Have you ever considered watching all 31 of Elvis Presley’s Hollywood movies in the order in which they were released, from Love Me Tender in 1956 through Change of Habit in 1969? I did it, and in the process I began to understand why Elvis’s film career evolved the way it did. It wasn’t a simple thing. A number of factors came together to lead Elvis down the winding Hollywood path that he followed. Like most Elvis fans, I believe misjudgments were made along the way that damaged his reputation as an actor.
One obvious misstep was that Elvis made too many movies in too short a period of time. The standard output for most of Hollywood’s leading men during that era was one motion picture per year, but, disregarding the army year of 1959, Elvis made 31 films in the 13 years from 1956 to 1969. That’s an average of nearly 2½ pictures per year. During seven different years, Elvis made three movies, including six years in a row beginning in 1964.
This unprecedented flood of movies starring Elvis inevitably led to a lack of quality filmmaking. It is very likely that Elvis would be more respected today for his acting if he had restricted his output to one movie per year.
That started me thinking. What if Elvis really had just made one picture per year? That would have reduced his career total to just 13 films, not 31. In that scenario, most of his marginal films would never have been made, and his reputation as a leading man would certainly be greater today. Considering the movies he made through the years, what follows are my choices for the one film he should have made each year.
1956 (Candidates: Love Me Tender)
No choice to be made here. While not a strong movie, Love Me Tender is still a credible debut film for an inexperienced actor like Elvis was in 1956.
1957 (Candidates: Loving You, Jailhouse Rock)
I hate to throw out Loving You, but the choice here has to be Jailhouse Rock. It’s Elvis’s classic rock ’n’ roll movie and his break out film as a leading man.
1958 (Candidates: King Creole)
To many critics then and now, King Creole was the pinnacle of Elvis’s acting career at the age of 23. He was perfectly suited for the role of an “angry young man.”
1960 (Candidates: G.I. Blues, Flaming Star)
G.I. Blues was much bigger at the box office, but my choice is Flaming Star. In it Elvis did an above average job in his first straight acting role. If we’re interested in Elvis’s reputation as an actor, it’s a better choice than the syrupy army film.
1961 (Candidates: Wild in the Country, Blue Hawaii)
Wild in the Country was an actor’s film, but I can’t pass on the biggest box office success of Elvis’s career. Despite its light-weight plot, Blue Hawaii was a winner with its scenery and great music.
1962 (Candidates: Follow That Dream, Kid Galahad, Girls! Girls! Girls!)
This was Elvis’s first three-movie year, and picking one is tough. Kid Galahad is one of his best efforts, but Follow That Dream gets the nod. It wins due to Elvis’s great comedic timing, its social message, and Elvis’s classic courtroom speech.
1963 (Candidates: It Happened At the World’s Fair, Fun in Acapulco)
Back in 1963 I would have chosen the Seattle film, but now I think Fun in Acapulco is the better movie. It has some lasting charm due to its Latin music and exotic setting (despite the fact that Elvis filmed his scenes entirely in Hollywood).
1964 (Candidates: Kissin’ Cousins, Viva Las Vegas, Roustabout)
This is an easy one. The dynamic pairing of Elvis and Ann-Margret against the flashy background of Vegas makes Viva Las Vegas a timeless classic.
1965 (Candidates: Girl Happy, Tickle Me, Harum Scarum)
It’s difficult to pick between the first two, but I’m going to go with Tickle Me. It was Elvis’s first straight comedy, and the music is much better than in Girl Happy.
1966 (Candidates: Frankie and Johnny; Paradise, Hawaiian Style; Spinout)
I’d like to throw out all three, but since I have to make a choice, I’ll go with the Hawaiian movie. Again, it’s exotic setting and native ceremonies give it some allure. (If they just hadn’t let that little girl sing “Bill Bailey”!)
1967 (Candidates: Easy Come, Easy Go; Double Trouble; Clambake)
This was Elvis's weakest year in theaters. OK, let’s go with Clambake. It has some humor to go along with the Florida scenery. Let’s be honest, though. It wins by default.
1968 (Candidates: Stay Away, Joe; Speedway; Live a Little, Love a Little)
Not much to chose from here, either. Stay Away, Joe is an embarrassment to Native Americans and Live a Little still leaves me a lot confused. That leaves Speedway as the keeper for 1968.
1969 (Candidates: Charro!, The Trouble With Girls, Change of Habit)
Since Elvis had already returned to live performances by the time Change of Habit was released in late 1969, it was an ignored film back them. Still, it’s one of Elvis’s best dramatic roles and, in my opinion, one of the top 10 films of his career.
There you have it. Elvis’s Hollywood career would today be considered in much higher regard had he released only the following 13 films: Love Me Tender, Jailhouse Rock, King Creole, Flaming Star, Blue Hawaii, Follow That Dream, Fun in Acapulco, Viva Las Vegas, Tickle Me, Paradise—Hawaiian Style, Clambake, Speedway, and Change of Habit.
Of course, had he done only one film a year, it would have changed his career in other respects. With reduced income from films, he would have needed other ways to earn money. He might have had a varied career similar to Frank Sinatra’s. One movie and one Las Vegas engagement per year. One or two quality albums each year in place of the disappointing soundtrack LPs. Perhaps a U.S. concert tour every two or three years, and at least one European and one Australian tour as well.
Isn’t it funny, and a bit sad too, that, despite all the enjoyment he gave us over the course of his career as it was, we Elvis fans still insist on playing the “what if” game? | Alan Hanson (November 2008)
Reader Comment: Blue Hawaii, unfortunately, had some bad songs, like "Ito Eats," "Moonlight Swim," and "Almost Always True." Also, it had a very, very short version of "Aloha Oe," one of the finest melodies on the LP. About the film of the year, sorry, but in no way is Paradise, Hawaiian Style better than Spinout. In this Elvis sings some rock 'n' roll, not crappy songs like "Datin' and "A Dog's Life." Also, Girl Happy is far better than Tickle Me. Consider how Elvis sings "Dirty, Dirty Feeling" and "Night Rider" in such awful situations. Girl Happy is much more natural and livelier. | Alexander from Romania, a European country with many Elvis fans
"It is very likely that Elvis would be more respected today for his acting if he had restricted his output to one movie per year."