Fascinating bio-pic of Elvis Presley as told from the point-of-view from his longtime manager Colonel Tom Parker.
Previously, we had the excellent TV-film “Elvis” (1979) as portrayed by Kurt Russell (Directed by John Carpenter.) The difference between the two is the grim shadow Col. Parker hangs over Elvis’ career.
The movie is surprisingly accurate as to whom this illegal Dutch immigrant is: a “carny” who learned to bluff and bamboozle everybody, eventually managing the most famous singer of the Twentieth Century.
Elvis himself was the first white singer who sang black – as shown by the various singers who influenced him. Also, gospel.
The Colonel (played with sinister glee by Tom Hanks) doesn’t give a rat’s ass about the music. He sees a walking money machine.
Elvis with parents
Gladys Presley, Elvis mother, rightly predicts: “If Elvis signs with the Colonel, he’ll be dead by forty.” But Elvis and his father Vernon sign their deal with the devil.
1956-1958. The halcyon years where every song went gold, every movie became a hit, until he’s drafted in the Army. Again, (a little known fact the movie gets right), Elvis is conned into joining the Army by the Colonel. The plan is to clean up “El’s” image – make him a clean wholesome boy every mother would love. The problem is: you’ve just destroyed the rebel.
While in the Army, Gladys dies and the seed is sown for Elvis’ eventual self-destruction. He never gets over it.
Olivia Dejonge as Priscilla
Soon after, he meets Priscilla Beaulieu, the fourteen year old Army brat, he’ll be forced to marry in 1967.
The 1960’s. Elvis becomes a movie star doing three motion pictures per year. The quality of these pictures declines in the mid-60’s and with the emergence of the Beatles – the King is temporarily dethroned.
1968. NBC and TV director Steve Binder give Elvis a chance to save himself with a one hour TV special. With nothing to lose, he takes it and it galvanizes “El” into a new and exciting phase in his career. (Col. Tom will fight Elvis and Binder for control over this special; a rare time the Colonel will lose.)
1969. Thus begins the Elvis Vegas show era that started off as a good thing until the grind drove Elvis to drugs. Wife Priscilla gets fed-up with being left alone and files for divorce. Again, this sets off a chain-reaction. Elvis goes deeper and deeper into the world of narcotics.
1973. Elvis’ last hurrah. Because the Colonel can’t travel (no passport), he arranges a satellite special broadcast to 1.5 billion people. It is a crowning achievement in the King’s career.
The final years. With no more challenges, no more movies, Elvis is left alone with nothing except going on tour, more drugs, more girls, more bad food, turning him into what we now call the “fat Elvis”.
In a rage, Elvis finally fires the Colonel, who promptly turns around demanding $8 million for his expenses dating all the way back to 1956. Elvis can’t pay, won’t file for bankruptcy and the two remain together until the bitter end.
Elvis concludes with “Unchained Melody” as sung in “Elvis in Concert”, his last TV special.
Post script. The Colonel is sued by the estate of Elvis Presley (Priscilla and Lisa-Marie Presley) for misappropriation of funds – i.e., grabbing half and more of Elvis’ money. It’s true again, as depicted in the film, Elvis was virtually enslaved by the International Hotel to perform for five years in exchange for paying off the Colonel’s gambling debt. Not mentioned is how the Colonel sold off Elvis’ back catalog of RCA songs (1956-1973) squandering a fortune for a quick payoff.
Austin Butler as Elvis Presley.
Butler captures the charisma and the talent of the kid from Tupelo who would set the world on fire with his music. He gets the many gestures and expressions, the quirks, the smiles and the anger that dominates the last years, succumbing into a dark cloud of depression.
Tom Hanks as Col. Tom Parker. Hanks is on the left. Parker is on the right.
Tom Hanks (an Elvis fan) wears a mountain of makeup and prosthetics, shapeshifting into the Colonel. What Hanks gets right is the craftiness, the sly as a fox “snowman” as he is nicknamed. (Wasn’t his whole life one big snow-job?) What he doesn’t get right is the meanness. The Colonel bullied others to get his own way using poor Elvis even after he died – selling his records repeatedly by repackaging them. It is rumored the Colonel (aka Andreas Cornelis Van Kuijk) committed murder in his home country of Holland and then hopped a ship to the U.S. to avoid prosecution.)
Baz Luhrmann pulls out all the stops making “Elvis” big, extravagant and over-the-top. It’s what makes “Elvis” work. You can’t get more to what the American dream is than Elvis and the unintended consequences.
Elvis fans may be disturbed by seeing the “King” turned into a pawn by the Colonel, but that’s the way it really was. If it makes any difference, by 1977, Elvis was pretty much doing what he wanted – refusing to record (his last record is a patchwork of recordings from different years.) And in the end, Elvis pulled the plug on himself, whether on purpose or by accident, he ended it his way.
Text © 2022 – EricReports