LoveMeTendercoverGrade:  B-
Entire family:  No
1956, 89 min., Black-and-white
Unrated (would be PG)
20th Century Fox
Aspect ratio:  2.35:1
Featured audio:  DTS-HD MA 5.1
Bonus features:  B-
Trailer

In November 1956, Love Me Tender introduced Elvis Presley as an actor. By that time he had already made his TV debut as a performer on Louisiana Hayride, singles like “That’s All Right” were playing nationwide, and his live shows were causing riots. Elvis’s first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show (performing “Love Me Tender”) on September 9 had exposed him to 60 million viewers, most of whom would be curious to see this rock ‘n’ roll phenomenon on the big screen.

Though Elvis didn’t get top billing, the studio featured the 21 year old on the movie poster with his guitar, and Love Me Tender did well at the box office. It’s an above-average Western, but maybe only slightly—something that’s clear if you can mentally remove Elvis from the picture.

Without The King, Love Me Tender is a decent horse opera that has more stand-and-talk moments than shoot-‘em-ups. It’s slow in spots, and that plus black-and-white will be enough to put off younger family members. But Elvis really does add interest.

The screenplay comes from Robert Buckner (Dodge City), yet there’s considerably more melodrama here than in that classic Western. What else can there be when the film’s main focus is a romantic triangle involving suppressed love?  

Richard Egan (300 Spartans) gets top billing as Vance, who returns home after fighting with a guerrilla-style Confederate unit alongside two brothers, only to discover that the love of his life (Debra Paget) married his stay-behind youngest sibling, Clint (Elvis) after his family received word that the brothers in uniform had been killed in action.

LoveMeTenderscreenThe only complication to an otherwise straight romantic triangle tale comes from the soldiers’ last act:  the robbing of a Union payroll train after the war was officially over, though Vance and his men didn’t know that. Rather than give it back, they decide to split up the money and go their separate ways, which leaves the door open for former saddlemates and pursuing Union soldiers to disrupt the Reno family reunion.

Love Me Tender is unrated, but it would probably pull down a PG rating these days because of violence. The opening sequence features a gun-and-sword battle, and characters get shot later in the film. But the emphasis, apart from a bad decision to keep that money, is on doing the right thing and keeping other people’s feelings in mind. Family is more important than personal desire, and that’s reinforced time and again. So is the notion that you’re only as good as the company you keep.

Elvis swivels and shakes during his musical numbers, and you can bet that the crowd reaction (women screaming) at a school-raising social isn’t exactly historically accurate. But the music doesn’t stand out THAT much, and Elvis’s first film turns out to be a respectable one.

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