Flaming StarFlaming Star is a 1960 American Western film starring Elvis Presley and Barbara Eden, based on the book Flaming Lance (1958) by Clair Huffaker. Critics agreed that Presley gave one of his best acting performances as the mixed-blood "Pacer Burton", a dramatic role. The film was directed by Don Siegel and had a working title of Black Star.
The movie reached No. 12 on the box office charts.
It was filmed in Utah, Los Angeles and in Wildwood Regional Park in Thousand Oaks, California. A road near Wildwood in Thousand Oaks has been named Flaming Star Avenue after the movie.
SynopsisElvis Presley plays Pacer Burton, the son of a Kiowa mother and a Texan father working as a rancher. His family, including a half-brother, Clint, live a typical life on the Texan frontier. Life becomes anything but typical when a nearby tribe of Kiowa begin raiding neighboring homesteads. Pacer soon finds himself caught between the two worlds, part of both but belonging to neither.
DevelopmentThe film was based on Clare Huffaker's novel Flaming Lance which was published in 1958.
Film rights were purchased by 20th Century Fox and Nunally Johnson was assigned to write the script. It was called The Brothers of Flaming Arrow then Flaming Lance. In May 1958 Fox announced a film version would start shooting the following month. Johnson later recalled the studio "said they couldn't make it because it would cost too much for a western and a western couldn't get in as much as it would cost, something like that."
Originally Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando were lined up to play the brothers. The Fox decided to cast Presley in the lead role. Presley's previous film, G.I. Blues, had been a success at the box office and had led to one of his best selling albums to that point. However, determined to be taken seriously as an actor, Presley asked for roles with fewer songs.
"Physically he's right," said producer David Weisbert, who had produced Presley's first film, Love Me Tender. "His Army training and the athletic interests he picked up there have left him in superb condition. He probably always was graceful... but now his grace is trained and refined and developed. What's more his slight Mississippi accent is no problem in a film set in West Texas."
Director Don Siegel made tests of Elvis wearing dark contact lenses but decided they detracted from his acting too much and discarded them.
Fox insisted on the addition of four songs. "We aren't courageous enough to present him without any songs at all," said Weisbart.
They asked Huffaker to do the rewrites."I took two weeks rewriting the script and only ten days of the book," said Huffaker. "I hate to say it but in rewriting the script I think it makes a better story than my original."
"We've spotted them [the songs] where they'd come in naturally," said Weisbart. " At a frontier party, at an encampment, and during a horseback ride over the plains."
Fox wanted a theme song so Huffaker changed the title to Black Star which he felt would be better for a song than Flaming Lance. He made up an old Indian legend about a black star. "It was OK to change the title and have a song written about a star," he said.
A song was recorded by Elvis to be used as the theme song, but was later rerecorded as "Flaming Star" using the same words and melody.
Johnson was contacted when abroad by Clair Huffaker who had written the original novel. He told Johnson that Presley was cast and wanted know if Johnson objected to Huffaker having credit on the script. "I'd always objected to that, but I couldn't say no to the guy," said Johnson. "He didn't do anything, as he admitted. I was wondering what in God's name they would do with Elvis Presley In this. All they did was put in a kind of a hoedown dance and Presley sang a song at the opening and then they went right on into the picture."
ShootingFilming started August 1960. Parts of the film were shot in Delle, Lonerock, and Skull Valley in Utah. Filming also took place at Conejo Ranch in Thousand Oaks, California.
Barbara Steele, originally signed to play the love interest, was replaced during filming by Barbara Eden after studio executives decided that Steele's British accent was too pronounced. (Steele claims she quit.)
Flaming Star was initially to include four songs. Siegel said while directing, "Elvis must not appear professional" in those scenes. "He should have an awkwardness and an absence of the Presley mannerisms." Eventually Presley demanded two be removed, it ended up with only the title song and a short number at the opening birthday party scene.
Box OfficeThe film was released only one month after G.I. Blues but did not achieve the same degree of box office success, reaching number 12 on the Variety box office survey for the year..
Critical receptionsThe film received generally positive reviews, with a few critics lauding Presley's performance and noting his improvement as an actor. A. H. Weiler of The New York Times praised the film as "an unpretentious but sturdy Western that takes the time, the place and the people seriously." Variety called the plot "disturbingly familiar and not altogether convincing, but the film, attractively mounted and consistently diverting, will entertain and absorb the audience it is tailored for."
Harrison's Reports graded it "Very good," calling Presley "believable" and John McIntire "a powerful figure." Charles Stinson of the Los Angeles Times appraised the film as "standard for its type — the half-breed tragedy — but done well enough to head a program double bill." Stinson wrote of Presley that "he seems to be improving noticeably with every film. He has, of course, rather a distance yet to go to dramatic power and polish. But 'Flaming Star' and 'G.I. Blues' are a long way up from 'Jailhouse Rock.'" Richard L. Coe of The Washington Post criticized the film for "flat, one-syllable dialogue" and "ruthless predictability," though he found some of the outdoor shots "handsome." The Monthly Film Bulletin wrote that although the film "never really gets beyond the comic strip weepie stage," director Siegel "has managed to communicate considerable excitement through flashes of imaginative cutting and handsome composition, notably in the first Indian attack, and in some realistically staged fight, chase and battle passages ... But Siegel's main achievement is his direction of Elvis Presley, still basically not an actor, but no longer a joke as a screen personality. Given the full, virile build-up, he plays the half-breed with a brooding presence that is surprisingly effective."
Johnson eventually saw the film and said he "liked it very much." He thought Siegel "did a first-rate job and also Presley did."
Quentin Tarantino later called it "a truly great fifties western, and maybe the most brutally violent American western of its era."
Effect on some African countries and territoriesAccording to an Associated Press report from Johannesburg, dated May 31, 1961, South Africans were initially not able to see the movie. The government, which had strict laws to keep the races separate, banned the picture on that same day, because Presley "played the son of an American Indian woman and a white man" A day later, 20th Century-Fox appealed and as a result the South Africa Board of Censors lifted the ban, on condition that the film not be shown to the country's indigenous population. The film then opened to segregated theatres, starting in Durban in early June. However, it was permanently banned on cinemas in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, as UK colonial government officials in those territories were concerned the movie could reignite racial tensions in the aftermath of the then recent Mau Mau uprising.
Artistic legacy/Andy Warhol silkscreens
One single publicity still from the film was used by Andy Warhol to create several silkscreens, among them numerous versions of "Single Elvis", "Double Elvis" and "Elvis I and I" , as well as at least four "Triple Elvis" and a one of a kind, each, of "Eight Elvises" and " Elvis Times Eleven", the latter of which is currently housed at the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, PA. The total amount of monies generated by at least ten of these silkscreens, from that single publicity still and on behalf of auction houses ar at private sales are, as of June of 2019, in excess of US$345,000,000.