Elvis is the King of the Movie
In the space of 13 years Elvis Presley starred in an impressive 31 movies, unfortunately whilst the number is impressive many were not. It would be fair to say that a lot of Elvis's movies worked to a formula which relied on him singing several songs, looking good and very little else. But then there are the exceptions to the rule and "King Creole" is one of those exceptions as whilst you still get Elvis singing and looking good he also gets to show that he can act. The reason being is that "King Creole" has a point; it has a proper storyline which is solid and is more than just a vehicle to highlight the talents and looks of Elvis.
Having failed to graduate for the second year in a row, Danny Fisher (Elvis Presley - Jailhouse Rock) doesn't want to go back to school again despite the protests of his unemployed father. Determined to do it his way, Danny is offered a job by Charlie LeGrand (Paul Stewart - The Bad and the Beautiful) singing at his club which riles rival club owner and local crook Maxie Fields (Walter Matthau - Bigger Than Life). Determined to get Danny singing at his club Maxie uses whatever he can from his floozy Ronnie (Carolyn Jones - The Man Who Knew Too Much) through to the small time crooks which Danny once worked with. Just as things finally seem to be going well for Danny his past comes back to haunt him as it not only threatens to ruin his life but that of his family as well.
One of the big reasons why "King Creole" is one of Elvis's best movies actually has little to do with what he brings to the movie, although he is on good form, but because it has a storyline which isn't just about Elvis. It is a story of a young man who not so much rebels against his father but loses respect for him because he appears to be such a pushover. This lack of respect along with a volatile side sees this young man fall in with the wrong crowd and just when everything seems to be working out for the better the past, his time with these thugs causes issues. It's not the most original of storylines; aspects of it can be found in various other movies but just by having a storyline which is more than just a vehicle for highlighting Elvis's looks and his voice makes it more interesting.
Although not completely original there are some surprises in the story, things that you don't expect and it certainly helps to make "King Creole" a more dramatic movie. It also features some interesting dynamics most notably the interactions between Danny and his father as all he sees is a father who has lost his fighting spirit. The rows which form from this and the fact that Mr. Fisher isn't keen on Danny pursuing a singing career makes for some powerful scenes, ones which grasp you because they are both well written and performed.
And talking of performances it has to be said that if Elvis had been given more movies like "King Creole" he could have become a major movie star. Yes there is the formula aspect to his performance with him being called upon to sing several songs and look hunky but there are moments of classy acting. Many of those good scenes rely on Elvis delivering an angry performance, finding a kind of rebellious rage but it works and it makes Elvis captivating because of the intensity which he finds. In fact watching Elvis show what he was capable of as an actor is actually more captivating than many of the musical scenes.
What helps is that whilst Elvis is the star of "King Creole" he has strong actors around him. Walther Matthau delivers an interesting performance as the crooked Maxie Fields who basically controls the neighbourhood and Paul Stewart is both solid and likeable as Charlie LeGrand. Plus there are the obligatory beautiful women and Carolyn Jones, Dolores Hart and Jan Shepard all act a touch of beauty to the movie but at the same time creating interesting characters as does Vic Morrow as hoodlum Shark. But it is Dean Jagger who stands out because it is the volatile scenes he shares with Elvis as father and son which are so captivating and you can feel the emotion of a parent who is struggling to control a rebellious son.
What this all boils down to is that "King Creole" is one of the best Elvis movies if not the best. It still has that formula to it as Elvis acts hunky, looks good and sings various songs but unlike many of his other movies it has a storyline which is more than just a vehicle for his talents. It is an interesting drama full of good performances from the likes of Vic Morrow, Dean Jagger and Walther Matthau but also Elvis who shows how good an actor he was when given decent material to work with.