Flaming Star

As Pacer Burton in Flaming Star, Elvis Presley starred in one of the few dramatic roles of his career. A western with an excellent supporting cast of some of Hollywood’s most notable actors, Flaming Star tells a story of racial intolerance toward Native Americans in the Old West. Pacer, the son of a white father and Kiowa mother, lived a peaceful existence with his racially mixed family until members of the Kiowa nation massacre the Burtons’ neighbors. Pacer’s loyalties are divided between the white man’s civilized world and the freer existence of the Kiowas.

When white settlers murder his mother, played by longtime Hollywood star Dolores Del Rio, Pacer joins the Kiowas. But the confused young man finds no peace with the tribe, particularly after they kill his father and seriously wound his brother. Pacer abandons the Kiowas to rescue his brother; he sends the injured brother back to town and then prepares to battle the pursuing Indians. The next morning, a wounded Pacer returns to his brother to bid farewell because he has seen the flaming star of death and knows he must ride into the mountains to die.

Elvis in Flaming Star
Angry over his treatment by other
ranchers in the valley, Elvis Presley,
as Pacer Burton, takes a hard line.

Behind the Scenes of Flaming Star

Some Presley biographies have indicated that the role of Pacer Burton was originally written for Marlon Brando, adding credence to the commonly held notion that Elvis could have been another Brando if he had not been stuck with so many musical comedies. This is too simplistic an interpretation of what really transpired in terms of the script for this film. Hollywood projects often go through many studios, changing focus and casts at every turn, and this was certainly the case with Flaming Star.

In 1958, Twentieth Century-Fox had purchased the rights to Clair Huffaker’s newest novel, which was not yet complete. Titled The Brothers of Broken Lance at the time, the storyline focused on two characters instead of one. Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra were offered and accepted the two main roles, that of the Burton brothers. Later, negotiations broke down with both stars, and neither decided to star in the film.

When the novel was completed, it was retitled Flaming Lance. While the novel was being adapted to the script, the focus of the film shifted to one brother. Elvis was the only actor offered the role of Pacer Burton. During production, the film went through a number of title changes, including Flaming Heart, Black Star, and Black Heart, before finally being released as Flaming Star. The role Elvis accepted differed from the original conception of the character that had been offered to Brando. To imply that Elvis replaced Brando in this film is misleading.

In Flaming Star, Elvis was given the opportunity to prove himself as a serious actor. That this film was considered an important feature is indicated by the choice of director, scriptwriter, and supporting cast. Don Siegel, who had directed the science-fiction classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers and who would later direct Dirty Harry, guided Elvis through Flaming Star. With author Clair Huffaker, respected scriptwriter Nunnally Johnson adapted the screenplay. The cast included the legendary Dolores Del Rio, a screen star in Mexico as well as in America. Flaming Star was her first appearance in an American film in 18 years.

Though the movie provided Elvis with one of his few opportunities to act, the film’s producers and Colonel Parker were nervous about the reaction of fans. To hedge their bets, they attempted to insert four songs into the film. Director Siegel was not pleased with that decision and fought to keep the songs out even after he had shot them. The final version of the film contains two songs.

Siegel realized from his experiences with Flaming Star that Elvis’ chance of pursuing a serious acting career was doomed. He later told Rolling Stone magazine, "I found [Elvis] sensitive and very good, with the exception that he was very unsure of himself...He felt he could have done better things. And his advisors -- namely the Colonel -- were very much against doing this kind of straight role. They tried to get him to sing throughout the picture. Obviously, they didn’t want him to get off the winning horse. But when I was able to calm him down, I thought he gave a beautiful performance."

Cast of Flaming Star
Character
Actor
Pacer Burton
Elvis Presley
Roslyn Pierce Barbara Eden
Clint Burton
Steve Forrest
Neddy Burton
Dolores Del Rio
Sam Burton
John Mclntire
Buffalo Horn
Rudolph Acosta
Dred Pierce
Karl Swenson
Doc Phillips
Ford Rainey
Angus Pierce
Richard Jaeckel
Dorothy Howard
Anne Benton
Tom Howard
L. Q. Jones
Will Howard
Douglas Dick
Jute
Tom Reese
Ph’Sha KnayMarian Goldina
Ben Ford
Monte Burkhart
Mr. Hornsby
Ted Jacques
Indian Brave
Rodd Redwing
Two Moons
Perry Lopez
Matt Holcom
Roy Jenson
Indian Brave
Red West

Songs Featured in Flaming Star

  • Flaming Star
  • A Cane and a High Starched Collar

Credits for Flaming Star

  • Twentieth Century-Fox
  • Produced by David Weisbart
  • Directed by Don Siegel
  • Screenplay by Clair Huffaker and Nunnally Johnson
  • Based on the novel Flaming Lance by Clair Huffaker
  • Photographed in DeLuxe Color and CinemaScope by Charles G. Clarke
  • Music by Cyril J. Mockridge
  • Vocal accompaniment by The Jordanaires
  • Released December 20, 1960

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