King Creole (1958)


(director: Michael Curtiz; screenwriter: from the novel “A Stone for Danny Fisher” by Harold Robbins/Herbert Baker/Michael V. Gazzo; cinematographer: Russell Harlan; editor: Warren Low; music: Walter Scharf; cast: Elvis Presley (Danny Fisher), Carolyn Jones (Ronnie), Walter Matthau (Maxie Fields), Dolores Hart (Nellie), Dean Jagger (Mr. Fisher), Liliane Montevecchi (Forty Nina), Vic Morrow (Shark), Paul Stewart (Charlie LeGrand), Jan Shepard (Mimi Fisher), Brian Hutton (Sal), Jack Grinnage (Dummy), Dick Winslow (Eddie Burton), Raymond Bailey (Mr. Evans, Principal), Gavin Gordon (Mr. Primont, Druggist), Helene Hatch (Mrs. Pearson, Teacher); Runtime: 116; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Hal B. Wallis; Paramount; 1958)

“It does demand to be taken seriously.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

One of the better Elvis pics (along with Jailhouse Rock and Viva Las Vegas), which is not saying much; but it does demand to be taken seriously as it’s mostly dramatic–a moody coming-of-age tale. It was Elvis’ fourth film (all box office hits) and comes just before he reports for Army duty. The seventysomething director Michael Curtiz (“Casablanca”/”Yankee Doodle Dandy”/”The Sea Hawk”) tries to give it a menacing noirish look, but it’s based on the trashy novel “A Stone for Danny Fisher” by Harold Robbins. That means it only works in part as noir, as you can only do so much with such trash. The locale was changed from Chicago to Bourbon Street in New Orleans, and Curtiz does a fine job keeping the Big Easy picturesque. The King sings 13 new songs, which gives the film its charge. The problem is that there’s too much story for such an inconsequential tale and it keeps going too long, which dampens some of the good things accomplished. Also the screenplay by Herbert Baker and Michael V. Gazzo is convoluted, as too much that happens is unconvincing. But, at least, Elvis puts down his guitar long enough to do some acting and is not that bad.

Danny Fisher (Elvis Presley) is a high school student living in the French Quarters of New Orleans with his inept and weak-willed bossy widowed dad (Dean Jagger), who has been out of work for the last three years as a pharmacist, and his nurturing 20-year-old sister Mimi (Jan Shepard). When the unbelievably dumb and uncaring teacher and principal at the high school stop his graduation because of a harmless schoolyard fight, Danny refuses to go to night school and the high school drop-out seeks to get a full-time job to support his dad. Danny was working after school in one of crime boss Maxie Fields’ (Walter Matthau) hotspot nightclubs as a bus boy, where he’s befriended by Maxie’s sullen kept gal, Ronnie (Carolyn Jones), a good girl who made some bad decisions and is now stuck in a bad spot. The courageous Danny saves her from thugs that Maxie sent her to entertain, who were slapping her around (one wonders, if she was Maxie’s broad why would the thugs not fear reprisals from the boss and not have to be taught a lesson by the bus boy).

Not listening to his dad’s lecture about the value of a diploma, Danny falls in with some nasty teen delinquent punks and for the first time becomes a thief. He helps robs a 5 and 10 cents store, with the gang led by the snotnosed wise guy Shark (Vic Morrow). The three gang members rob the store while Danny diverts everyone by singing in the store’s back. Danny has time during the robbery to meet nice girl store clerk Nellie (Dolores Hart) and begin a cautious romance.

The film’s highlight has Danny dared by Maxie to prove he’s a singer and in his bus boy’s uniform sings for a club audience ‘If you’re looking for trouble.’ Rival club owner, Charles LeGrand (Paul Stewart), hears him sing and the struggling club owner hires him on the spot for his King Creole nightclub down the block.

Things get heavy with a confused Danny trying to help dad get back on his feet after he gets a job with a bully pharmacist manager and at the same time he tries to be loyal to his honest boss Charles, but somehow finds himself in danger when mixed up again with the maniacally revengeful crime boss Maxie.

Elvis plays a flawed character, who treats the good girl like a tramp and the bad girl like a princess. He gives a smooth performance, playing his most complex character on film and his voice is in top form as he sings some of the best numbers in his films.

The songs include the title song, “Hard Headed Woman,” “Young Dreams,” “Turtles, Berries Gumbo,” “Crawfish” and “Trouble.”