I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Don Siegel‘s Flaming Star. I probably haven’t, and if not because I’ve always thought that Elvis Presley made exactly two and a half decent films — Love Me Tender, Loving You (i.e., the halfer) and King Creole — and it was all downhill from then on. Now I’m starting to suspect otherwise. I’ll never buy the Flaming Star Bluray but maybe a high-def version will stream down the road.
“It is surprising…that this small, somber view of some of the misunderstanding and bloody strife between settlers and Indians in Texas of the 1870s is equally passionate about both,” N.Y. Times critic A.H. Weiler wrote on 12.17.60. “No guitar gala, Flaming Star is an unpretentious but sturdy western that takes the time, the place and the people seriously.
“Elvis, for the record, is merely one of the principals caught up in the tensions exposed here. Both the author, Clair Huffaker, and Nunnally Johnson, with whom he collaborated on the script, focus as much on his family as they do on the hero.
“Siegel’s direction workmanlike and deliberate except in the massacre sequence which has the element of surprise and shock. All though he is not called on to carry a histrionic load, Mr. Presley, thanks to fine makeup and the color cameras, is a passable red youth. He is also allowed to twang the guitar in one cowboy ballad, so the film cannot be listed as a total loss by the rock the rollers.
“Elvis does not get the gift. However, he does allow, climactically, that he was romantically inclined toward the white leading lady all along, but deferred in favor of his white half-brother. He sits a horse well and is properly brave and stoic, even in the point where he sees the ‘flaming star’ of death.
“As a matter of fact, John McIntire, as the understanding head of the ill-fated clan, contributes the film’s best portrayal, one that is understated and convincing. Dolores De Rio is the soul of restraint an his quietly long-suffering Indian wife, and Steve Forrest as the white son, is equally subdued but effective as man torn by blood ties and bloodshed. Barbara Eden is decorative as the blonde who adores Elvis.
“Although it is not electrifying, Flaming Star makes a neat and satisfying adventure.”
From the Wiki page: “The film rights for Flaming Star had been circulating around Hollywood since 1958 when 20th Century Fox finally decided to cast Presley in the lead role. Originally Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando were lined up to play the brothers.
“Presley’s previous film, G.I. Blues, had been a success at the box office and had led to one of his best selling albums to that point. However, determined to be taken seriously as an actor, Presley asked for roles with fewer songs. Flaming Star was initially to include four songs, but after Presley demanded two of the songs be removed, it ended up with only the title song and a short number at the opening birthday party scene.
“Barbara Steele, a British actress originally signed to play the love interest, was replaced during filming by Barbara Eden after studio executives decided that Steele’s accent was too pronounced.
“Flaming Star was released only one month after G.I. Blues but did not achieve the same degree of box office success, reaching number 12 on the Variety box office survey for the year. Presley’s next film, Wild in the Country, also failed to impress fans or critics, and Colonel Tom Parker used this to persuade Presley that his audience didn’t want to see him in straight acting roles.
“This led to musical-comedies such as Blue Hawaii and Kid Galahad, which set the precedent for most of his roles for the rest of his career.”