Elvis at a Crossroads: G.I. Blues and Flaming Star
1960 was a pivotal year in the career of Elvis Presley. Fresh out of the army after a two-year stint in the service, the 25-year-old immediately returned to the life he'd left behind, arguably an even bigger star than when he'd left. That year saw the release of two studio albums, Elvis Is Back! and the gospel LP His Hand in Mine, both of which were hits. But Hollywood was also calling, and Elvis was eager to answer.
Elvis had made four films prior to 1960: Love Me Tender in 1956, Loving You and Jailhouse Rock in 1957, and King Creole in 1958. All of these movies depict Elvis as a rebel, a young man with an edge, anger lurking beneath the surface. Elvis had dreamed of being a star since even before he began recording his music, and had intentions of being taken seriously as an actor in the same vein as his cinematic heroes. But by 1960, Elvis' manager, Col. Tom Parker, had plans to soften the icon's image into something more family-friendly.
The Elvis in Flaming Star might as well be a completely different actor than the one in G.I. Blues. As the movie unfolds, his character becomes darker and darker, eventually resorting to violence as everything he loves is systematically taken from him. There's a common criticism that Elvis always played himself, but who was the "real" Elvis? Is it the smiling, winking gentleman, or the darker man with a chip on his shoulder? The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. Furthermore, Elvis very clearly had natural acting ability and tried in several films to turn in Brando-level performances. In fact, the two brothers in Flaming Star were originally slated to be played by Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando.
To me, these two films represent a man at a crossroads. If Flaming Star had out-performed G.I. Blues, how different would Elvis' movie career have been? An entire decade's worth of movies comes down to these two films from the close of 1960, and we are left to wonder.