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Hits and Misses

The best and worst of Elvis on film


Elvis Presley made a total of 31 feature films between 1956 and 1969, and while most were basically formula pictures designed to cater to his easy-going screen personality, a few managed to either rise above or sink below the rest of the pack. In honor of his 25th Deathiversary, here's a look (presented in chronological order) at the cinematic peaks and valleys.The Best:

Jailhouse Rock (1957). Elvis' third movie (following Love Me Tender and Loving You) was the first one in which everything came together just right, resulting in what many critics consider to be his best picture. He was noticeably more confident and comfortable on screen, playing a jailbird who eventually becomes a rock star. This arguably boasts the best soundtrack of any of his films, as well as the best production number (the title one).

King Creole (1958). It's the same old story, although told in an efficient manner: A decent young man finds himself unwisely getting mixed up with mobsters. Some critics say this was his best film. Walter Matthau plays the crime boss; Michael Curtiz (Casablanca) directed.

Flaming Star (1960). Exciting Western (directed by Don Siegel of Dirty Harry fame) with Elvis as a half-breed who finds his loyalties divided between Indians and settlers. Elvis is solid in a role that was originally written for Marlon Brando.

Wild In the Country (1961). Clifford Odets penned this drama about a troubled youth who dreams of making it as a writer. Worth seeing primarily for Tuesday Weld's excellent turn as Elvis' backwoods girlfriend and for the King's own surprisingly strong performance in the sort of role Paul Newman was seemingly playing once a month during this period.

Follow That Dream (1962). For pure belly laughs, no other Presley vehicle can touch this infectious yarn about a bumpkin family trying to relocate to Florida. Elvis has never been more likable on screen.

The Worst:Easy Come, Easy Go (1967). This desperate comedy tries too hard to be 60s-hip, with its constant references to "beatniks," "happenings" and a guy named Zoltan. As a result, it's the most dated of all his films; on top of that, it also contains arguably the worst song to be found in any of his movies, "Yoga Is As Yoga Does."

Stay Away, Joe (1968). The title offers sound advice for prospective viewers, as this dreary Western stars Elvis as an Indian who finds trouble when he returns to his reservation.

Speedway (1968). The Charlotte Motor Speedway is the star of this racing flick; it certainly gives a more convincing performance than Nancy Sinatra, miscast as an IRS inspector who enters into a (pardon the pun) taxing relationship with driver Presley.

Charro! (1969). No, not a biopic of the annoying "coochi-coochi" celebrity (besides, that's Charo with one "r"), but honestly, would that have been any less tolerable than this dull Western? A tired Presley, winding down his once robust film career with turkey after turkey, here plays a reformed outlaw who finds himself framed for robbery.

Change of Habit (1969). Many film buffs tag Charro! as Elvis' worst film, but forced to choose, I'd probably have to go with what turned out to be his final picture. Laughably earnest, this casts the King as a doctor(!) who falls in love with a nun (Mary Tyler Moore). While Presley went out with a whimper, Moore and co-star Ed Asner were one year away from making TV history with The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

Turner Classic Movies will present a 24-Hour Tribute to Elvis beginning at 10am Friday, August 16. Jailhouse Rock and Speedway will be among the selected titles. Go to for a complete schedule.

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