Who's Your Daddy?

A riveting HBO documentary examines father/son relationships through Kirk and Michael Douglas.

By Leo Charney
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Mar. 1, 2006

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Love Me Tender: 50th Anniversary Special Edition

Who knew Elvis Presley really wanted to be James Dean? In Love Me Tender, his first movie, he does the angry-young-man Method-actor thing innovated in the 1950s by Dean and Brando. "He thought James Dean was a genius," reports one of his friends. "He idolized Brando. He idolized Tony Curtis."

Like the actor who really wants to direct, Elvis-one of the biggest icons in the world in the mid-'50s-itched to be a movie star. "Singers come and go," someone paraphrases his attitude, "but if you're an actor, you can really last a long time." Sure enough, Elvis showed up on time, knew his lines and pursued his part with non-diva diligence.

But maybe he took it too seriously. He's got more eagerness than skill, blurting out or racing through his lines with earnest imitations of emotion. He doesn't have the burning-up-the-screen charisma of Courtney Love, the cool allure of David Bowie and Kris Kristofferson, or even the nonchalance of nonactors like Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan.

Elvis and his infamous manager Col. Tom Parker deliberately put him in a movie in which he wasn't the star, so he could try acting without having to carry the picture. He plays Clint Reno, whose older brother Vance (beefy B-actor Richard Egan) goes to fight the Civil War and leaves his girlfriend home with Elvis. Sure enough, he never comes back, they think he's dead, and then, with the war already over, he returns to find them married.

He doesn't get that steamed about it, though. This isn't Legends of the Fall, with hot brothers hot-bloodedly duking it out over a hot woman. In fact, Vance is ready to leave town so Elvis can keep the girl. Oh, and that money he stole because he didn't know the war was already over? He plans to return it. Unfortunately, his bandit pals aren't so saintly, and they goad Elvis into thinking his brother isn't what he seems.

Tragedy mechanically ensues, but not before Elvis squeezes in a few musical numbers. They're totally anachronistic, shoehorned into the movie once "Love Me Tender" became a hit single and the studio figured they should run with what they had. (The script was originally called The Reno Brothers.)

Elvis throws in some pelvis swivels and hip shakes, but they're painfully tame and neutered, even if they make him come alive more than his wannabe acting. Still, he's the only interesting thing in this lethargic B-melodrama, which no one even wanted to make before the king got involved.

You know the weirdest part of watching Elvis? How much, and how exactly, he seems like Bill Clinton. B-

Includes: Commentary track, featurettes, photo gallery.
You'll Like It If You Like: Elvis, Civil War stories, 1950s melodramas.

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