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LOVE ME TENDER - Historical Analisys

The Formative Years – 1956-1958


“I’d like to prove myself as an actor, but I’m still not sure of my ability.” – Elvis Presley on film.


Love Me Tender, made in 1956, marked Elvis’s rather surprising but auspicious film début. Surprising because no one expected to first see him in a tense Civil War drama. Whilst there are no definite rules, aspiring singers who transfer to the screen are usually cast in a musical – certainly to begin with. Unlike his subsequent films, Love Me Tender was not designed as a vehicle specifically for Elvis. Indeed, he was third-billed, after Richard Egan and Debra Paget – both popular players of the 1950s. The production began shooting under the title of The Reno Brothers, since it concerned four brothers, of whom Elvis was the youngest, Clint. Richard Egan was the strong eldest brother, Vance, and James Drury and William Campbell completed the Reno quartet. Part way through the production it was decided to change the tile to Love Me Tender, for obvious commercial reasons. The title song was very popular and this change would almost certainly guarantee longer queues at the box-office. Looking back, we wonder how the other actors and production staff viewed this alteration? After all, the finished title hardly suggests an action drama, steeped in Civil War drama. To be fair, much of the plot concerned bitter conflict within the romantic triangle involving the three main characters; therefore the studio obviously felt their decision was justified. 

The film was directed by Robert D. Webb and produced by David Weisbart, who had also produced the cultist Rebel Without a Cause, starring James Dean, in 1955. Weisbart went on to produce a further three Elvis Presley films. The screenplay was written by Robert Buckner, and was based on a story by Maurice Geraghty. 

The music for the film comprised four songs, one of which was the title song. All of them are credited as having been written by Vera Matson and Elvis Presley, but this was purely a contractual arrangement, and Elvis in fact did not compose any of the songs. They were all written by Ken Darby, Vera Matson’s husband, who was credited on the film with “Vocal Supervision”. 

In his very first acting performance, Elvis came across reasonably well. There were moments when his inexperience was evident, but, overall, his efforts were commendable. There have been other greatly inferior film débuts. 

Elvis had signed a seven-year contract with Paramount Pictures in 1956, under the guidance of Hal Wallis. However, not having an immediate property ready, Wallis “loaned” him to 20th Century Fox for Love Me Tender. Elvis went on to make two further dramatic films for that studio upon completion of his military service.

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