king-creole

Until last week, I never knew Elvis did a noir picture. Haven’t found it discussed in the history and criticism I’ve been reading, and I confess fully that I’m no Elvis fan. I share Public Enemy’s critique and before King Creole, I’d never made it through a complete Elvis film because they were SO BAD. But then, I’d only watched the Technicolor musical monstrosities that brought on Vegas-flavor Elvis. Black-and-white Elvis films are another matter, I’m learning. And 1958’s King Creole is a rockin’-good noir.

If you’re as hesitant as I was, I can promise you shadowy noir cinematography within a dark, dirty New Orleans setting and effective direction by Michael Curtiz (Casablanca, Mildred Pierce). I can also assure you of a neat little noir plot, wherein angsty high school dropout Danny Fisher navigates a tricky path toward a viable future. He’s torn between a desire to support his family (stay-home sister and oft-fired father) and the need to be someone. Will he join the young gang of hoodlums headed by Shark (Vic Morrow)? Will he fall prey to working for cut-throat gangster Maxie Fields (Walter Matthau)?  Or will he find another path?

Big-time gangster Maxie Fields (Walter Matthau) and also-ran Charlie LeGrand (Paul Stewart) compete over booking Danny (Elvis Presley) for their clubs.

As for the cast, in addition to the familiar names above, if you like noir you’ll likely also recognize character actor Paul Stewart (Citizen Kane, Kiss Me Deadly) as club owner Charlie LeGrand, Dean Jagger (Pursued, Forty Guns) as Danny’s father, and Carolyn Jones (The Big Heat, The Addams Family) as weary, hard-drinking moll Ronnie. Plus there’s Dolores Hart as Nellie, a pony-tailed cutie who just can’t resist Danny’s James Dean-style broodiness.

Ronnie (Carolyn Jones) and Danny (Elvis Presley) scheme to resist the lethal intentions of Maxie.
Sexy bad boys never smile, Elvis learned from James Dean. Nellie (Dolores Hart) can’t get enough.

Now, if you hate musical numbers in your noir, all this wind-up may not be enough to make you tune in and turn on. There are in fact MANY songs in the film. But they’re all short and, at least for me, surprisingly enjoyable. Elvis has control over his performance throughout the film, and his delivery is full of energy and oomph. I was frankly impressed by his acting even more than his singing and swinging.

But wait! If you fear you just can’t handle a musical and opt out now, you’ll miss the must-see censored striptease number “Banana,” performed by the lovely Liliane Montevecchi, which was restored to King Creole in 2009.
Dig that banana costume! (And don’t worry, Elvis isn’t in the striptease.)

So, all you cats and chicks, take a chance and join #BNoirDetour for a rock-and-roll noir experience you won’t regret. The live tweet is Sunday 4/10 at 9pm ET.

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