On November 15, 1956, New York’s Times Square was flooded with Elvis fans again. Gigantic queues of over three thousand young people formed at the entrance to the Paramount Theater as early as eight in the morning. As he writes in his book, “Elvis. The king of rock’n’roll”, Jerry Hopkins, even small gifts were prepared for the first two thousand spectators – scarves, hats, lapel badges and bracelets with the image of Presley (of course, each person was entitled to only one of the above gadgets). Other fans who did not manage to get free souvenirs – thanks to Colonel Parker’s entrepreneurship, could buy them right after entering the cinema.

Several dozen policemen tried to ensure the safety of the teenagers crowding on both sides of the street. On the other hand, at the ticket offices – despite the chilly November morning, twenty additional hired ushers were bustling about, trying to issue tickets for the screening on an ongoing basis.

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After a few hours, everything was clear. Elvis fans left the Paramount Theater excited, visibly touched and delighted (reserving tickets for subsequent screenings before leaving). In turn, film critics and press representatives who came to the premiere, squeezing through the sea of ​​happy Presley enthusiasts, composed the texts of their first reviews in their heads. Mostly the most virulent and malicious ones that have appeared in American newspapers in recent months. Of course, most of the critical remarks were directed at Elvis…

It could have been better, but it could have been a lot worse. I’m guessing it doesn’t matter at all, ” Dorothy Masters began her short talk, “‘Love Me Tender’ at Paramount” (published November 16, 1956). ” Good, bad or indifferent, Love Me Tender is a movie not to be missed. And it’s not because of Presley struggling with his guitar, ballads and web of various connections .”

Later in her article, the author wrote this: ” 20th Century Fox does not expect Oscars for this, let’s agree, low-budget, black and white production presented yesterday at the Paramount Theater. With denim-clad teenagers screaming at the sight of Elvis and shareholders clamoring for money in the bank, the studio cleverly satisfies both groups by promoting the film career of the Tennessee acrobatic artist .

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Other journalists spoke in a similar or even worse tone. For example, Time magazine compared Elvis to a sausage (” Is that a sausage? ” sneered the reviewer. ” It sure is smooth and looks soft inside, but has anyone heard of a sausage weighing seventy-eight kilograms and measuring one hundred and eighty-two centimeters height? “) and a critic writing for the New York Times felt that ” in terms of acting, Elvis brings no more to the film than the weary jades under the saddle ” that appear in the film.

Even the weekly Variety did not spare the malice of Elvis making his debut on the screen. ” When assessing Presley as an actor, it must be made clear – he is not ,” was noted in the opening lines of a short review of his first film. ” Not that it makes any big difference. There are four songs and lots of Presleyian contortions . On the other hand, assessing the performance of individual actors later in the article, the author of the text stated: “Egan is appropriately stoic as an older brother, while Paget does nothing but sigh and look pretty all the time. Mildred Dunnock, on the other hand, brings honesty to the role of mother, which is an achievement. But no one seems to be having as much fun as Presley, especially when he sings the title track, ‘Poor Boy’, ‘We’re Gonna Move’ and ‘Let Me’ .

For Elvis, who treated coming to Hollywood and starring in a film as a youthful dream come true, opinions like the above were extremely difficult. ” I’ll never do it (I’m not going to be a good actor, author’s note) ,” he said in disappointment after reading another crushing review. ” It’s never going to happen because they won’t hear me – because they’re just screaming all the time .”

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How badly Presley tolerated criticism at that time (not only related to his performance in the film) was also aware of his colleagues on the film set. “ Initially, I had the impression that Elvis was completely indifferent to any attacks on him – for the way he sings, the way he dresses, the fact that he wears sideburns or any other comments. But it’s not ,” Debra Paget confessed in an interview a year later (in 1957). ” Not that he would easily admit it to strangers… But I can tell he was deeply hurt when his performances were criticized or he was threatened with expulsion from certain cities .” 

In the case of the movie “Love Me Tender”, one can get the impression that Elvis fell victim to intense marketing activities that focused mainly on himself. As a result, collaborating with each other Colonel Parker and people from 20th Century Fox, the main addressees of the picture involuntarily made the teenage audience and fans of the young singer.

” It would be wrong to call ‘Love Me Tender’ a Presley film ,” Western producer David Weisbart explained in an interview with the Los Angeles Times two weeks before its release. “ The film stars Richard Egan and Debra Paget and Elvis is only ‘introduced’. However, during his promotion everything revolved around Elvis .”

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Such actions, in turn, led to many critics treating “Love Me Tender” as a pop culture phenomenon and ” ignoring its dramatic elements, production qualities and talented cast “, focused mainly on Elvis (who did not get good press at the time anyway ).

Information provided by EP Promised Land (Poland) – Marius Ogieglo


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