The wonderful and controversial Mr. Presley makes headlines again!
By Marius Ogieglo
In the first half of the 1950s, both the American music and film industries operated according to certain well-defined patterns. Compliance with them was something natural and any deviations from the once established rules were extremely rare and were implemented very reluctantly.
Until the appearance of Elvis Presley on the stage, who initiated an unprecedented social and cultural revolution. “(Elvis, author’s note) changed the world we live in ,” Sam Thompson, later the singer’s friend and bodyguard, told me years ago. “Not just the music, but also the way we thought, the clothes we bought and the things we thought about.”
In an instant, it turned out that all the standards that had been in force had become obsolete and the heads of the largest record companies, television stations or film studios, wanting to meet the expectations of a completely new audience and keep up with the new fashion, which first covered the whole of America and then the rest of the world, had to abandon their previous habits and quickly adapt to the current reality.
The success of Elvis’ first film, “Love Me Tender”, as well as the extraordinary emotions accompanying most of his screenings, meant that in preparation for the premiere of “Loving You”, the authorities of Paramount began to devise a new distribution strategy.
At the end of June 1957, Variety magazine was one of the first to report that not only would Presley’s second film not premiere in any of the major cities – New York, Chicago or Detroit, which until then was considered the norm, but also, right after the ceremonial After its premiere, it will immediately go to smaller cinemas located in the vicinity of the aforementioned metropolises.
Thus, Paramount broke two rules applicable so far among the largest film studios – it gave up the premiere in one of the big American cities and the obligatory two-week screenings in one of the main cinemas located in their center.
Has it paid off? Yes. After less than a few days, it turned out that the above decision brought very tangible results. Paramount not only saved a lot of money on organizing long-term, expensive shows, but thanks to its innovative solutions, it also significantly increased ticket sales. And that’s before the nationwide premiere.
How did it look in practice?
Just look at the first weekend after the official premiere of the film, i.e. from July 19 to 21, 1957. In those days, as Alan Hanson writes in his study, “Loving You” was shown in almost ninety (different sources give different numbers, from eighty-two to eighty-four) cinemas located in the New York area, thanks to which it was watched by as many as one hundred and forty five thousand people instead of the four thousand that the Broadway theater could accommodate at one time.
And that’s not all, because it’s worth adding that just a few days earlier, starting on July 12, “Loving You” was also shown in at least fifty-five local theaters in the Chicago area.
Interest in the film in each of these cities was enormous. Presley fans literally stormed the theaters day after day without missing a single screening. And there were those who bought tickets for several screenings in a row.
Despite this, press reviews appearing in the following days were rather moderately positive – although compared to the opinions on Presley’s previous film, their authors seemed to be less harsh and some were even tempted to say warm words to the singer himself and his playing acting (although it is worth remembering that there was also a lot of harsh criticism).
In an article published in the New York Times on July 11, 1957, Seraphina Alaimo wrote: “Hal Wallis did not use the skills of a teen idol in presenting Elvis Presley’s second film. Screened at the Brooklyn Paramount Theater, ‘Loving You’ is a tailor-made film – family, safe and not too heavy on the singer’s legs. It’s also boring.
Let’s face it, for many fans of the singer, Paramount’s new production is a real treat. And it’s not surprising since Elvis plays Elvis – a boy from a small town who, thanks to his unique style of singing, achieves great success “.
In the further part of her review, the author did not fail to add a few comments about Presley himself, writing that: ” his pouting, childish and sensual face, from which emerges an endearing smile, is often seen in this film. Just like his slips and stumbles.” Despite this latter remark, Alaimo concluded in her conclusion that “Presley is committed, not one bit self-conscious, and shows potential acting ability.”
The Los Angeles Times reviewers also agreed, calling “Loving You” “Presley’s timid step into an on-screen career” and Variety magazine, which concluded that “surrounded by a capable crew … Presley shows improvement as an actor.”
So, when on July 30, 1957, “Loving You” – “Elvis’s first real musical”, as it was promoted by the press, officially entered the screens of American cinemas, it was already a considerable success.
Also in the weekly charts of the most popular and best-selling movies. In the popular Variety’s National Box Office Survey examining box office sales in American theaters, “Loving You” appeared regularly from the day of its release for four weeks, eventually reaching a high seventh place.
Speaking of the huge success of Elvis’ second film, it is impossible to omit, of course … its official premiere, which took place at the now closed Strand Theater in Memphis, on July 9, 1957.
On the day of the first screenings, the cinema experienced a real siege. A real raid of Presley fans who, leaving the screenings, took with them not only memories and tickets, but literally everything that had a photo of their idol. Promotional posters and even cardboard stands with the image of Elvis disappeared from the walls at a rapid pace. “‘Loving You’ has broken all existing attendance records in Strand history,” The Memphis Press-Scimitar reported the following day, adding that Presley’s new film was financially unbeaten only by 1956’s The Ten Commandments (by As reported by Alan Hanson, ticket prices for an Elvis film ranged from 90 cents to $2 for the aforementioned religious drama).
Elvis himself did not attend the premiere show. He watched his second film in the company of Anita Wood – his partner at the time, and his parents at a special private screening at midnight.
Implementing a new method of distribution, Paramount took a lot of risks. The new film distribution system might not have caught on, and instead of a spectacular success, the picture could have turned out to be a complete flop. However, one can get the impression that the studio authorities knew exactly what they were doing.
It is no coincidence that the premiere date is scheduled for the beginning of summer, i.e. also the beginning of summer holidays, i.e. the time when the largest group of Presley’s audience (both his music and films) will have free time and will be able to participate in the screenings without any obstacles (for example, running away from lessons).
These cool calculations, combined with the so-called widely released (which later came to be referred to as the “Presley Formula”), they soon grossed $3.7 million and placed the production in the top 20 highest-grossing films of 1957.
So it will not be an exaggeration to say that “Loving You” set a new quality in the existing policy of distributing Hollywood films. As did the fact that, as Timothy Knight notes in his book, he became “a pop culture milestone that left its mark on rock ‘n’ roll movies for decades to come.”
Unfortunately, “Loving You” also started a pattern of films with Presley, which was repeated in subsequent productions in the following years. After the huge success of “Loving You”, producers increasingly began to cast Elvis in the role of a singer, surrounded by beautiful girls from which he chose the one and for whom he was ready to fight (and win) with all the thugs around.
Most importantly, he would sing. And the fans, even if they claimed (and still claim) that Elvis failed to fully develop and present his acting skills to the world, they lined up in droves for tickets to the next screenings.
Information provided by EP Promised Land (Poland), Marius Ogieglo http://www.elvispromisedland.pl/
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