- Christmas Star
Fifty-five years ago this week, moviegoers were given a strikingly different Christmas present: a gritty and gripping look at one of their new box-office favorites in a totally new light. Here’s Tom Milne of Time Out London on the tough yet unexpectedly tender Western Flaming Star (1960), starring singing idol-turned-movie idol Elvis Presley as a half-white, half-Native American whose family is caught between two cultures in 1870s Texas and directed compactly and bracingly by the great Don Siegel: “By far and away Presley's best film, in which he sings only one song (apart from the title number), and is used emblematically rather than required to act as the half-breed son in a mixed race family which is gradually torn apart as the Kiowas go on the rampage against white settlers and both sides draw up their racist lines. Despite the stolid liberal intentions behind the script, Siegel keeps the tensions finely balanced on a knife edge, with the inevitable violence threatening to explode at every moment and the tortured emotions cutting surprisingly deep.” Presley’s dedicated and charismatic performance scored well among an ensemble of great actors: Dolores Del Rio as his soulful Kiowa mother; John McIntire as his stalwart white father, Steve Forrest as his conflicted older half-brother, Barbara Eden as the woman whose romantic allegiance is unexpectedly drawn toward him, and Rudolph Acosta as the proud Kiowa leader who struggles to gain back the land that white settlers have taken from his people. The film’s pretty good box-office and critical reception might have charted new directions for Presley as an actor. However, Twilight Time’s resident historian Julie Kirgo reports in her detailed liner notes for the film, “Although Flaming Star did well (and although Presley’s performance drew praise), it didn’t do half as well as the vapid G.I. Blues, released just a few weeks earlier. This comparison gave Presley’s manager, the ersatz “Colonel” Parker (gallingly credited as “Technical Advisor” on Flaming Star), all the ammo he needed to persuade his protégé that audiences didn’t want to see him in serious films….Elvis’ films would hereafter adhere to the lightweight, song-heavy formula Parker, [producer Hal] Wallis, and other management types preferred.” Thankfully, we do have Flaming Star, whose compelling CinemaScope thrills and one-of-a-kind Presley performance are showcased on a Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray that truly burns brightly.