Despite that Elvis was only playing a supporting character in the film (And is the only film where he would be playing a supporting character) people at the time (Mostly the younger crowd) went nuts that Elvis was going to be on the big screen acting and singing. The advertisements for the film were even promoting this film being Elvis' film debut rather than promoting the actual film by having the trailers focusing more on Elvis, than the film's true star Richard Egan; and having Elvis take up a good chunk of the poster. The people behind the film also changed the film up a bit to ride on the fact that this is Elvis' first time on the big screen by giving Elvis extra scenes and lines so that he can shine more instead of giving him a minor role as his character was originally intended to be; and changed the film's title from "The Reno Brothers" to "Love Me Tender" in order to promote the song that Elvis sings in the film which was one of his hit singles at the time. When the film finally hit the theaters, Elvis fans rushed to the theater and screamed and cheered for Elvis so loud that audiences couldn't hear any of his lines. Seeing Elvis on screen was really a huge deal at the time, and just by the film's opening weekend, the film made back it's production cost that was approximately $ 1,000,000. However, despite the film being a finical success and being the first film that Elvis ever acted and sang in, is the film itself actually good, or is it just a mediocre film that's only remembered as Elvis' first film with good songs and nothing more; ON WITH THE REVIEW!
Loosely based on the infamous gang of Confederate Soldiers called “The Reno Gang” headed by Vance Reno (Richard Egan), the gang robs a Union train carrying a Federal payroll of $12,000 to only later on discover that the war has already ended the day before their war crime. The gang decides to keep the money anyway and Vance along with his two brothers Brett (William Campbell) and Ray (James Drury) part from the rest of the gang and go on their separate ways. Vance returns home looking forward to see his girlfriend Cathy (Debra Paget) and the rest of his family, but it turns out that his Father is dead and Cathy is now married to Vance's younger Brother Clint (Elvis Presley) since they've been told that Vance and his brothers were presumed dead. Things don't get any better for Vance when the law starts knocking at his door for the money that he and his gang stole after the war, and he along with the rest of his gang will be put away for ten years or so if they don't return the money. What follows are misunderstandings, greed, betrayals, a love triangle, and as all this is going on, Clint who never did any wrong in his life gets caught in the middle of the situation.
I suppose the best place to start out with when it comes to character and performance is the person that people went to see the film in the first place who of course is Elvis. Well since Elvis is playing a supporting character, we really don't see him until we're 19 minutes in of this hour and a half of film. Actually the first 19 minutes of the film doesn't even feel like an Elvis movie, aside from the film's title and music that plays "Love Me Tender". It feels more like a straight out Western flick with it's performances,atmosphere, and action, than it does an Elvis film where he will sing and play out his pretty boy Elvis charm, and it's not just the opening of the film that feels like a typical Western film, but even when we do see Elvis, the film's Western look and feel still remains which makes Elvis' presence seem pretty out of place. Every other actor in the film looks and plays their character like the characters you'd see in a Western film made around that time; Elvis on the other hand doesn't. He looks and acts like his modern day Elvis self instead of looking and feeling like he's portraying a character from the era that the film is taking place in. It almost looks as if Elvis traveled back in time, put on a cowboy hat and some clothes from that period, and tried to blend in with the time period that he traveled too, but simply can't since his modern 50s looks and charm sticks out like a sore thumb from the rest of the people that he encounters. It also doesn't help that the film gives Elvis a few songs to sing, and yeah being his big screen debut where the title of the film is named after one of his songs is expected, but man do they not help Elvis' fish out of water presence in the film. They do give him an appropriate time and place to sing his songs, but the modern songs he sings with his traditional Elvis moves and Rock N Roll voice really doesn't match the time and era that the film is set, nor does it match with the film's dramatic Western tone that's carried throughout. It's a real pity that the film didn't put Elvis' music aside to see how he would do as a serious actor.
Still as much as I complain about Elvis' presence in the film for being out of place, that doesn't at all mean that I don't find him enjoyably entertaining. As obviously outlandish that Elvis is in this dramatic Western setting with his look and charm, he's still a good actor. Is he not playing himself, no he’s playing himself, but he does a good enough job with the emotional stuff that he's given. When you see him interacting with his family, you do get a strong feeling of how much he loves and cares for them, despite that he's married to his Brothers girlfriend; and when you see him all broken up from the events that are happening around him as he turns into a loose cannon psycho that's blood thirsty for revenge after feeling betrayed and being manipulated by the gang that his Brothers are in, those scenes are so emotionally strong and intimidating that it's surprising that Elvis can pull those scenes off so well, despite that he's still playing himself and that his transformation to being a psycho feels rushed. Just watch the scene as he's trying to decide if he should kill his Brother, you can clearly see the wheels in his head turning if he should pull the trigger or not. Without giving away of what happens in the ending, let’s say the route the film went with was pretty ballsy and unexpected. As for the scenes where Elvis sings and dances, as painfully out of place and forced as those scenes are, they still are really enjoyable scenes. Hearing and watching him sing and dance to the songs "We're Gonna Move"; "Let Me", "Poor Boy", and of course "Love Me Tender" are all so fun, entertaining, and even at times emotional that Elvis really sells out these scenes with his voice, energy, and charm; and if you were an Elvis fan at the time who was seeing Elvis' act being finally brought from the small screen to the big screen, it was a pretty overwhelmingly and exciting experience to see.
As I watched the film, I began to think to myself if Elvis wasn't casted in this movie and if we didn't have the song sequences that Elvis sings, how would the film itself do. Well judging by the characters, casting, cinematography, and story, the film wouldn't be as talked about. There's nothing in the film that I would consider to be bad, because the acting is good, the action is decent, and the situation that the robbers are in did keep my interest, but as a whole it wasn't anything special or something that I would consider to be worth going back too. Richard Egan is good as our leading character, but there's nothing about his performance or character that stands-out. Debra Paget as the love interest is not bad, but her performance and character is still forgettable, where her character is only in the film as a tool to be an obstacle and for Elvis to look good with, as she spends most of the film crying. The action scenes are pretty standard and with the exception of Elvis, I didn't care about who was going to live or die. As for the film's look it also has that typical Western film look, with really nothing new to offer that's visually interesting.
Unless if you‘re a fan of Elvis, "Love Me Tender" is not a film that I recommend. Elvis' presence feels painfully out of place with the film's classic old Western feel and look, while everything else regarding the film is pretty forgettable and nothing special. Still if you're an Elvis fan or just like Elvis in general and are curious in seeing Elvis in his film debut, you'll enjoy him in the film fine with his acting and singing (That is if you can overlook how out of place he is) along with a plot that will keep your interest okay.