Elvis Presley’s best role thanks to Michael Curtiz

Audiences and critics alike rated King Creole, filmed in 1958, as the best movie starring Elvis Presley; indeed, the King himself cited this as his all-time favourite work.

If there was a prize for the most prolific filmmaker ever, then Mihály Kertész, born in 1886, would certainly be on the shortlist. During a career spanning fifty years, he was involved in the making of around 180 motion picture works. He largely shot features but he also dipped into documentaries and the world of TV series. In 1912 he took his place behind the camera for the first time and after a study tour in Copenhagen lasting just a few months he began churning out domestic silent movies as one of the leading directors in the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. In seven years he completed more than 40, sadly the majority of which have been lost over the intervening years. One of the exceptions is A tolonc (The Undesirable) featuring on the programme of Budapest Classics Film Marathon in a restored and digitized version. A print of this work came to light in the cellar of the Hungarian House in New York in 2006. The stage adaptation is remarkable because it is the only film reel that has survived for posterity showing the grande dame of Hungarian theatrical art, Mari Jászai. The audience can watch the film in the open air, projected onto a super-size screen set up in Szent István Square, with live musical accompaniment by Győr Philharmonic Orchestra.

Kertész rapidly outgrew the possibilities afforded by Hungary and in 1919 he left, first for Vienna and then overseas, where Hollywood received him with open arms thanks to his epic historical films made in Austria, of which the silent movie Der junge Medardus (Young Medardus) can be viewed at the festival in September. His Dream Factory career took off in 1927, hallmarked by such huge hits made with top stars of the day as The Sea Hawk, The Sea Wolf, A Breath of Scandal, or the evergreen classic Casablanca, for which he earned an Oscar, and all of which are being screened at Budapest Classics Film Marathon.

One of the real gems of his work abroad has been added to the festival programme. This has never been shown on the big screen in Hungary before. Shot in 1958, King Creole is ranked as Elvis Presley’s best film by audiences and critics alike. Indeed, the King himself cited this as his all-time favourite work, even though he appeared in front of the camera in Hollywood countless times up until the 1970s.

Initially it appeared as though nothing memorable would come of this collaboration. Curtiz immediately ordered the singer to lose 15 kg by the time shooting was to start, and to shave off his sideburns. This floored Presley but in the end he submitted to all the director’s instructions. Once shooting started, the two quickly found themselves on the same wavelength. Curtiz, who at the beginning looked on the rock and roll star as arrogant, soon realized that not only was he a most pleasant young man but he was a talented actor into the bargain. Consequently, he constantly encouraged Presley to show what he was really capable of and bring out the best of himself in the role of the kid from the suburbs (who also happens to have an amazing voice) struggling with impending school exams and facing up to the powerful bar owner. The end result of this collaboration was a triumph. The critics fought to outdo each other in their praises and many even anticipated an Oscar for Presley. However, the precious golden statuette was not to be his, indeed, the film was not even nominated. That said, in addition to the words of high appreciation and the long queues snaking in front of cinemas, Presley may have been even happier that his song performed in King Creole, Hard Headed Woman, rocketed to the top of the charts and became an important milestone in his singing career.

Viewers can see King Creole as the opening movie of the 2022 Budapest Classics Film Marathon with Hungarian subtitles, in Uránia Film Theatre. 

To purchase tickets, click on the films page.