Elvis's Star Rises
"Flaming Star" is a surprising good western as it tells a tale of trouble for a mixed race family, as their loyalties are tested when trouble boils up between the white man and the Kiowa Indians. It has a point and a message to get across and whilst occasionally going over board in delivering it, it is entertaining and surprisingly violent thanks to director Don Siegel's eye for an action shot. But "Flaming Star" is also surprising because as an Elvis Presley movie it is head and shoulders above the majority of the stuff he was given to make. The fact that it isn't a fluffy musical but a real drama means that we have Elvis showing his chops as an actor and he more than holds his own.
Sam Burton (John McIntire - Psycho) and his Indian wife Neddy (Dolores del Rio) lead a happy enough life with their mixed-race son Pacer (Elvis Presley - G.I. Blues) and Clint (Steve Forrest - It Happened to Jane) from Sam's marriage. But when the Kiowa Indians start attacking the residents at the nearby Crossing they find themselves in an awkward position as the Kiowas want Pacer to side with them and those from the Crossing want Clint to be loyal to them. When Neddy and Sam are killed it ends up causing Pacer and Clint to take opposing sides.
In typical Elvis Presley movie style "Flaming Star" starts with him singing the title track over the credits and shortly after there is a scene which sees him pick up a guitar and sing and to be honest at that point I was thinking that we had another Elvis musical on our hands. But the good news is that after the intro the musical aspect completely disappears and "Flaming Star" turns into a serious movie. It almost feels like that the one musical scene was included because this was an Elvis Presley movie and so needed at least one song for those who only wanted to hear him sing.
Anyway after that musical intro "Flaming Star" settles down into a drama which touches on the tricky subject of being mixed race and racism as we have the Burton family and the mixed race Pacer Burton. Director Don Siegel gives us a flavour of the issues such as those with unknowing hidden racist feelings unintentionally being racist by what they say. And then when trouble breaks out between the white men and the Kiowa Indians you also get the element of taking sides, showing where your loyalties stand. It's not at all hard hitting or really revealing but it opens your eyes up just enough to see these couple of issues when it comes to racism. And for the most Don Siegel handles the subject well with some great scenes at the Crossing when Pacer and his brother Clint need the doctor but are turned away. Yes things occasionally become falsely dramatic as a point is put across but it strangely works.
What most definitely does work is the action side of "Flaming Star" and whilst the action is what you could only call traditional Don Siegel peps it all up with a touch of brutality. That means whilst we do get Indians attacking Cowboys and Cowboys fighting Cowboys you get surprising moments such a flaming arrow fires plum into a victim's chest. Yes by today's standards it's not in your face brutal but for an old western it has action and violence which feels real and exciting.
But the most significant thing about "Flaming Star" is that this is a movie which allows Elvis Presley to act and I've said it before but when Elvis gets a chance to act he is impressive. He gives Pacer Burton this sense of moodiness, someone who is young and slightly edgy, ready for trouble whenever it arrives. And whilst the ending ends up being painfully over dramatic what goes on before is solid acting from the young star. Even that musical scene works because rather than just being Elvis singing it is Elvis in character singing.
And to be honest it is so enjoyable to watch Elvis act that you end up ignoring what the other actors up to, which is a shame as no one puts in a bad performance. In fact Steve Forrest who plays Clint, Barbara Eden as Roslyn Pierce, Dolores del Rio who plays Neddy and John McIntire who plays Pa all delivers as equally good performances as Elvis, especially McIntire who manages to deliver a surprising amount of emotion from what is bordering on a 2 dimensional character.
What this all boils down to is that "Flaming Star" is an entertaining movie, a decent western and one of Elvis Presley's better movies. It not only has a decent storyline and thanks to Don Siegel some impressive action but it also features Elvis showing how good he was as an actor rather than just a singer.