Elvis Presley’s Best Dramatic Work

Before entering the military in 1958, Elvis Presley was allowed to film King Creole at the height of his music career. Produced by Hal Willis and directed by veteran industry hand Michael Curtiz (Casablanca and White Christmas), King Creole features one of Elvis Presley’s best dramatic performances. Shot on location in New Orleans, the musical drama buzzes with intensity under the experienced director and its deep cast. More an entertainer by trade than pure actor, the young King of rock n’ roll lights up the screen as a troubled youth and singer on Bourbon Street as his character struggles to overcome the machinations of a seedy nightclub owner played by Walter Matthau.

Danny (Elvis Presley) has flunked high school once again, preventing his graduation and disappointing his father (Dean Jagger). Supporting his impoverished family with work in the French Quarter, Danny is a young hustler with an untapped singing ability. The naive kid gets more than he bargained for dealing with local mobster Maxie (Walter Matthau), a heavy that controls most of the night clubs on Bourbon Street.

After a brief brush with crime, Danny decides singing is a safer career path. Danny’s talent and charisma attracts two very different women. Nellie (Dolores Hart) is a sweet girl Danny meets who falls head over heels in love with him. Ronnie (Carolyn Jones) is an older seductress, one of Maxie’s “girls” used by the mobster for nefarious purposes. When Danny becomes a breakout star at a rival nightclub, Maxie starts plotting to force Danny under his thumb.

King Creole met with critical acclaim upon release in 1958 and time has done nothing to diminish its value

The role isn’t a stretch for Elvis and taps his innate talent as a dynamic performer. The show-stopping musical numbers are a real highlight of his movie career, capturing the King in his youthful prime. Staged with Hollywood flair, King Creole’s nearly two hour run is filled with several thrilling musical performances.

What separates King Creole apart from Presley’s other films, most decidedly more lightweight in tone, is darker plotting and interesting character nuances. The tight storytelling features dangerous crooks and women of questionable morals, a compelling premise that works regardless of the musical component. Family problems are smartly weaved into Danny’s issues without descending into half-baked melodrama.

King Creole met with critical and popular acclaim upon release in 1958 and time has done nothing to diminish its value as well-made entertainment. Elvis remains a music icon and King Creole reminds us he was a capable dramatic actor when necessary.

Video

Last remastered in 2000 for DVD, King Creole’s new 4K film transfer on Blu-ray represents a substantive upgrade in picture quality. Crisply restored with abundant new detail from quality elements, King Creole looks ready for UHD. It’s a shame that Paramount likely won’t reissue the 1958 film on UHD. Videophiles will have to satisfy themselves with the BD.

It is known the original camera negative no longer exists. That hardly impacts the results. This is an unqualified success in terms of restoration, bringing out the celluloid’s native definition.

The 4K scan has been struck from a 35mm composite fine-grain positive in superb condition. The striking black-and-white cinematography looks great in 1080P video with deep, inky black levels and highly-refined shadow delineation. An even contrast and film-like consistency produce pleasing definition and superior detail. Some minor grain management tools have likely been used, though it doesn’t impact the overall grain structure or video quality. There are no unsightly remnants left over from the judicious processing.

Presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, the 115-minute main feature is encoded in nigh perfect AVC on a BD-50. Averaging 32 Mbps with few dips, the AVC faithfully reproduces the dark and moody grain structure. Far moodier than most of the King’s other films, King Creole’s noir-like atmosphere comparatively offers darker weight and density.

Audio

A modern surround remix for the film is available in 5.1 Dolby TrueHD. The restored monaural audio is presented in 2.0 Dolby Digital. Featuring all-new songs written and recorded expressly for King Creole, the many musical numbers by Elvis are heard in resounding clarity. “Hard Headed Woman” hit number one on the Billboard singles chart in 1958, while the album overall peaked at number two. Recorded by the biggest seller in popular music at the time, great care was taken making King Creole’s diverse array of pop songs.

The 5.1 surround mix is tasteful with the music and audio cues. Some audience noise and bits of ambient sounds are pushed to the rears. The musical numbers by Elvis sound fine with a full body and robust dynamics. Outside musical numbers, the dialogue-driven drama has thinner audio and mostly collapses to decent mono. The surround remix is recommended over the mono option unless you are an absolute purist.

Six sets of optional subtitles play in a white font. They are English, English SDH, French, German, Italian, and Spanish. Secondary dubs include 2.0 Dolby Digital French, German, Italian, and Spanish options.

Extras

King Creole finally makes its debut on Blu-ray courtesy of Paramount’s new reissue series. The “Paramount Presents” banner is being used for a new line of collectible Blu-ray releases incorporating a curated selection of popular movies from their catalog, as well as films that had a cultural impact upon their release. King Creole is number two in this new video line that features To Catch A Thief, Fatal Attraction, Flashdance and others to come.

Emulating niche Blu-ray labels like Film Movement and the now-departed Twilight Time, King Creole comes in a clear BD case with a specially designed slipcover made for collectors. Printed on much glossier, thick card stock than regular slipcovers, the front cover opens up to reveal a reproduction of King Creole’s original movie poster. As someone that has seen and handled thousands of slipcovers, Paramount’s new line stands out in terms of graphic design and collectibility.

Special features don’t seem to be a real focus of this reissue line. A new solo featurette with film critic Leonard Maltin is the only bonus feature. Strangely enough, the theatrical trailer found on the older DVD is absent. Like all Paramount Blu-rays, the disc is coded for all regions.

Filmmaker Focus: Leonard Maltin discusses King Creole (06:10 in HD) – Maltin praises director Michael Curtiz and the acting performance by Elvis Presley in this concise overview of the movie. Maltin knows film history and talks fluidly about the classic Hollywood cinematography, including the conscious choice for black-and-white over color.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

King Creole
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  • Audio
  • Extras
4

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Elvis Presley’s most capable dramatic performance headlines this entertaining musical drama from Michael Curtiz.

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