Aired just 18 months after Elvis Presley’s death, this biopic established many conventions within the genre, most notably the retrospective flashback that occurs on the eve of a significant performance. Yet what distinguishes this film from all the Elvis biopics that followed is the vulnerability with which Kurt Russell imbues his portrayal of the King of Rock and Roll.
It has been almost nine years since Elvis has performed on stage, and his anxiety over whether he can still cut it in front of a live audience isn’t helped by death threats and a doubting press. After Elvis silences one of these with a gunshot, the biopic flashes back to Tupelo, Mississippi where a 10 year-old Elvis converses with his dead twin brother and is mollycoddled by his protective mother. These two relationships will continue to exert their influence on Elvis as he progresses from shy student singing in front of fellow classmates to a performer who absolutely dominated the stage.
Touching base on many milestones of Elvis’s life (the first recordings with Sun Records, an inauspicious movie career and his army service), this biopic respectfully conveys how his caged existence encouraged a camaraderie with his friends whilst straining his marriage to Priscilla. Enhancing this is a deft application of Elvis’s catalogue of songs at key moments, performed here for the first time by regular Elvis biopic vocalist Ronnie McDowell.
Also marking its debut was the partnership of Kurt Russell and director John Carpenter, who would go onto collaborate on Escape from New York, The Thing, Big Trouble in Little China and Escape from L.A.
Though the song provides a fitting ending to this biopic, Elvis did not actually sing ‘An American Trilogy’ in his 1969 comeback performance at Las Vegas. In fact, the song was not arranged by country composer Mickey Newbury till two years later.
Though no scene recreations per se, biopic does depict Elvis rehearsing for his film debut in Love Me Tender and horsing around in a later generic Elvis flick.