FLAMING STAR(director: Don Siegel; screenwriter: Nunnally Johnson/Clair Huffaker/from the book by Clair Huffaker; cinematographer: Charles G. Clarke; editor: Hugh S. Fowler; music: Cyril Mockridge; cast: Elvis Presley (Pacer Burton), Steve Forrest (Clint Burton), Barbara Eden (Roslyn Pierce), Dolores Del Rio (Neddy Burton), John McIntire (Sam ‘Pa’ Burton), Rudolph Acosta (Buffalo Horn), Karl Swenson (Dred Pierce), Ford Rainey (Doc Phillips), L.Q. Jones (Tom Howard), Douglas Dick (Will Howard), Monte Burkhart (Ben Ford), Perry Lopez (Two Moons); Runtime: 101; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: David Weisbart; 20th Century Fox; 1960)
“An emotionally charged liberal themed Western that keeps things rocking.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
This is the best film Elvis Presley was ever in (the nearest to it in quality is Jailhouse Rock). The Elvis Presley role was originally written for Marlon Brando by Nunnally Johnson and rewritten for Presley by Clair Huffaker. Elvis is only called upon to sing two songs–the theme song entitled “Flaming Star,” which is a sign that death has arrived, and a number called “A Cane and a High-Starched Collar” that is done in an early scene. The ‘Man with the Blue Suede Shoes’ is required to act and that he does surprisingly well, giving a first-class moving performance as someone torn asunder by his mixed heritage. It’s an emotionally charged liberal themed Western that keeps things rocking as it exposes through an interracial family the frontier racism that prevailed between Indians and whites. Don Siegel (“Dirty Harry”/”Invasion of the Body Snatchers”/”Riot in Cell Block 11”) doesn’t soften the punches as he directs by never losing sight that the volatile racist situation brings about the inevitable violence.
The film is set in rural Texas in 1873. White settler Sam Burton (John McIntire) took some twenty years ago a full-blooded Kiowa woman named Neddy (Dolores Del Rio) as his wife and had a half-breed son with her named Pacer (Elvis Presley). By his first marriage, he had a white son named Clint (Steve Forrest). The brothers get along very well. Things get ugly with the new chief of the Kiowas, Buffalo Horn (Rudolph Acosta), who goes into a snit that the white settlers took his land and is starting anew an Indian-white war. When the Kiowas raid the Howard home and kill off the entire family, the whites at the Crossing are angry with the mixed-race Burton family who seem to be protected by the Kiowas. Dred Pierce (Karl Swenson) is so upset, that he orders his daughter Roz (Barbara Eden) to no longer see her sweetheart Clint.
In retaliation for their friendship with the Kiowa, the whites steal some of the Burton’s cattle and leave it slaughtered. Meanwhile Buffalo Horn tries to convince Pacer to turn his back on the racist whites and rejoin his people to fight the whites. Neddy goes to the Kiowa campsite to pow-wow with her tribesmen and tell them she wants peace but is killed by Will Howard, who evidently survived the massacre and had enough strength before succumbing to critically wound the innocent Neddy. When Clint and Pacer go to the Crossing to get Dr. Phillips to try and save their mother’s life, they are rebuffed from taking the Doc to her by the racist whites but take him any way by force. But they arrive too late, as Neddy saw the “flaming star” of death. Pacer is so upset with the racist whites, that he flees to the Kiowas and turns his back on his white family.
Warning: spoiler in the next paragraph.
Elvis is setup as an emblematic figure, torn between two loyalties, who gets so twisted by the turn of events that he’s forced to choose sides in this gripping but bleak melodrama. It ends with only a glimmer of hope that mankind can learn to look past its hatreds and live in peace with each other, as the brother’s folks give them both valuable moral lessons, understanding, support and love to cope with the hostile world. The burden of passing on the lesson of tolerance is passed onto Clint, whom the dying Pacer tells in his last breaths “You live for me, maybe they’ll understand some day.”
REVIEWED ON 7/24/2005 GRADE: B+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
© ALL RIGHTS RESERVED DENNIS SCHWARTZ