Presley plays Danny Fisher, a young, tough musician making his way in New Orleans. Matthau plays Maxie Fields, a kingpin of organized crime in the city, with Jones as Ronnie, a call girl with limited prospects. With its aspects of film noir, its relatively realistic depiction of the mix of poverty and ambition, and in the unsentimental relationships between the three principal characters, King Creole fits in the mold of films from that era like The Big Knife and Sweet Smell of Success. Most critics cite this as Presley’s best film, and best acting performance.
King Creole was Elvis Presley’s favorite of the films he made. This was also the last Elvis movie filmed in black and white. The director of King Creole was Michael Curtiz, who won the Academy Award in 1943 for Best Director for Casablanca. The movie was loosely based on a 1952 novel A Stone for Danny Fisher by Harold Robbins.
Elvis Presley’s most critically acclaimed performance as an actor was in what is considered (rivaled only by Jailhouse Rock) the best of all the films he starred in – ‘King Creole‘. The story was based upon the Harold Robbins novel ‘A Stone For Danny Fisher’. Generally considered Elvis’ best narrative film, King Creole benefited from the talents of several Hollywood notables. Producer Hal Wallis chose one of his closest associates, the well-respected Michael Curtiz, to direct the film. Best known as the director of Casablanca, Curtiz was an expert craftsman known for his deft handling of a wide variety of film genres during his 30-year career. The tight control over the many twists and subplots of King Creole reflects Curtiz’s expertise.
Other Hollywood veterans who made up the crew included cinematographer Russell Harlan, who photographed the film in a dark, moody lighting style that captured the seedy but seductive atmosphere of the French Quarter.
The level of experience that Wallis, Curtiz, and Harlan brought to the production of King Creole would never be matched in another Presley feature. Elvis’ supporting cast represented some of the finest Hollywood actors of the 1950s. Elvis played the role of Danny. Danny Fisher (Elvis) coming up from the ghetto to seek fame and fortune as a singer in the New Orleans Jazz clubs. Along the way he tangles with gangland boss Maxie Fields (Walter Matthau) and love interest Ronnie played by Carolyn Jones.
Danny is dissatisfied with the financial situation of his poverty-stricken family and blames his father for their problems. He sweeps up at a nightclub to earn extra money — a job that places the impressionable young man in the company of some shady characters. An encounter with Ronnie, a local gangster’s moll portrayed by Carolyn Jones, results in Danny’s expulsion from high school. On the job that night at the club, Danny runs into Ronnie and gangster Maxie Fields, played by Walter Matthau, who insist that Danny sing a song.Danny’s natural talent attracts the attention of the owner of the King Creole night spot, who offers him a job.
Danny is at a crossroads. He is torn between the love of good girl Nellie, played by Dolores Hart, and his attraction to the ill-fated Ronnie. Danny is also torn between his desire for a singing career and the temptation to join a street gang. A violent altercation with the gang’s leader, played by Vic Morrow, leaves Danny with a serious knife wound. After Ronnie nurses him back to health, a jealous Maxie shoots her in cold blood.
Maxie in turn is shot by a gang member Danny had once befriended. Danny returns to singing at the King Creole, reconciled with his family and with Nellie.