Elvis is a 1979 television film by John Carpenter and is based upon the life of Elvis Presley, starring Kurt Russell in the title role. However, it ends in 1969 and does not depict the last few years of Presley’s life and career.
Elvis is notable in Carpenter’s career for two reasons. It was made after Halloween had wrapped, so it offered him an avenue to try his hand at a film away from the horror genre. It was also the first time Carpenter had worked with Russell, who became a frequent collaborator of Carpenter’s. Russell subsequently starred in Escape from New York (1981), The Thing (1982), Big Trouble in Little China (1985), and Escape from L.A. (1996).
Kurt Russell worked with and met Presley in the film It Happened at the World’s Fair (1963). In the film, Presley wants to meet the fairground’s nurse and he pays a young boy (Russell) to kick him in the shins. Later in the movie, the young boy sees Presley and the nurse together on a date and asks Presley if he can kick him again for money. Russell’s cinematic involvement with Presley also includes dubbing the voice of a young Presley in Forrest Gump and playing a Presley impersonator in 3000 Miles to Graceland.
Country singer Ronnie McDowell provided the vocals for a number of songs Russell performed in the film. McDowell recorded 36 songs for the soundtrack, but only 25 were used. Elvis originally aired on ABC opposite two blockbuster films; Gone with the Wind on CBS, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest on NBC. Despite this, Elvis beat both in the Nielson ratings, receiving a 27.3 rating compared to 24.3 and 22.5 respectively. Elvis was ranked the sixth most watched program of the week. According to several reports, Priscilla Presley was paid $50,000 to check the script for accuracy before shooting commenced.
Russell was nominated for an Emmy Award for his performance as Presley. Also nominated for Emmy Awards were cinematographer Donald M. Morgan and make-up artist Marvin Westmore. Russell would later marry co-star Season Hubley on March 17, 1979. They were later divorced. Bing Russell, who played Vernon Presley, is Kurt Russell’s real father. For several years Bing played Deputy Clem Poster in the TV series “Bonanza”.
After its success on television, the film was released theatrically throughout Europe. The film finally debuted on DVD and Blu-ray in early 2010 via Shout! Factory.
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