Elvis was one of the most dynamic, if not the most dynamic, performer of the last century. His work ranged from the brilliant to the inane, but even his worst had one redeeming factor: Elvis. Charismatic and blessed with a awesome talent, there were points in his career when he rose to the challenge.
Starting out as the boy from Memphis with the shaky hips and a smile that looked like a sneer, Elvis owned the youth market - probably created it. In total, he only had four or five "good" years ( a couple in the '50s and a few more in the late '60s) in his twenty-plus year career. But those years were so incredible they carried him the rest of the way.
Don't Be Cruel: Elvis Films & TV Appearances:
Elvis made around thirty movies - most are dreadful. His TV appearances were hardly better. From singing to a hound dog on the Steve Allen Show (in '56) to the excessive concert specials (the '70s), Elvis made as many wrong moves as right. Here's what counts.
Ed Sullivan Show 1956
Though he'd appeared on national television before, the Ed Sullivan Show had the biggest audience. To protect America from Presley's "savage" animal magnetism, he was shown from the waste up. Nice try, but the kids still got it.
Jailhouse Rock 1957
In "Jailhouse Rock" Elvis is a day laborer who pummels a guy for being rude to a waitress. He gets sent to prison and comes out a Rocker. Smashing his guitar in front of an indifferent audience is a classic. The songs are excellent and even the dance number works (Elvis choreographed it). Great movie.
King Creole 1958
Made just before he went into the army, "King Creole," is another great film. With Walter Mattheau and Caroline Jones in support. Elvis plays a hood.
The Comeback Special a.k.a. "Singer Presents Elvis (the sewing machine company sponsored the show)."
The original concept had Elvis singing a hour's worth of Christmas songs and calling it good. Fortunately, the December 8th show went in a different direction. Elvis revived his career with this '68 NBC Special. Rockin' in black leather and the informal acoustic jam session were the most memorable. It was his first special. What followed were overblown spectacles.
That's The Way It Is 1970
An excellent concert film (though "On Stage" is a better concert album) with good material. It caught Elvis before he stopped caring (once again).
P.S. On a rainy afternoon "Viva Las Vegas" is great empty-headed entertainment. Elvis, a racecar driver, has some real chemistry with the ever-popular Ann-Margaret.
Return To Sender: Books on Elvis
Jerry Hopkins' "Elvis" is fairly safe reading. No secrets, no scandals. "Elvis: What Happened?" written by former members of Elvis' entourage (The Memphis Mafia) was started after they were fired (some axes to grind?) but released just after Elvis' death. It documents the decline and fall. "Last Train From Memphis" covers the rise of the phenomena known as Elvis Presley. Exciting stuff.