Most of Elvis Presley’s films are formulaic – each of Presley’s characters are put into a job or situation where he falls in love with a girl that is out of his reach. Throw in some semi-pop songs for Presley to sing, dance and play guitar to and you have the bulk of what Elvis Presley’s films were. These musical romantic-comedies are his most-remembered films but not the sort of image the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll would expect to have as an actor. Some of his early more dramatic roles fit Presley’s true range as an actor. Presley’s performances in these films, not only proves he could act but that he was severely underrated due to those foolish comedies.
In “Jailhouse Rock” (1957), Presley starred as “Vince Everett,” a young man serving a one-year sentence for manslaughter. His talent for music is discovered by his cellmate who has connections of his own with the music industry. Once released from jail, Everett rises to fame and fortune by the soulful tune of his voice and the magnetism of his performances.
In “Flaming Star” (1960) Presley starred as “Pacer Burton”, a son born of a Kiowa Indian mother with a white father. When his parents are killed, “Pacer” and his brother “Clint” (Steve Forrest) are pitted against each other when each take a side – “Pacer” with the Kiowa’s and “Clint” with the town folk.
“Wild In The Country” (1961) starred Elvis Presley as “Glenn Tyler” a troubled boy who possesses a unique talent for writing. Presley co-starred with Hope Lange as “Irene Sperry”, Glen’s court-appointed counselor. When the film was released, Presley received more critical acclaim as his portrayal performance than Hope Lange or Tuesday Weld.
There is a legacy of roles Presley was offered or chosen for but manager 'Colonel’ Parker influenced the decision based on the salary he was offered and convinced Presley to commit to another project. Actor Robert Mitchum wanted Presley to play the role of his brother as “Robin Doolin” in “Thunder Road” (1958). Presley wanted to accept the role but ‘Colonel’ Parker demanded too much money for Presley’s salary to allow him to be cast. Other roles Presley was considered for were, “Jim Curry” in “The Rainmaker” (1956), the role of “Brick Politt” in the film adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ play “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof” and the role of “Chance Wayne” in “Sweet Bird of Youth” (1962). Presley’s personal ambition was to play the role of a lawyer, but he was never presented with such a role.
After Presley’s final role as “Dr. John Carpenter” in “Change of Habit” (1969), opposite Mary Tyler Moore, the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll left Hollywood. Presley returned to performing live concerts. When he reflected on his films he made, Presley spoke of them with much regret, “I sure lost my musical direction in Hollywood. My songs were the same conveyor-belt mass production, just like most of my movies were.” In another instance, Presley said, “Those movies sure got me into a rut.”