FLAMING STAR seemed like a shoo-in success for a Christmas release of 1960. Elvis Presley, back from the Army, showcased in a western. But they blew it with the timing, as it followed only a month after The King’s hit in G.I. Blues, and decent reviews didn’t help this rake in enough money to rise higher than a dissappointing run of $4,400,000. Some fans may have faulted the movies lack of singing from the star, as there is only the title tune and one other offering. Possibly the downer of a story turned pony tails away, as nearly everyone in this story of frontier prejudice and vengeance dies or is otherwise made miserable.
Too bad in the long term, and a shame in this instance, as this is a pretty good little flick, which features the best acting Elvis was ever allowed. He’s not fabulous, but he is unashamedly good here, as a duel-heritage lad in blood-soaked Texas, during the days of merciless conflict between settlers and the Kiowas.*
Elvis plays the son of a Kiowa woman (Dolores Del Rio) and her white husband John McIntire, with Steve Forrest as Presley’s half-brother from dad’s first wife. The neighbors aren’t predisposed to be all that racially tolerant in the first place, and when the fierce ‘Buffalo Horn’ kicks up a ruckus, Elvis and family are caught between tribes.
Well paced by director Don Siegel, the $1,700,000 production is nicely lensed by Charles G. Clarke, who gets the most out of Utah locations. Good script by Clair Huffaker and Nunnally Johnson, equally balanced between some serious action and thoughtful ruminating. Barbara Eden doesn’t convince as the romantic interest, but the others in the cast are all up to the mark, and Elvis does just fine.
The one tune fitted into the story is forgettable (“A Cane And A High-Starched Collar”) but the title song is quite catchy. 101 minutes, with Rodolpho Acosta, Karl Swenson, Ford Rainey, Richard Jaeckel, L.Q.Jones, Perry Lopez, Tom Reese, Roy Jenson, Red West.
- * The warlike Kiowas also figured in the same years John Huston/Burt Lancaster saga, The Unforgiven, another sober look at bigotry and bloodshed on plains. It’s a good film, but Huston disowned it, critics sniped and crowds stayed away. Was it audience unfamiliarity with the once-feared Kiowas a factor in the tepid draw for these stories, whereas The Comancheros raked in popcorn a few months later? More likely just instances of of tone and timing. Presley’s next picture, also a straight drama, Wild In The Country, likewise limped and the locked jaws of Col. Parker convinced his dynamo to stick to sillier stuff from then on. A loss.