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I Believe in Miracles (2015)
Endearing Documentary on a footballing 'Miracle'
'I BELIEVE IN MIRACLES' tells the remarkable story of Nottingham Forest FC and their catapulting into footballing folklore in the mid-late 1970's,thanks to arguably the most flamboyant,controversial yet charismatic and talented manager in English football history,the late Brian Clough,who took them to the height of success not just in England but Europe as well.
The movie starts when Clough's career was seemingly at the crossroads;after winning the English League Championship with Forest's East Midlands rivals Derby County in 1972,Clough departed along with his assistant Peter Taylor after a series of feuds with the club's directors,and after a brief and unsuccessful spell at Brighton and Hove Albion,rather surprisingly became manager at Leeds United,a club he had often fiercely criticised publicly,along with its manager Don Revie,who ironically hailed from the same industrial town as Clough himself,Middlesbrough.Equally unsurprisingly,Clough's tenure was short-lived in the light of such mutual hostility,and the fractious TV interview alongside Revie is perhaps an appropriate way for the film to begin,progressing from the ridiculous to the sublime.
By the beginning of 1975,Clough was appointed manager of Nottingham Forest,a club with past traditions in the FA Cup (having won the trophy twice),but not the sort you would expect to win League Championships,as indeed Derby were until they triumphed three years earlier;Derby themselves would go on to win the league at the end of that same season with a different manager (Dave Mackay),whereas Forest ended in mid- table mediocrity in the then second division and expected to remain so or even worse,Brian Clough or not.
However,the following two seasons saw a gradual improvement,to the extent that Forest won promotion to the first division,albeit narrowly in third place.Not much was expected of them in the new season,being made up of apparent footballing journeymen,cheap signings and unheralded also-rans,with such names as John McGovern,John Robertson,Martin O'Neill,Larry Lloyd,Kenny Burns and Tony Woodcock.Yet thanks to Clough's extraordinary skills of man-management and attractive football,he moulded them and others (most notably goalkeeper Peter Shilton) into a championship winning squad by the season's end,and even more astonishingly went on to win the European Cup two years in succession,acquiring the first million pound signing,Trevor Francis,along the way,who scored the winner in the 1979 final against Swedish club Malmo,in perhaps the least fashionable coda in the tournament's history.
The story seems woefully far-fetched to the uninitiated yet it did actually happen,and it is all likeably put together in a straightforward but efficient manner by director Jonny Owen,via pithy and amusing reminiscences by long retired players like Burns,Shilton,Lloyd and O'Neill interspersed with highlights of such heady days.The one who comes out of it best of all is Brian Clough himself,who could be both maddening and enchanting,belligerent yet charming,overtly confrontational but intensely articulate,and never remotely dull.
Inevitably,because director Owen keeps the story down to those remarkable years between 1977 and 1980,many aspects relating to this period and after are conveniently skipped over;the hooliganism that plagued English football at the time,his eventual acrimonious falling out with Taylor,his steady decline due to his alcohol problem and Forest's relegation in his final year in charge,plus allegations of financial misdeeds in his later years.But this was perhaps the right thing to do as the film intends to project a relentless feel-good factor,and it achieves it all very enjoyably with a warm glow by it's finish,helped on immeasurably by a Funk/Northern Soul soundtrack comprising of such tunes of the era which is very well judged and executed,adding to the purveying atmosphere of nostalgia.
In these days of billionaire benefactors and opulent signings of players from every corner of the globe,this is a timely reminder that the underdog can occasionally triumph against all the odds,thanks to team spirit,outstanding management and attractive football which is genuinely inspiring.And with the likes of an individual like Brian Clough no longer with us,it looked as though it would never happen again,yet barely six months after the film was released, Forest's East Midlands rivals Leicester City performed a footballing miracle of their own when they won the Premier League for the first time in their history with the affable,charming Italian Claudio Ranieri at the helm.But we can still celebrate and enjoy such victories in years past too with such a thoroughly endearing film as this.
Rating:8 out of 10.
The Battle of the Century (1927)
The screen's greatest pie fight in full
Having heard that the long lost second reel of 'The Battle of The Century' was to be screened with the present extant footage after the former's recent rediscovery,it was an opportunity as a devoted L & H buff I simply could not turn down.So I waited with baited breath for the screening at the Southbank Centre,London,on October 16th 2015.
Hosts the BFI rather cleverly prepared for this very special occasion in both Laurel and Hardy and film history by showing three L & H silents (You're Darn Tootin',Double Whoopee,Big Business) with excellent live piano and flute accompaniment while we waited for the eagerly anticipated coda.It wasn't quite a full house,but nearly,and the disappointment of the still missing sequence where Eugene Palette sells The Boys an insurance policy was soon tempered by it's segue into the second reel (indicated in such terms by a brief subtitle).How exciting it was for me to see the first 'new' footage of Laurel and Hardy since previously lost films like 'Duck Soup' and 'Why Girls Love Sailors' became available on the home video market around two decades ago.
The found footage begins with the well-documented scene where Ollie tries to cause Stan an accident by throwing banana skins on to the pavement,only for a cop to slip onto the ground,with Ollie blaming Stan and getting hit on the head with the cop's truncheon,developing a massive bump on the head.The famous pie fight that starts soon after is far more carefully constructed than the previous extant version which had been edited by Robert Youngson for his compilation film 'The Golden Age of Comedy',and is perhaps all the better for it.Previously,after Charlie Hall had slipped on another of Ollie's banana peels,he retaliated immediately with a pie in Ollie's face,but the full version sees some initial comic business beforehand.We see several more combatants involved around the pie wagon compared to the previous footage,most surprisingly of all Eugene Palette,who reappears and states in as many words: "...you can't throw pies without proper insurance....." before promptly getting pies in the face himself from all kinds of angles!
There is one more notable variation where the pies hit their target;added to subjects like a postman handing soggy letters from a mailbox,a man getting hit by pie while being served pies and a dental patient getting a mouthful of pie,is a homely middle-aged woman getting her rug splattered by a pie while dusting it outdoors.The previous extant footage ended famously with Anita Garvin falling bottom first onto a pie thrown to the pavement by Stan,but the much vaunted final gag where a cop gets a pie in the face after asking The Boys who started the pie fight ("What pie fight?",replies Ollie) and chases them down the street is fully intact.
The whole programme was heartily appreciated by the audience,though perhaps the importance of the rediscovered footage of 'Battle' was not quite fully realised with the exception of myself and other fellow Sons of The Desert (the official Laurel and Hardy appreciation society) present in the large numbers there.When that second reel did start it was just total tunnel vision from my point of view,wide-eyed in virtual amazement like a small child but having to just concentrate on footage that has not been seen in this form for nearly 90 years.It was mightily hard to avoid being too awestruck,but after the most extraordinary evening regarding Laurel and Hardy for decades,my main wish later after discussions with equally astonished friends and colleagues is that this nearly complete version of 'Battle' deserves to be shown to more Sons,the public and indeed the World as Laurel and Hardy belong to us all.And the sooner the better.
Rating:7 and a half out of 10.
Moving but Harrowing Documentary on a gifted but fragile talent
'Amy', a documentary on the late British jazz/soul singer Amy Winehouse,is totally compelling and absorbing from first to last shot,though anyone with a human heart beating as I try would acknowledge it is very difficult and harrowing to watch.
Around a decade ago,I worked as a mobile DJ for three years,and in the midst of having to play prosaic,corporate and assembly-line produced music,Amy Winehouse was the one artist I had time for;her compositions and lyrics had a quirky,original style about them helped along by her husky,soulful voice.I don't think that 'Amy' is exploitative at all;it is actually very respectful if not reverent of her considerable talent,rare then and now in an era when individuals with the slightest smidgen of talent compared to her are absurdly hyped by PR agencies,trashy celeb mags and tabloids beyond their real worth.It would have been disingenuous if it had not looked into the full story of her deep problems with depression,bulimia and substance abuse.The break-up of her parents' marriage and their faults in nurturing had an undoubted effect;to be put on anti-depressants as she was in mid-adolescence was the first of many misguided decisions taken by those surrounding her or by the singer herself.
She wasn't interested in being famous as she thought she would not be able to handle such attention;singing jazz standards in small clubs would have been the ideal living for her.keeping a low profile from the limelight,but such was her talent that various managers,record execs and promoters promised her wealth and greater opportunities which she succumbed to.It was made obvious in the film that all those closest to her (with a few honourable exceptions) either didn't realise or care that Amy was a very vulnerable,troubled young woman,frail emotionally and physically,and by the time the damage had been done it was too late to save her.
Her father comes across as more misguided and foolish than nasty;her husband and various other seedy hangers-on like managers,promoters,paparazzi and the like are genuine villains however,using her status,talent and wealth for their own ruthless self-interest,indifferent to the negative effect it was having on Amy,who was too incredulous and naive to perceive how she was being exploited.The saddest scene of all was towards the end at a concert in Belgrade;clearly in no fit state to perform,all she could do was either put her arms round various colleagues and associates on stage or alternatively sit down and do nothing;with her being subject to boos and catcalls while at the eye of the storm was heartbreaking to watch,as indeed most of the film was;the brief moments of glory were saved at award ceremonies and while she performed her best known works in the recording studio,notably with her idol Tony Bennett,a genial,affable presence who in the end seemed to be more in awe of her than vice versa.
Perhaps it was unwise to show pictures of her in the worst stages of her drink and drug abuse;make-up horribly splattered across her face,later looking a skeletal,haunted wraith which were profoundly shocking.All in all,the film does not moralise or judge but leaves the viewer to make up their own conclusion;my own is that Amy would have been happy earning a modest living as a jazz/soul singer in equally modest clubs or venues,and that her considerable emotional problems from her teenage years were either ignored or disregarded by too many people around her,which in the end proved too much with her ravaged,frail body unable to cope.The story is nothing short of tragic,and Asif Kapadia has crafted a shattering but deeply moving documentary that dramatises the deep despair but also celebrates the talent of Amy Winehouse as fully and sincerely as possible.
RATING:8 out of 10.
It Was Alright in the 70s (2014)
More unnecessary attacks against the 70's
'It Was Alright in the 70's' was another smug,sneering look at a controversial decade with conveniently picked clips and partial commentators trying to tell us how more enlightened we all are now.
For every bit of dated sexism,racism and homophobia you would still get far more moments of classic drama,entertainment,documentary and comedy,predictably glossed over as good dramas,intelligent documentaries and outstanding comedy is very difficult to pick out from hundreds of channels in this day and age as we are saturated with wall-to-wall reality TV,incredulous celebrities,hackneyed dramas and soaps,sensationalist documentaries and mean-spirited,foul-mouthed comedians.
We should have had a programme on such modern cultural and TV retrograde steps accompanied by sneering critics as that would've been justified,and Dapper Laughs is a whole lot more sexist and offensive than Benny Hill was,plus he didn't imply jokes about rape,he 100% included it in one of his 'jokes' recently.Now that was a lot worse than what happened in the 70's,plus Big Brother,I'm a Celeb and TOWIE too.
All in all,a huge disappointment,save the archive clips from the period,one or two of which had not been broadcast before,even in the overtly non-PC 70's when the material was too strong even then (from the forgotten sitcom,'THE WACKERS' that is,featuring a young Alison Steadman and crumple-faced Joe Gladwin),and the performers of today that made such critical comments from shows and attitudes of the past should look at themselves once in a while to see if they are any superior (which in most cases,they certainly ain't).
RATING:3 and a half out of 10.
Insomnia Is Good for You (1957)
A long-lost rarity,but now thankfully available
"INSOMNIA IS GOOD FOR YOU" was one of a number of short comedies Peter Sellers made in the 1950's before he became a major leading comic star first in the UK,then the US.Along with "DEARTH OF A SALESMAN",they apparently played as supports to main features for a brief time before vanishing without a trace.It wasn't until the mid-90's that the original prints were found,apparently in the office once occupied by the film company that produced them (Park Lane Films), firstly in a cupboard, then thrown later into a skip.Robert Farrow, who was working there at the time, took them home with him as his father was a home movie enthusiast, and he thought the film cans would be of use as storing the cine films he had. As time went on, it was obvious how important these finds were,yet many reputable media organisations showed no interest until 2013, when the Southend Film Festival, based in the town of Southend, Essex, England (where Robert resides), fully realised their importance to British if not World film history. The films were digitally restored and shown for the first time publicly in nearly 60 years at the main cinema in Southend on 1st May 2014 with some well known UK celebrities and members of Sellers' family also in attendance.
So,what of the films themselves? "COLD COMFORT" (which did exist but again had not been seen publicly for decades, also shown at the above event) and "DEARTH OF A SALESMAN" were mildly funny but watchable comedies in which the material was stretched a trifle thinly, but "INSOMNIA IS GOOD FOR YOU" was a minor gem, again perhaps slightly over-stretched, but with enough amusing incident to make you forget such minor deficiencies. All the films mentioned are basically just showcases for Sellers' immense comic talents, and "INSOMNIA" shows them off to their best with his remarkable ability at impersonation,voice and comedic characterisation, and verbal and visual humour. The story if it matters is about office worker Hector Dimwiddle (Sellers) finding difficulty sleeping and relaxing at home and in his spare time, which begins to affect his working week, accompanied by an amusing voice-over commentary. And that's about it, quite flimsy even for a half hour short film, but this is just about Sellers, basically being a series of comic sketches with a linking theme and no narrative, with the mostly colourless and unknown supporting cast (with the exception of the Viennese actor Eric Pohlmann, who appeared in many UK films from the 50's until the 70's) taking second place to Sellers' comic vignettes, some of which don't quite come off but many that do, sometimes hilariously with odd scattered moments of Goon-style surrealism.
The talent behind the camera showed that care and attention was being lavished despite the inevitably parsimonious budget;Leslie Arliss was a fairly prestigious British film writer/director at the time, having directed "THE WICKED LADY" and "THE MAN IN GREY" and worked more prolifically as a writer, including several comedy scripts co-written for Will Hay and George Formby, the latter experience probably standing him in good stead working here with Sellers, and writers Lewis Griefer (better known for his TV writing) and the distinguished Canadian-Jewish writer,author and essayist Mordecai Richler, best known for "THE APPRENTICESHIP OF DUDDY KRAVITZ", here in the early stages of his career as apparently this was his first screenplay.
"INSOMNIA IS GOOD FOR YOU" thankfully does not induce somnambulism as it's title would suggest, but plenty of laughs and is just a excuse to see Peter Sellers do his thing, undiluted and unencumbered by any distractions of plot and padding, which is more than worth the price of admission, and it is a special joy to see these long forgotten routines of nearly six decades back here and the other films mentioned, but "INSOMNIA IS GOOD FOR YOU" shows his comic genius to best advantage, which will hopefully be seen around the World in the near future.
RATING:7 and a half out of 10.
Tomorrow at Ten (1963)
Gripping,Well-Detailed British 'B' Movie Thriller
In the glorious days of the 'support' features that accompanied the main film at the local cinema,a minor gem would occasionally appear throughout the morass of routine,mediocre dramas and thrillers.
"Tomorrow at Ten" is one of those diamonds that came out of the rough, overcoming it's low budget and modest production values with taut direction by Lance Comfort,a decent script,an interesting,well detailed plot and a fine cast.
The cool and ruthless Marlow (Robert Shaw) kidnaps the young son of a well to do widower (Alec Clunes) and leaves the boy at an isolated house with a golliwog that happens to have a time bomb inserted,and is programmed to blow up at 10am the following morning.It is left to a Police Detective (John Gregson) to see if he can break Marlow and find the boy in time.
The budget and production values are inevitably modest, and the addition of a golliwog into the storyline is decidedly non-PC in this day and age,but this is easily overcome by stylish handling and plotting,with a script that quite successfully reaches unexpected depths of exposition and character,with clashes between those coppers on the ground like Gregson and those like Alan Wheatley who are seemingly more interested in social climbing.Gregson's overall performance as the by-the-book Detective is actually quite muted,and the best performance comes from Robert Shaw as the villainous kidnapper Marlowe.The film was originally made in 1962,just a year before Shaw's star making turn as Donald 'Red' Grant in the James Bond film "From Russia With Love",where he played an even more ruthless villain.Shaw was never a conventional actor,whether playing the support or lead,and he manages to add shadings and nuances to a highly disreputable character here,even making him pitiable.There's solid support from such reliable actors as Wheatley,Clunes,Kenneth Cope and Ernest Clark,with decent cameos from William Hartnell and Renee Houston as Shaw's parents,set in a gloriously seedy and anachronistic nightclub,exactly the sort you would expect to see in British second features from this era.
"Tomorrow at Ten" now has something of a cultish reputation thanks to it's quirky,inventive style and a story that grips to the very end;such staples of the local cinema programme have sadly long since gone, but as this film proves,every now and then,they could provide as much if not more entertainment than the main feature.
The Spirit of '45 (2013)
A Shameless Polemic,but a good one
Ken Loach's THE SPIRIT OF '45 is one of his occasional forays into documentary,and a timely and prescient one,recalling the immediate period just after World War II had ended,with Britain for the very first time electing a majority government for the Labour Party,led by Clement Attlee,on a genuinely radical,socialist agenda,embracing nationalisation of most heavy industry,a welfare state,Keynesian economics,widespread council house building and perhaps most notably,the founding of the NHS.The British people appreciated Winston Churchill's efforts at leading the nation and defeating the Nazis during the war,but felt Attlee was the man to lead them during the early years of peace afterwards.
Loach has never been afraid to acknowledge his socialist leanings in public and on film,and this is a predictably affectionate,sometime sentimental tribute to the system he holds most dear,with interviews with various people from the era,housewives,miners,steelworkers,nurses among them and their experiences of pre-war poverty (some of them very moving),with more up to date opinions from dockers,academics and politicians.It is all relentlessly subjective,with no critical voices from other viewpoints in sight,and there are parts of the film which would've been helped by a more balanced outlook (it fails to acknowledge that the Conservatives broadly accepted these changes when they were in government in the next three decades),as Loach plunges the film into near,but not quite,hysterical tub-thumping,with any other political,social and economic opinions ignored or regarded as virtual evil.
This is more than evident in the latter stages of the film;Loach shoots forward in time three full decades to when Margaret Thatcher became Conservative PM in 1979,as important an election as that of 1945.After the various crises of the 70's,such as the oil shock,stagflation and industrial unrest,her dismantling of the post-war consensus,returning to pre-war free market economics,accepted by the Labour Party when they got into power,is predictably savaged,referring to the mid-80's miner's strike,deregulated banks and markets,sale of council houses and industries and utilities privatised across the board.
But now with the UK and much of the developed world in the worst recession since the war,mostly caused by the emphasis on free market economics and deregulated banks,perhaps a politically angry film like this should be seen,even if you don't necessarily agree with Loach's politics.Whatever you think of him,for or against,Loach is still a great filmmaker,and though some of the partisan views on show do sometimes become too excessive,it's good to see working class people,old,middle- aged and young,treated with more respect,dignity and compassion than has been the norm for around a decade or so on British film,TV and media in general,when crude if not offensive stereotyping and caricatures have mostly been the order of the day.
THE SPIRIT OF '45 is the kind of film that will take no prisoners,and if you are the total opposite in politics to Ken Loach,fire will be spat at the screen.But there is never a dull moment,and Loach's appeal for a more inclusive,equal and less divisive society,all but evident here,may be increasingly prescient in the midst of grim,interminable austerity,as was suffered in the 30's Depression after the credit-leaden excesses of the Roaring 20's.There maybe another change in economic outlook soon in modern times,as there was with THE SPIRIT OF '45,which Loach quite obviously would like to revive again.
RATING:7 out of 10.
Stagey,unsatisfying adaptation of an award-winning Play
A big screen version of a Pulitzer Prize winning stage play,PROOF eventually all too obviously falls victim to it's theatrical origins and ends up as flat and unexceptional with little cinematic qualities.
A brilliant but ageing mathematician Robert (Anthony Hopkins), is looked after by his young daughter Catherine (Gwyneth Paltrow) through serious mental health problems until his death.Catherine has followed in her father's mathematical footsteps,and a former student of her father's,Hal (Jake Gyllenhaal) thinks he may have found evidence of products of her father's work in various notebooks.Catherine's sister Claire (Hope Davis) arrives for the funeral,and begins to think her sister is showing signs of mental illness like their father,but it soon emerges that it may be Catherine and not Robert who is responsible for this academic breakthrough, according to further research by Hal in the various notebooks.But it may not be an easy task for her to persuade the University where her father taught and she sporadically attends,about such proof.
The operations of maths and mathematicians has not proved to be a particularly exciting subject in cinema, and PROOF is no exception to that rule.Like other titles such as GOOD WILL HUNTING,PI and A BEAUTIFUL MIND,there is a tendency to treat such characters as socially awkward,eccentric and mentally ill to beef up interest in the subject matter,though this veers into caricature and stereotyping.Director John Madden attempts to open up the stage original by way of actual Chicago locations,the addition of superfluous minor characters and some interesting camera movement,but the only really clever moments occur at the very beginning,with a semi-surrealist conversation between Hopkins and Paltrow which climaxes in a darkly amusing and adroit fashion,but there on in is afflicted by slabs of typically pretentious theatrical dialogue,unsympathetic characters and ill-cast actors.
The acting on show eventually becomes too strident and over-emphatic at the cost of naturalness;La Paltrow goes through all kinds of emotions like fear,hate,love,sadness,desire,aggression,spite and petulance,without making her mentally fragile character likable or endearing,sometimes dissolving into theatrical histrionics which do not expose themselves well on the big screen.She clearly seems to be trying for another Oscar here as she won several years previously with Madden in Shakespeare IN LOVE,but in the event only received a Golden Globe nomination (which she lost to Felicity Huffman), and tries rather too hard and not too subtly in doing so.Hopkins does not appear that much but performs in his familiar post-Hannibal mode of speaking quietly one moment then bellowing out explosively the next, while Gyllenhall is ineffectual and whiny as Gwynnie's would-be suitor and fellow maths geek.The three principals don't really convince as maths devotees,and there is very little detail of the equations involved,which makes such emoting even less believable.The less academically-inclined main character, played by Davis, actually comes across as the most personable despite some brusque,neurotic,avaricious aspects,and wants to genuinely help her troubled sister.
But PROOF's main problem is that the story is not particularly interesting or edifying,a bit like mathematics itself as most of the really important discoveries and revelations on the subject were made thousands of years ago (mainly in Ancient Greece), and any that are made in the modern era come across as slight amendments that cause barely a flicker of interest in the media or the general public.Gwyneth Paltrow has also appeared in the stage version,and that's where it basically belongs,as PROOF is essentially a theatrical and not cinematic experience.
RATING:5 and a half out of 10.
Rather Gloomy but Watchable multi-story Drama
EDGE was made before Carol Morley's critically lauded drama-documentary DREAMS OF A LIFE and released several months afterwards,and although it's not as good,it's still a amiable minor drama,though more notable for it's convincingly created mood of isolation and misery than it's over familiar plot and situations.
A number of individuals (Maxine Peake,Majorie Yates,Nichola Burley,Joe Dempsie) converge on an isolated and somewhat dilapidated hotel on England's South Coast in midwinter,which sums up their own relative moods of despair,loneliness and misery.A musician who hangs around the hotel (Paul Hilton),strikes up a relationship with a reluctant Elly (Peake),and we gradually find out the reasons why all the characters involved have decided to reside at such a downbeat hovel.
The stories themselves are not especially interesting,as the characters themselves either,but is salvaged by decent performances by Hilton,Ms Peake,Ms Yates and others,generally as understated as the stories and revelations that take place in a portmanteau style,which do not create excitement or anything particularly startling,with a rather obviously contrived tying up of loose ends at the film's climax.
EDGE's best element is it's mood and atmosphere,deliberately glum and downcast,well handled by director Morley with some welcome moments of wry,black humour.The co-ordinations of the dismal hotel rooms,lobby and restaurant contrast effectively with the bleak beauty of the snow-leaden outdoors and cliff side location,containing some striking,near dreamlike imagery.If only the script and plot had showed a little more inventiveness and variation,this could have shown the same resonance and emotion as the superior DREAMS OF A LIFE gave us on a similar theme;unfortunately in EDGE's case,it often leads to lethargy,aridness and dullness with little being said or done and Pinterish pauses that signify little.And the limitations of the low budget show,the feeling of claustrophobia and it's blank location becoming wearing and often repetitive.
However,EDGE is a reasonably edifying drama,held together by it's cast,well controlled mood and occasionally striking imagery.Carol Morley is a talented director,making EDGE better than it seems despite it's undernourished and sometimes pedestrian plot and script,a talent that came to greater reward in her following effort,the outstanding DREAMS OF A LIFE.
RATING:6 and a half out of 10.
King Creole (1958)
Probably The King's Best
That Elvis Presley's film career gradually petered out after years of making trivial,hackneyed,fluffy and empty-headed movies is to be regretted,yet in several early films (JAILHOUSE ROCK,FLAMING STAR),he showed he could give a perfectly decent acting performance alongside good scripts,directors and actors.It is arguable that KING CREOLE was his best overall film,and perhaps his most effective big screen performance.
Disillusioned youth Danny Fisher (Presley) lives in New Orleans' French Quarter with his recently widowed father (Dean Jagger) and sister (Jan Shepard).His pharmacist father is finding it tough to cope without his wife and cannot find regular work,while Danny flunks his college studies to work in a nightclub owned by sleazy crook Maxie Fields (Walter Matthau), and begins to take romantic interest in a boozy if pitiable tramp,Ronnie,used by Fields as a mistress (Carolyn Jones).He toys with joining a gang of hoodlums led by Shark (Vic Morrow),and attracts the attentions of a sweet-natured shopgirl,Nellie (Dolores Hart).With his talent for singing,Danny decides not to work in Fields' venues,but of his rival Charlie LeGrand instead,the King Creole,where he is a great success.Fields resents Danny's behaviour and is determined fair ways or foul to force Danny to work for him,but Danny will make his own decisions who he works and falls in love with.
Elvis Presley had some good scripts offered in his earlier film career like the above fore-mentioned,and KING CREOLE was possibly the best of them.He not only had a good script and story but a top-class producer (Hal B.Wallis),legendary director (Michael Curtiz),fine actors (Matthau,Jones,Jagger,Morrow,Paul Stewart),accomplished cameraman (Russell Harlan),good production and musical numbers too.Presley is very good as the mean,moody but sympathetic youth veering from delinquency to hard work,recalling the ambiance of a younger Marlon Brando or James Dean.He is well supported by Ms Jones,making her somewhat trashy character into a three-dimensional,tragic near-heroine,Matthau as the crooked nightclub operator,Jagger as his vulnerable father,Morrow as a streetwise thug,and Hart,Shepard and Stewart doing efficiently in minor but interesting roles.Wallis and Curtiz of course worked together on one the all-time greats CASABLANCA (1942),and although KING CREOLE is nowhere in that class,a certain moody,smoky atmosphere like the Bogart/Bergman classic is successfully evoked by Harlan's shadowy,noir-like lighting and angles in scenes set in the French Quarter and clubs,and is immeasurably helped by some high quality songs such as the haunting opener 'Crawfish' (where Elvis sings in a duet),'Trouble','Dixieland Rock','Hard Headed Woman' and of course the peerless title track.Occasionally,there are one or two uncomfortable dramatic moments that Presley struggles with,and the film is somewhat overlong,but KING CREOLE is generally a fine crime drama with musical and noirish elements well handled by the master of versatility Curtiz.
Pre-1961,The King made a number of fine films like this,but under the influence of Colonel Tom Parker,he was forced into garishly coloured and obviously contrived entertainments which utilised the same banal plots,dull and repetitive scripts,uninspiring actors and ageing or mediocre directors which caused Presley to call a halt on his film career by the end of the 60's.Had he managed to work with the kind of script,story and crew he collaborated with on KING CREOLE,who knows how better his tarnished reputation on movies would've been;as it is,we can be grateful that KING CREOLE shows us how good Elvis was with such top technical and artistic backing,and how better he may have become as a screen actor.