I’m going to start off by saying I am almost embarrassed to admit that as a huge fan of John Carpenter and Kurt Russell, that this is the first time I have seen their first pairing together on this classic TV bio-drama. Written by Anthony Lawrence and directed by John Carpenter, who was fresh off of Halloween, Elvis (Kurt Russell with songs sung by Ronnie McDowell) depicts the legendary performer’s life up to his comeback concert in Las Vegas in 1969. The film traces The King Of Rock And Roll’s life from his poor upbringings in Memphis to rebellious teen who dreams of being a singer. A recording he makes for his mother (Shelly Winters) gets played on the radio and a star is born. The film then follows Elvis’ rocket to stardom, his stint in the military where he meets Priscilla, (Season Hubley) the daughter of an officer, and his career after making more hits and a slew of movie musicals that he grew to detest. The film also covers well, the sadness in Elvis’s life that started with the death of his mother and continued as he become a prisoner of his own fame. Elvis laments he can’t just go out and see the world like a normal man as he is swamped where ever he goes. He also become paranoid about those around him including members of his personal entourage and bandmates. Despite his love for Priscilla, his life of seclusion and his career drives a wedge between them even with the birth of his daughter. The film climaxes with his return to concert performing and while it is a success, it is also the start of the decline of his personal life and health that would ultimately lead to his untimely death that, according to this film, he disturbingly predicted himself. Carpenter handles one of his only non-genre films very well. He gives some vibrant life to the younger days of the enthusiastic Elvis’ career when a teen with a passion for music becomes a star practically overnight. The first half of the film is fun to watch with the young Memphis native enjoying his new celebrity and being able to spend money on the family that never had any. Then as we start to get into the negative aspects of Elvis’ rise to superstardom such as his feelings of being trapped and his disillusionment over Colonel Parker’s (Pat Hingle) control over his career and life, Carpenter gives us just enough to make us understand Elvis’ unhappiness and how his love of performing keeps him from walking away from it and sadly makes things worse as he sacrifices his personal life and relationship with the woman he loves to be a star. The movie never sinks too deep in the melodrama or gets exploitative in depicting the downside of this legend’s story though we clearly get a picture of a simple country boy who became more then just a man when a simple man was all he wanted to be. The film ends at the point where Elvis was on the brink of becoming a bigger star then ever yet, would also signal the downfall of his personal life and health. We don’t see his weight gain, divorce, addiction to pills but, we are give the seeds of what is to come and Carpenter and company let history do the rest without taking us there to see what we already know. The film was made in 79 so, the details of Elvis’ final years were still fresh in the publics mind. The cast are all good with Russell giving a truly haunting performance as Elvis. Russell is Elvis for all intents and purposes, at least as far as what we knew of the man. From his youthful excitement to a brooding and unhappy man who has conversations with his long dead brother, Russell is borderline brilliant. Shelly Winters overacts a bit as his mother but, not enough to harm the film. Bing Russell, who is Kurt’s real dad, plays his father and does a good job as a simple man watching his son become a superstar. We sadly don’t get to see too much of him during the later troubling times but, when we do, his concern seems genuine. Season Hubley plays Priscilla and it is no surprise that she and Russell were briefly married after the film as there are legitimate sparks between the two when they are onscreen together and she plays a woman torn between her love for her man and her own unhappiness wonderfully. Pat Hingle is appropriately slimy as Colonel Parker and we see clearly a man who found gold and mined it for all it was worth, maybe at the cost of a life. And Carpenter regular Charles Cyphers plays Sam Phillips who gave Elvis his start and sadly let him go when he knew his stardom had outgrown his little company. One has to wonder if Elvis had stayed with Phillips, if his star would have shown less bright but, maybe Elvis would not have had such a tragic and unhappy end to his life. All in all, this is a very effective portrait of possibly the most famous performer of all time. It takes us into his triumphant rise and then gives us enough of a glimpse of the start of his fall but, without getting exploitative. It leaves enough of the gory details to our imagination so, the legacy of The King retains some of that legendary luster and, in my opinion, that was the right way to go with it. A very good movie about a music legend with an amazing Kurt Russell performance. Available from the awesome folks at Shout Factory on a beautifully remastered DVD.
3 and 1/2 guitars!