From the time he got out of the Army in 1960 until his television comeback in 1968 and return to the concert stage in 1970, Elvis Presley was defined by his movies -- unfortunately. Most of the best of his 34 films, including "Jailhouse Rock" and "Loving You," were made before his induction, and where there had once been efforts to establish him in the James Dean mold, he was soon reduced to a clean-cut, Dean Martin-ish cartoon figure in musical comedies described (by his fan club, at that) as "puppet shows for not overbright children." As part of the sellabration of the 10th anniversary of Presley's death, Key Video has reduced the price tags on its 11 Elvis titles to $19.98 and MGM/UA Home Video has reduced its 12 titles to $24.95 (including the video debuts of "Follow That Dream" and "Frankie and Johnny"); most of the other films are also available, including such performance films as "Elvis ... Aloha From Hawaii" (Media, $29.95) and "Elvis -- One Night With You" (Media, $19.95), an expanded and revealing version of his comeback "Singer Special." For those who'd like to relive his initial television appearances, there is "Early Elvis" (Video Yesteryear, $24.95), while "This Is Elvis" (Warner Home Video, $24.98) is the best documentary available, but make sure you get the 140-minute version, not the edited-for-television version.
LOVE ME TENDER Unrated, 1956, B&W, 89 minutes, Key Video, $19.98.
This mundane Civil War drama was notable for "introducing Elvis Presley" in a supporting role as Clint Reno, youngest loving brother to returning Rebel hero Vance Reno (Richard Egan), but a source of familial irritation after marrying Vance's girl (Debra Paget) when they thought he'd been killed in battle. Later, money, justice and revenge enter the picture and the plot really gets complicated. Elvis is sincere and charismatic but hopelessly histrionic. The period setting precluded rock-oriented music: As a result, songs like "We're Gonna Move" and "Poor Boy" are closer to Presley's hillbilly roots. This is also the only film in which Elvis dies on screen, though fan protests led to the inclusion of a final scene in which Elvis' smiling ghost serenades his survivors.
KING CREOLE Unrated, 1958, B&W, 116 minutes, Key Video, $19.98.
Elvis' fourth film and the role he was most proud of. He's thoroughly convincing as Danny Fisher, a decent but rebellious New Orleans youth who hustles his way from Bourbon Street busboy to singing star. The role had been intended for James Dean, and Elvis brings to the screen a kindred outsider's sensibility, as well as the visceral energy that infused his live performances. Unlike most Elvis films, the musical context is realistic. There are a few good songs -- Lieber & Stoller's "Trouble," "Hard-Headed Woman" and "Lover Doll" -- but too much of the music is made up of uninspired pastiches of Dixieland and blues.
G.I. BLUES Unrated, 1960, 100 minutes, Key Video, $19.98.
Elvis' fifth film, and the first Hal Wallis production, was intended to cash in on his just-ended Army hitch in Germany and was a Col. Parker design for the "new" Elvis' career in family films. Like the duck-tail haircut and flamboyant clothes, all the rock-'n'-roll energy is gone, replaced by a flaccid pop inoffensiveness: Elvis as Pfc. Tulsa McLean, reluctantly trying to win a bet that he can spend the night with a cabaret dancer (Juliet Prowse), may get into a fistfight at a bar, but he also sings to puppets and babies. The music vacillates between pseudo-polka and martial mirth, and though there are no particularly memorable songs, the sound track spent 111 weeks on the charts, the longest of any Presley film.
WILD IN THE COUNTRY Unrated, 1960, 114 minutes, Key Video, $19.98.
This was one of Elvis' last attempts at a dramatic role. The initial version of "Wild" did so poorly it was recalled and a couple of song snatches were clumsily inserted. The screenplay was a soap opera configuration replete with a sex-starved psychologist (Hope Lange), a virtuous teen-ager (Millie Perkins), a hot-to-trot kissable cousin (Tuesday Weld) and assorted rich ne'er-do-wells. Elvis is Glenn Tyrell, a quick-to-violence backwoods boy who has both a romantic and a creative streak. He gives it his best shot and does a lot better than critics gave him credit for.
BLUE HAWAII Unrated, 1961, 106 minutes, Key Video,$ 19.98.
Not so much a film as a frolic that established the escapist Elvis formula: an exotic location, curvaceous girls, an inane script and an album's worth of songs. From here on, Elvis is basic boy scout. The music is pastiche Hawaiian, the plot is ridiculous, and the box-office grosses and record sales were incredible.
ELVIS PRESLEY'S GRACELAND Unrated, 1984, 60 minutes, Congress Video Group, $19.95.
Hyped as a "private" tour, but essentially a promotional teaser for a public "Graceland" tour, this hour-long video shows all too little of the Memphis mansion. Yes, we get glimpses of "the exotic Jungle Room ... the lavishly-decorated Pool Room ... the fully equipped TV room," but mostly we get confirmation that Elvis had about as much taste in home furnishings as he did in movie scripts. d All too much of the screen is taken up with head shots of the Memphis Mafia -- George Klein, Joe Esposito, Sam Phillips, et al. -- telling their same old stories. Your hostess, Priscilla Beaulieu Presley, reads Buz Cohan's paean in a reverent monotone (funny thing, though -- she forgets to mention a messy 1972 divorce), and it all makes sense when you remember Elvis' "philosophy of life and business -- Taking Care of Business."