it all back.


  3. Still in the wrapper!! Ty!! Love this post King Creole is my favorite of first four films, great acting, great story, and fantastic soundtrack!! Love the scene at the end when his face lights up as he sees his Dad walk in, like your Grandmother, I often think of my Father when I see this, always chokes me up! Thanks Ty…;) TCB


  4. Had every intention of re-watching ‘King Creole’ before commenting. Yet to do so, but the memories of that movie are brought back easily with your comments. Elvis is really stunning in his role in this movie. I can still see him, in one (lightening fast motion) gallently protect the lady, backing up, and grabbing and breaking a beer bottle….for a weapon! Brando or Dean could not have ever done it better! Elvis, just “Takin’ Care of Business’. Thanks for your thought provoking essay.


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