For Film Comment: Elvis, Actor

I am so happy to sing the praises for Film Comment‘s TCM Diary of an acting career that has been ignored, dismissed, scorned, from the jump.

I’ve written about Elvis’ acting a lot here on my site, but rarely anywhere else, at least not an outlet like this – so I’m grateful that Film Comment heard my unconventional (to say the least) pitch and said, “Yes.”

TCM Diary: Elvis, Actor

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10 Responses to For Film Comment: Elvis, Actor

  1. Guy Nicolucci says:

    Great work.
    Singers who act don’t get no respect (Sinatra, Dean Martin, et. al) or do all too rarely.

    • sheila says:

      Guy – thanks!

      Sinatra won 2 Oscars, though, and was nominated for a 3rd! Martin is in the Elvis wheelhouse, for sure – but also got to do some “prestige” movies – where he showed versatility, real “chops”.

      Elvis is a unique case – mainly because the movies he was in were created specifically for him. Nobody else could play those roles. The only reason these formula movies make any sense at all is because HE is there.

      It has to be judged on its own merits.

      at any rate, thank you very much for reading!

  2. So happy you got to put so many of your valuable, and often unique, insights in a place where they’ll have a chance to be appreciated by a new, larger audience, Sheila. I didn’t have any doubt it would be a killer and it was.

  3. BRENDAN says:


  4. Brooke A L says:

    Sheila you goddamn wonderful dame, I LOVE when you write about persona acting. I don’t know anything about Elvis (well, except from reading you) and haven’t seen any of these films, but it is always a treat when you give these actors their due… especially with the sass: “Errol Flynn is an apt comparison. Flynn exuded an effortless charming masculinity. It looked effortless, but try to walk across a room like Errol Flynn. Throw your head back and laugh heartily while you’re doing it. Try not to look ridiculous. Good luck.” Ooof! Or, as I imagine you saying, “Good luck trying to DO that, AND good luck trying to DISMISS that because I will bust your goddamn chops, you wiseguy!” (Sock, pow, hit ’em in the kisser, etc.).

    //So, too, the scene where Vince grabs Judy (Peggy Van Alden, who, tragically, died in a car accident shortly after filming), kissing her violently. She snaps, “Don’t try those cheap tactics with me.” Presley drawls, “That ain’t tactics, honey. That’s just the beast in me.” He doesn’t swagger the line, the most obvious choice. Instead, he’s tipsy with carnality, lost in a woozy zone of unapologetic desire. He’s liquefied sex on legs.//

    It’s just the beast in me!! Oh man, that is goooold. And your description. I’m already thinking of how the hell I’m going to use that line before I die.

    //Throughout, he is irritated, cranky, unshaven, and frantic to get away from this screwball in go-go boots who won’t leave him alone.//

    I am laughing at that sentence! I am imagining the description for her character as “Bernice, screwball in go-go boots”! Makes perfect sense, right?

    Great piece, and very concise and tight, but beautifully written details as always.

    • sheila says:

      Brooke – Thank you so much for reading, and for your great comment! My apologies for the delay in response.

      “sass” hahaha I was kind of amazed that they left that part in. It’s so ME-ish, and … kinda rude, actually – HA! But they left it in and I’m happy about it. Because it’s so true! If I tried to imitate Errol Flynn in Robin Hood I guarantee that I would look like a TOTAL DOUCHEBAG. It’s HARD what these guys do.

      Some of these movies are well worth checking out – if just to see the Boy Wonder Sexual Persona at work. He knew what he was doing. In a lot of ways, he was surprisingly passive – he was brought up to be obedient to authority figures (hilarious – considering how much his rebellion changed the world) – and so he did what he was told, he wasn’t happy about some of these movies, but he almost never put his foot down. He had a contract, he honored that contract.

      There are only two movies where I can clock his boredom: Clambake and Paradise, Hawaiian Style. These movies are exhausted – it’s at the tail-end of the “formula” period. There are no good songs. Elvis looks puffy and disheartened. They’re painful. But then there are 6 films that come after – up until his final film – where the rules of the formula stop dominating – some interesting things start happening for him.

      There are all these tantalizing “what ifs” in his movie career.

      Robert Mitchum wanted him to play his younger brother in a movie he was acting in/producing – Thunder Road. Elvis wanted to do it. The Colonel (his manager) said No. Thunder Road is one of those “Gearhead Heaven” movies – the cars are the star – – and picturing Mitchum and Elvis together is almost agonizing. But alas, not meant to be.

      Barbra Streisand, famously, wanted him to play the washed-up country singer in her updated version of Star is Born. Elvis really wanted to do it. Again, the Colonel said No – after making unreasonable demands (like Elvis having his name above the title, outrageous salary, etc.) Elvis would have done it for scale, I have no doubt. Kris Kristofferson played the role … and the movie isn’t really good … but the thought of Elvis playing a washed-up anything is so exciting. It could have turned it around for him.

      My most favorite “what if” is that Elvis was interested in playing the male hustler cowboy Joe Buck in Midnight Cowboy, a role Jon Voight ended up playing. But of course THAT – with its gay relationships and gay sex – was NEVER gonna happen, not under the Colonel’s watch. But the fact that Elvis even wanted to do it spoke volumes about his taste, AND about his understanding of what his persona meant, the androgyny of it, the alpha-beta instability – the fact that he was a walking Erotic Muse for everyone, all ages, all sexes. Seeing him strutting across Park Avenue at dawn after a “date” with a little old lady … Boy, that would have been something to see.

  5. Clementine Moriarty says:

    Been such a long time, Sheila! TY! TYVM!

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