When you say "best" concerning movies, or any other art form, you get into the area of aesthetics. And as we all know, aesthetics are pretty much entirely subjective.
We can all agree that two plus four equals six or that the Golden Gate bridge is in San Francisco or that most dogs have four legs- we agree, of course, because these are all clearly observable and provable "facts.” But if a guy claims that, say, Porky's 3 is a better film than Citizen Kane or that Bananarama are a better group than the Beatles, all we can really do is shrug our shoulders in justifiable frustration.
That said, I maintain that Elvis Presley's second film Loving You is his finest film (and if not, it's my favorite Elvis film- it always has been).
Elvis reported for work on Loving You January 21, 1957, having recently turned 22. Previous titles considered were Lonesome Cowboy, Something for the Girls, and Running Wild (the title Ed Sullivan used to plug the film on Elvis' last guest appearance on his show).
Elvis had been disappointed in the results of his film debut Love Me Tender, which he had filmed a few months earlier. After having been loaned out for Love Me Tender, Loving You was to be Elvis' first film for Paramount, his longtime future studio home.
Its supporting cast was very good, if not stellar, including the beautiful Lizabeth Scott, Wendell Cory, Paul Smith, James Gleason, and future cloistered nun Dolores Hart, in her film debut as Elvis' love interest.
Loving You was to be a semi-autobiographical study of Elvis, who plays Deke Rivers, a delivery boy who gets discovered by a semi-unscrupulous manager (Scott) and becomes a popular singing sensation. Sound familiar?
Besides the obvious similarity between Elvis and his real-life manager, Colonel Tom Parker, we also get our first -and best- look at Elvis "the Pelvis" Presley performing onstage. Other Elvis "firsts" abound.
Loving You was to be Elvis' first-ever film in glorious Technicolor (Paramount's newest invention “Vistavision"). We get a full-screen view of the King in action and in his prime, shaking, swiveling, gyrating, bumping-and-grinding. Loving You was to be, in fact, the only real view we ever will get of the legendary Elvis Presley of the 50's in color. The famed Ed Sullivan Show appearances, the Milton Berle Shows, the Steve Allen Show, and his other three 50's films are all preserved in the much-less stupefying black-and-white.
For his Technicolor debut, Elvis dyed his hair his later-trademark jet black. In Love Me Tender, Elvis had his real-life sandy-blonde hair, but after Loving You, it was to be stark ebony for the rest of his life, both on and off screen.
Elvis gets his first-ever onscreen kiss in Loving You, the lucky, much envied girl being Jana Lund.
He also begins another longtime Elvis movie tradition in this film, the Elvis vs. the smart-ass fight. The fight scene in Loving You between Elvis and actor Kenneth Becker was not only his first movie fight, but Elvis' single finest moment on screen.
Becker, as wise guy “Wayne,” is heckling and badgering Deke in the local malt shop and Elvis is coerced into singing a song for the local teens. After Elvis sings an incredible version of “Mean Woman Blues" for the local yokels, he is taunted into a fight with Wayne. The fight is choreographed beautifully, almost a great (if very macho) ballet.
The plot of Loving You also marks the first of a future Elvis film plot staple- the two women both in love with Elvis at the same time. Elder Lizabeth Scott and nubile newcomer Dolores Hart vie for the King's affections.
Loving You offers Elvis his best-ever movie song selection, besides the aforementioned “Mean Woman Blues" and the film's title song, the King warbles “Got a Lot o' Livin' to Do,” “(Let's Have a) Party,” “Lonesome Cowboy,” “Hot Dog" and, in one of the rare times an Elvis "classic" makes it into a Presley film, “Teddy Bear.”
And surprise surprise!!! Elvis can actually act. True, while Loving You isn't quite Rebel Without a Cause, Elvis nonetheless delivers his lines full-force and displays what was to be his single greatest gift as an actor, a fiery temper and a fierce flash of anger.
No, Elvis never did become his idol, James Dean, or Brando or Bogart or Gable. But when it comes to flashing anger onscreen, no one, but no one, could top Elvis.
“That's what you want, isn't it? A monkey in a zoo?" Elvis snarls angrily at his exploitative manager. (This line, by the way, was to inspire a later "rock group" to choose their name almost a decade later, as the Monkees would be christened in honor of Elvis line of Loving You dialogue.)
Elvis' parents, Vernon and Gladys, are featured in the film's climactic scene as extras, cheering Elvis on as he sings and wows the local crowd. Sadly, after Gladys' death the next year, Elvis could never bring himself to watch Loving You again.
Director Hal Kantor also screen tested Gladys and Vernon with Elvis. According to Kantor, Elvis had the negative destroyed because his mother hated how sallow and heavy she looked.
Loving You opened nationwide the last week of July in 1957 and reached #7 on Variety magazine's box office survey. It offers us a wonderful look at the great potential Elvis Presley had to act in a truly great film, a "classic.” This was to be Elvis' greatest of all dreams, to become a good, admired, and respected movie star. As we all know, this dream was never to come to pass.