Although a long-time movie devotee and a fan of Elvis Presley's music, I was rather surprised by the realization I had not seen an entire one of his 33 pictures, not even a concert film, until seeing Love Me Tender for this review. Upon reflection, I don't think I ever heard there was much to see beyond the music. And I could get that directly, so why bother sitting through movie after movie that presumably featured Elvis playing a guy that sung like Elvis who always ended up with the girl in the end? That assessment of all his films is likely not accurate, and though it may not turned out as he expected when he signed on, Elvis shows promise in his acting debut.
Using story of the Reno brothers as inspiration, Love Me Tender opens April 10. 1965, a day after Lee surrendered to Grant at the Appomattox Court House, which ended the Civil War. News traveled slowly, and a group of Rebel soldiers, which included three Reno brothers, attack a Union train depot and steal the payroll. When the Rebels learn that the war is over, there's a question of whether they stole the money or took it as part of the spoils of war. They decide to keep the money.
Eldest brother Vance (Richard Egan) is determined to get back home to marry his gal Cathy (Debra Paget). However, word got back before he did that he and his two brothers had died. Just a couple of months prior to their return, Cathy married youngest Reno brother Clint (Elvis Presley). Vance discovers his feelings for Cathy are mutual, but he can't take his brother's wife away.
Aside from evenings entertaining the family, Clint also sings at a local festival, but the boy is so damn good it's hard to believe he's not off making money doing that rather than tending to the farm. Although Elvis' modern moves don't seem authentic to the time, it's likely his female fans didn't and likely still won't care.
Men come looking for the federal government's money. The Reno brothers decided it's best to turn it over but their fellow veterans disagree, causing a fissure in the group. The situation gets complicated as Vance tries to do the right thing, but the feds offers him an all-or-nothing deal. His accomplices try to find where he hid the money to keep him from turning it over and the feds don't trust him because it's taking so long for him to turn over the money. Making matters worse, the former soldiers play on Clint's insecurity and eventually turn him against Vance.
The video is presented in 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC at an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The black and white visuals look very good, although a daytime exterior scene looked a tad too white from brightness early on and blacks on rare occasion crush in dark scenes. The image is very clean and free from any dirt, wear, or signs of age. It offers great texture detail throughout and film grain is noticeable.
The audio is available as DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, which is not greatly different than the DTS-HD Master Audio Mono track. There's little involvement of the subwoofer. The tracks are free of defect and age. Dialogue is clear and understandable. Music, both Lionel Newman's score and Ken Darby's songs, and effects are predominantly in the front channels. Speaking of Darby, he wrote all the songs, although they were credited to both Elvis, as part of a deal Parker set up, and his wife, Vera Matson. According to Wikipedia, "When asked why he credited his wife as co-songwriter along with Presley, Darby responded, 'Because she didn't write it either.'"
Extras have been ported over from the previous 2006 DVD release. They include a commentary by Jerry Schilling, former friend and Memphis Mafia member. He talks more about Elvis than the film, which should delight fans, but his delivery is a bit dry. A series of interviews have been edited into themed featurettes with titles that make clear what they are about: Elvis Hits Hollywood (SD, 13 min), The Colonel & The King (SD, 11 min), "Love Me Tender": The Birth & Boom of the Elvis Hit (SD, 8 min) and Love Me Tender: The Soundtrack (SD, 8 min). They provide good historical information about the men and what was going on at the time in Elvis' career. Also available are the Original Theatrical Trailer (SD, 2 min) and the Spanish Trailer (SD, 2 min)
While Love Me Tender is not a classic western, the story delivers enough to keep it interesting, allowing the film to be more than an answer to a trivia contest. While the character doesn't offer a great deal of range, Elvis gives an earnest acting performance. Naturally once he was cast, the role was expanded. He sings four songs, which are over halfway through except for the reprise of the title track at the end. The song "Love Me Tender," an update of the traditional "Aura Lee," was already a smash hit before the film came out. A performance on The Ed Sullivan Show resulted in so many advance orders the single went gold (one million sales) before it hit the record shops. With a month before its release, 20th Century Fox changed the name of the film from The Reno Brothers to Love Me Tender to capitalize.