“LOVE ME TENDER” Elvis Presley’s First Film Role
(Part 12, Last)
The media attacks on Presley continued even after the film’s nationwide release on November 21, 1956. Fortunately, the biting opinions of critics did not in the slightest affect the huge interest in the film debut of the famous singer. How great it was is best evidenced by the fact that in those years, before the release of a given film, usually two or three hundred copies of it were prepared, which were then sent to cinema managers throughout the country. In the case of “Love Me Tender” almost twice as many had to be produced, because as many as five hundred and fifty!
Cinemas across the United States were under siege. Tickets for subsequent shows were selling out fast. Some fans of Elvis, after watching one show, bought tickets for the next. As a result, some of them watched “Love Me Tender” several or even dozens of times in a row* 1 !
Demand for the film was additionally fueled by intensive advertising activities that the 20th Century Fox studio and Colonel Parker conducted throughout the country. Not counting the dozens of licensed gadgets related to the first film role of Elvis – including sweets or perfumes (with the title of the film), which went on sale these days, it is worth mentioning, among others, cardboard likenesses of the singer (similar to those from the New York premiere) , which appeared in most American theaters. The photographs preserved to this day show that such figures, although much smaller, appeared, among others, in the Los Angeles Theatre, Metropolitan Houston in Texas or the Embassy Theater in Fort Wayne.
Both these and many other steps taken to ensure the production as much publicity as possible were immediately reflected in the numbers and popular rankings.
In Variety magazine’s weekly top-grossing film list, Love Me Tender ranked second just seven days after its national release (only The Giant starring the late James Dean)! In this short time, the film earned one million eight hundred thousand dollars!
In practice, this meant that the costs incurred in its production (million two hundred thousand, author’s note) more than paid for itself in just a week! At that time, it was an absolute sensation. No other film in the history of contemporary cinema has paid for itself in such a record time as “Love Me Tender“!
And that was just the beginning.
Box office receipts (only in North America) grew day by day, and less than two months after the nationwide premiere, they exceeded the impressive amount of three million seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars.
Along with the premiere of “Love Me Tender” in American cinemas, an extended play CD (EP popularly known as “four”) with four songs from the film also appeared in stores. In addition to the title track, it also included “Let Me“, “Poor Boy” and “We’re Gonna Move“. However, the shortened version of the song “Love Me Tender“, used in the corrected final scene, was missing. This one wasn’t officially released until many years after Elvis’ death.
” Emotional and ideological conflicts between the brothers create powerful and tense scenes that give Elvis a real chance to use his acting skills ,” the publisher noted on the back of the EP. Despite this, Mr. Presley did not completely give up on presenting his vocal skills, as evidenced by the songs included on this album and coming directly from the soundtrack of the film . Fans of singing Elvis should be delighted with these songs because they have a much deeper and more persuasive style than can be found in all his recordings to date – and to say that Elvis surpassed Elvis is something! And this young singer really made it .”
Elvis fans seemed to be seduced by this enthusiastic review and flocked to the shops in response. The album sold well, not to say very well. It is estimated that it has sold over half a million copies.
Admittedly, this was a much weaker result than that achieved by the single with the title track released in early October, but in the case of such an unusual repertoire for Presley, one could talk about a huge success.
And even if years later it was claimed that the selection of songs for the aforementioned film EP was ” not very lucky “, in the second half of the 1950s, when “Presleyomania” reached its zenith, it did not bother anyone. “ On this album, the king of rock ‘n’ roll sings the title song – ‘Love Me Tender’, ‘We’re Gonna Move’, ‘Poor Boy’ and ‘Let Me’. Songs that all of America is talking about today ,” wrote the reviews of the time.
The album itself moved up to ninth place on Billboard’s list of the most popular extended play records.
While everyone was talking about Elvis and his acting debut, he traveled from city to city with his concerts. Despite concerns from 20th Century Fox and theater executives that his ‘live’ performances would drive young people away from the box office, on November 22, Presley embarked on a five-day tour of the southeastern United States, including screenings in cities such as Toledo, Cleveland , Troy or Louisville.
He saw his first film with his family and loved ones in Memphis, at the local Loews State Theater, the day before its national premiere. ” On November 21, I was in the Loews State Theater to see Elvis Presley’s feature film debut, Love Me Tender, ” recalled Jerry Schilling in his book Me And A Guy Named Elvis. “ The screams of the girls around me made it impossible to follow the plot. It was the first time I saw audiences treat a film like a live concert, reacting loudly to every move or word their favorite star said .”
According to some biographers, the spontaneous reaction of teenage fans, especially female fans, made the film difficult not only for Jerry Schilling but also for Elvis himself.
“Love Me Tender” reached European countries in the first half of December 1956 and its first shows took place, among others, in England and the Netherlands.
Reactions to the film were almost identical to those known from American cinemas. There were endless queues at the box office, packed movie theaters and even screaming girls when Elvis was fatally shot in one of the final scenes of the film.
Interestingly, in Poland, where Elvis’s first film was shown in cinemas only in the 1980s – previously it was impossible due to the country’s political system – critics did not leave the proverbial “dry thread” on “Love Me Tender“.
Marek Konopka, the correspondent of the “Dookoła Świat” weekly, in his report of January 6, 1957, wrote about Presley’s film debut: “The film in which Elvis appears is called ‘Love Me Tender’ and belongs to the category of the so-called. ‚horse opera’ – ‚horse opera’, i.e. a cowboy image with the usual flying on sweaty horses and pounding in the face (…). Elvis is a poor actor – if you can call him an actor at all. He looked sulky and defiant – as he always looks, and rolled the whites of his large and not very intelligent eyes.
However, regardless of opinions similar to the above, the first feature film with the participation of Elvis Presley played an extremely important role both for the further career of the famous singer and for the history of cinema at that time.
Its commercial success convinced major Hollywood producers to invest in youth cinema and focus on teenage audiences. He also opened the door to the world of film for other young singers.
When Elvis sang “That’s All Right (Mama)” in July 1954, he changed the world of popular music forever. However, only two years later, consciously or not, he contributed to major changes in the history of the then cinematography.
1* Jerry Hopkins in the book “Elvis. The King of Rock’n’Roll tells the story of an Elvis fan from New Orleans who watched Love Me Tender forty-two times (!) in a row
Information provided by EP Promised Land (Poland), Marius Ogieglo
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