Flaming Star Is What Awaits Elvis Presley Over His Shoulder

Twentieth Century Fox

I started a blog site last year, Elvis Is Everywhere. Because it’s true: Elvis, indeed, is everywhere.

It’s been a running gag ever since I first heard musician Mojo Nixon’s iconic single ‘Elvis Is Everywhere’ originally released in 1987. (‘Elvis is everywhere, man. He’s in everything … he’s in everybody. Elvis is in your jeans. He’s in your cheeseburgers. Elvis is in Nutty Buddies. Elvis is in your mom. He’s in everybody … he’s in the young, the old, the fat, the skinny, the white, the black, the brown … and The Blue People got Elvis in’em too.’) Let me tell you what … that’s classic stuff right there. Just like Elvis.

But here’s the thing: Shortly after my introduction to the song, I noticed that Elvis, truly, is everywhere. It wasn’t just a gimmick. Everywhere I went, there he was. He was at a garage sale I went to in the form of a figurine on a table filled with knick knacks. I saw him in a Target around Christmastime as a singing, hip-swaying animatronic toy crooning ‘Blue Christmas’ soulfully. He was on a billboard advertising a new, local ‘all Elvis’ radio station in the Las Vegas area. I saw him during Halloween. He was in The Blues Brothers at the ending jailhouse scene. (Well, not exactly. Joliet Jake was belting out ‘Jailhouse Rock’ during the finale of the film, you might recall.) I even saw him come out of a 7-Eleven once with a Slurpee in his hand. (Or … maybe it was an incredibly accurate facsimile.)

With sighting after sighting after sighting over the years – and in some of the most unlikely places – at some point you have to come to terms with the fact Mojo Nixon was dead to rights: Elvis is everywhere. Accept this and you’re no longer surprised at seeing Elvis in your travels, at a restaurant, going to the grocery store or during your mundane, everyday routines.

Mojo Nixon

So it was little wonder early Sunday morning, fresh cup of coffee in hand while punching on the television in anticipation of watching my usual CBS Sunday Morning, that I suddenly heard none other than The King come out of the television sound system. I don’t recall what channel the TV was last tuned into but the opening credits to Flaming Star (right at the very beginning) faded into being as The King Of Rock and Roll himself sang the titular number. I learned ‘every man has a flaming star, a flaming star over his shoulder’ and, when a man sees it, his time is over … or so the song’s lyrics informed me. And you want to keep that flaming star behind you because ‘… there’s a lot of living I gotta do, gimme time to make a few dreams come true …’ Elvis crooned.

Not only was I entertained by the tune but I was intrigued Flaming Star was not only on and that I’d caught it at the very start. (The film’s presence, right then and there, did nothing but reinforce my belief Elvis was everywhere.) What to do? Why, settle comfortably and take in Flaming Star in all its glory. I’d never witnessed an Elvis film previously so why not? At a little over an hour and a half – and without commercials – what did I have to lose? I mean … other than a little over an hour and a half?

As it turns out, the flick wasn’t that bad. Just your standard western, nothing spectacular.

Set in Texas, Pacer and Clint Burton (Elvis Presley and Steve Forrest, respectively) are two sons living with their parents (Sam and Neddy Burton, played by Sam McIntire and Dolores Del Rio) on a ranch. Both were born of different mothers, Clint’s mother having passed long ago. Their father’s current wife is Pacer’s mother … and is also Indian, leading to several conflicts within the film. Friends and acquaintances aren’t all that keen on the interracial union but they tolerate it. And things begin to get sticky when Indians begin exacting revenge on white men encroaching on their lands. Adding complication to matters, the tribal chief – who knows Pacer and his mother well – offers a choice: Pacer must join the chief and his tribe (many of whom are Pacer’s relatives) or die defending his family’s ranch.

And so the groundwork for Flaming Star is laid. As western films go, this one is rather run of the mill. However, some surprises are tucked within it. There are quite a few good performances and just as many recognizable actors with Barbara Eden (Flaming Star being one of the more notable of her film roles), Rodolfo Acosta, Karl Swenson and Ford Rainey adding to the well-rounded cast. And the ending (no spoilers here!) was unexpected.

But there were some groan-worthy moments, too. While I was pleased overall with Elvis’ acting abilities in Flaming Star, I found myself rolling my eyes at several scenes with him shirtless, obvious and gratuitous exhibitions offering nothing more than eye-candy to those who enjoy such things. Thankfully, outside the opening credits, there was only one other instance of musicality in the film and that at the beginning. Most instances of music in Elvis’ films I’ve glimpsed of have left me wallowing in their cheesiness. But, coming in the opening minutes of the film, ‘A Cane And A High Starched Collar’ not only fit within its context but was at least tolerable.

The most head-shaking grouse I had? That of the use of ‘flaming star.’ Not only was it the title of the film and constituted the opening number, it was called out – and rather humorously – in two specific instances. The first when Neddy was mortally wounded and again by Pacer in the film’s final minutes. For me, its use was bordering on the incessant pronouncements of the drippy, over-sentimental ‘spark of hope’ call outs during the most recent Star Wars effort, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which I griped about at length here.

That being said, I didn’t feel the better part of two hours of my life was wasted taking in this Elvis film. In fact, I was rather glad I committed to it. And here’s why:

At its conclusion, I went hunting for ratings on all Elvis’ efforts. And this is what I found …

Of the 30+ films he made, Flaming Star was in the top five of a vast number of critics’ and viewers’ critical lists, a few of which pointing it out as his best film. Most relegated it to the #3 spot overall in The King’s silver screen lore with just as many claiming it an above average western as well. Most reviews noted Elvis’ acting chops came across relatively well in the grand scheme of things. So I was rather pleased at having been fortunate enough to taking in not only my first Elvis picture but one that came so highly rated. I could have unwittingly tuned into a stinker just as easily as this one.

Will I be visiting other Presley picture shows? Doubtful. I like Elvis but I’m not obsessed with him.

And, after all, he is everywhere. It’s not like I’m far removed from him at any given time …

Twentieth Century Fox

 

 

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