Flaming Star (1960)
What happens when you surround Elvis Presley with a first rate cast, a top screenwriter and a highly talented director?
For my money we get his best film even though “technical advisor” Colonel Tom probably had a few “musts” added into the film like the one song shortly after the opening credits during a party scene.
Elvis finds himself in this western from top flight director Don Siegel in a role very much like a brooding Brando styled character. He stars as a half breed son to his parents, John McIntire and his Kiowa mother Dolores Del Rio. He’s also the half brother of Steve Forrest. Racial tensions lay just below the surface and are hinted at during the opening party sequence when the family hosts a shin dig that brings neighbors like Barbara Eden, Richard Jaeckel and L.Q. Jones out to the small homesteading ranch.
When Rodolfo Acosta’s Kiowa warrior chief slaughters one of the visiting families after the festivities, the town begins to look at Elvis in a racially charged atmosphere. Adding to his problems are his quick temper and willingness to fight at the drop of a hat when he thinks he or his mother have been insulted.
Soon, Elvis will be forced to choose sides when Acosta speaks of Elvis being a strong magic to a great war against the whites. If Elvis will choose the people of his Mother over those of his Father, then it will be a victory in the mind of Acosta as the Kiowa warriors attempt to force the whites from the lands they once owned.
Plenty of bloodshed is sure to follow.
This is a racially charged oater with character players like Jaeckel, Roy Jenson and Karl Swenson quickly turning there backs on McIntire and his family because of Del Rio and the half blooded Kiowa, Elvis. It’s a script that may see brother vs.brother when Elvis begins to drift towards Acosta’s warriors as opposed to his white upbringing and sibling, Forrest.
While I number myself among the many Elvis fans, I generally poke fun at most of his films and the Elvis “formula.” Sing a song, kiss a girl and get into a fistfight. Pretty simple though I must admit I still enjoy them. Just put him in a different backdrop for 90 plus minutes and run the idea into the ground. This Siegel film offers us a different story line and Elvis comes off far better here than many of his later films that seemed to be mailed in.
Having watched the film a number of times I was struck this time with the relationship between Presley and his on screen Mother Del Rio. Could it have mirrored his real life relationship and his own mother who passed away before this film’s production. Perhaps and if so then maybe that’s why there seemed to be a genuine chemistry between the two actors.
Other well known players you may recognize within this color feature from 20th Century Fox are Perry Lopez as a Kiowa warrior, Ford Rainey as a town doctor and Virginia Christine (The Folgers Lady) as his wife.
While Rodolfo Acosta is made out to be the heavy, it should be applauded that his character is given just that, “character.” He is given the chance to express himself in his scenes with Elvis and though he is waging a brutal war against the whites, he is alotted the screen time to intelligently express his reasons why.
I’ve always found it interesting that the Barbara Eden role was originally cast with eventual horror queen, Barbara Steele in the role of the woman earmarked to be the wife of Steve Forrest that Elvis covets. Had Steele not withdrawn from the film, perhaps her career would not have gone overseas to the world of Italian horrors.
A special mention has to be directed towards John McIntire here as the wise father of two young men whose lives will be touched with racial slurs and life altering choices to make culminating in much blood and violence. His final scene with Del Rio on screen is both tender and sure to elicit a tear or two. McIntire was always a positive addition to any film and this role could easily have been considered Oscar worthy to the voters of 1960. He’s one of those handful of players who never seemed to act. He’s just naturally being a real person when the camera rolls and generally played likable characters though when given the chance he sprinkled in a few varmints.
I’m sure most Elvis fans have seen this and his other titles many times but if you’ve shied away from The King’s on screen roles, give this one a look and maybe see him doing something you hadn’t expected. Turning in a pretty good performance in a challenging western that still offers a plot we can still consider relevant today.