An anomaly in Elvis Presley’s career, his first film, Love Me Tender was the only time he didn’t receive top billing. Presley is a supporting player who doesn’t even appear until around the 20 minute mark, and even then plays second fiddle to beefy actor Richard Egan. Even so, it’s an enjoyable film to watch. Just 21 at the time, Elvis looks young and fresh, not yet worn out by fame. Also, though Elvis does sing a few songs, he actually gets a chance to show off some promising acting chops.
Love Me Tender tells the story of a family trying to return to a normal life after the defeat of the South in the Civil War. Unaware that the war has recently been declared over, brothers Vance (Richard Egan), Brett (William Campbell), and Ray (James Drury) Reno are part of a Confederate squad that captures a Union payroll of $12,000. They believe that the money is theirs as part of the spoils of war. With that, the raiding party disburses, happy to return to their homes.
Vance is eager to marry his sweetheart, Cathy (Debra Paget), whom he hasn’t seen in four years. The problem is, the family has been told that Vance had been killed in action, and Vance’s younger brother, Clint (Presley), too young to have gone off to war, stayed on the farm and married Vance’s girl. Though Vance claims no ill will, it’s soon clear that he and Cathy still have strong feelings for teach other. In the midst of this family drama, some Union soldiers arrive; looking for members of the group that robbed the payroll train. Clint unknowingly defends his brothers, who deny all involvement and later argue what course of action they should take.
Originally written as a straight Western, four songs, “Love Me Tender,” “Let Me,” Poor Boy,” and “We’re Gonna Move” were written specifically for Elvis to perform during the film. While Presley’s acting is stilted at times, he was clearly excited to be on the big screen and the musical numbers gave him an opportunity to do what he did best. The film is boosted by a strong supporting cast, including the always reliable Mildred Dunnock as the Reno brothers widowed mother.
While the script by Robert Buckner shows early promise—the theft of Union Army money just after the end of the war is intriguing—it ends in decidedly eye rolling fashion. However, director Robert D. Webb achieves maximum suspense out of the action scenes which creates some excitement. All of this is inconsequential; the real star of the film is Elvis Presley, his leg pops and gyrating hips.
Presented in the film’s original Cinemascope aspect ratio of 2.35:1, this 1080p transfer is pristine from start to finish, exhibiting top notch sharpness and nicely rendered grayscale with strong black levels and pure whites. Contrast is solid. Fox has provided everything you’d want from a black and white transfer.
The disc offers English soundtracks in both DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 and 5.1. Both are solid encodes. The only difference is that the surround track allows for a slight spread of music and sound effects in the front channels. The 5.1 track does nothing with the rear channels and bass isn’t a factor. Dialogue is understandable throughout, with no age related artifacts in evidence.
English SDH, Spanish and French subtitles are available.
The following special features are included:
- Audio Commentary by Presley Friend Jerry Schilling: Though there are several long silences, Schilling shares some terrific personal stories about Elvis Presley.
- Elvis Hits Hollywood (SD, 12:43) A summary of how Elvis came to make a deal to make a movie. Includes interviews with Presley friends and historians.
- The Colonel and the King (SD, 11:03) A mini-biography of Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis Presley’s manager.
- Love Me Tender: The Birth and Boom of the Elvis Hit (SD, 8:06) Background on how the song “Love Me Tender” was written.
- Love Me Tender: The Soundtrack (SD, 7:32) A group of music historians analyze the four tunes used in the film.
- Theatrical Trailers (SD): the original theatrical trailer (2:21) and the Spanish trailer (2:04).