Love Me Tender is a western drama set immediately after the Civil War. In Elvis Presley's first film, he appears in the secondary role of Clint Reno. This was the only time in his acting career that Elvis received second billing. Clint, the youngest of the four Reno brothers, stayed behind to run the family farm during the war while his older brothers were off fighting for the Confederacy.
Star Richard Egan plays Vance Reno, the eldest brother whom the family believes to have been killed in battle. Upon returning home, Vance is shocked to discover that Clint has married Vance’s former sweetheart, Cathy, played by Debra Paget. The love triangle, complicated by the greedy actions of some unscrupulous ex-Confederates, eventually pits brother against brother, resulting in Clint’s death. The downbeat ending is tempered by the brothers’ reconciliation as Clint dies in Cathy’s arms.
Behind The Scenes of Love Me Tender
Elvis’ first experience as a Hollywood actor was closely followed in the entertainment press from the day he was assigned a role in Love Me Tender until the day the film was released. The close scrutiny affected the outcome of the film in several ways. Originally called The Reno Brothers, this western drama was retitled after a number of articles announced that advanced sales for "Love Me Tender" -- one of the songs recorded for the film -- exceeded a million copies. It was the first time advanced sales for a single release had ever surpassed the million mark, and the producers capitalized on the publicity by changing the film’s title.
The unprecedented advances sales from the song "Love Me Tender"
inspired producers to make it the title of the movie as well.
The enormous amount of press coverage also affected the film’s conclusion. During production, fanzines leaked that Elvis’s character was supposed to die near the end of the film. As originally shot, the final scene features Mother Reno solemnly ringing the dinner bell as her three remaining sons toil in the fields. Pain and loss are registered on the faces of Mother Reno and Cathy, who mourn the death of Clint. Elvis’ legion of fans were disturbed by the news that their idol was to be killed off in his first film.
In an attempt to counter an "adverse public reaction," Twentieth Century-Fox shot an alternative ending in which Clint is spared. For reasons known only to the producers, this second ending was rejected. A compromise ending was used instead. Clint is killed as called for in the original script, but the final shot superimposed a ghostly close-up of Elvis as Clint crooning "Love Me Tender" as his family slowly walks away from his grave. The fans were then left with a final image of Elvis doing what he was famous for -- singing.
Prior to the film’s premiere at the Paramount Theater in New York, a 40-foot likeness of Elvis as Clint Reno was erected atop the theater’s marquee. Part of the ceremony surrounding the unveiling of the huge cutout included placing the world’s largest charm bracelet, which measured nine feet, around the figure’s wrist. The charms depicted various events in Elvis’s career, and the bracelet was a giant replica of one being merchandised across the country. Some fans attending the unveiling carried placards that complained about Elvis’s on-screen death, but Presley biographers have speculated that Colonel Tom Parker, the singer’s notorious manager, passed them out to garner even more publicity.
If the promotion surrounding Love Me Tender generated excitement among Elvis fans, it generated loathing among the critics. Reviewers around the country were lying in wait for the film, and many were brutal in their assessment of Elvis’ performance. In a particularly scathing review for Time magazine, one critic compared Elvis’ acting and screen presence to that of a sausage, a "Walt Disney goldfish," a corpse, and a cricket -- all in the same brief review.
Many did not confine their criticism to Elvis’ screen performance. Critics used the opportunity to reiterate the same complaints the Establishment had always hurled at Elvis, including his singing style, his hair, his Southern background, and his fanatical following.
If Elvis cried over the mean-spirited reviews, then he cried all the way to the bank. The film recouped its production costs within three days of release, guaranteeing that Elvis’ Hollywood future would be lucrative.
|Cast of Love Me Tender|
|Vance Reno||Richard Egan|
|Cathy Reno||Debra Paget|
|Clint Reno||Elvis Presley|
|Mr. Siringo||Robert Middleton|
|Brett Reno||William Campbell|
|Mike Gavin||Neville Brand|
|Martha Reno||Mildred Dunnock|
|Major Kincaid||Bruce Bennett|
|Ray Reno||James Drury|
|Ed Galt||Russ Conway|
|Mr. Kelso||Ken Clark|
|Mr. Davis||Barry Coe|
|Pardee Fleming||L.Q. Jones|
|Train Conductor||Jerry Sheldon|
Songs featured in Love Me Tender
- We’re Gonna Move
- Love Me Tender
- Let Me
- Poor Boy
Credits for Love Me Tender
- Twentieth Century-Fox
- Produced by David Weisbart
- Directed by Robert Webb
- Screenplay by Robert Buckner
- Based on a story by Maurice Geraghty
- Photographed in CinemaScope by Leo Tover
- Music by Lionel Newman
- Vocal Supervision by Ken Darby
- Songs written by Vera Matson with Elvis Presley
- Released November 15, 1956
To learn more about Elvis Presley, see: