Vance Reno (Richard Egan) is leading a band of Confederate soldiers to pull off a heist, getting their hands on some money and delivering it to one of their superiors. When they learn that it was all for nothing and that the Confederacy has fallen apart, the men decide to split the money between themselves.
Vance and two of his brothers separate from the group and head home, to their family’s farm. Vance expects to find his pre-war sweetheart, Cathy (Debra Paget), and marry her upon his return. Vance is unaware, along with brothers Ray (James Drury) and Brett (William Campbell), that he has been reported dead.
Thinking that his brother was killed in the war, youngest Reno sibling Clint (Elvis Presley) married Cathy after her parents were killed in a raid. Naturally, this causes some trouble between the brothers when the three eldest Reno boys make it home, and they also face the consequences of holding onto that stolen money.
Love Me Tender was directed by Robert D. Webb. The film served as the big-screen debut of Elvis Presley.
I watched Love Me Tender on TV, and when it began, I questioned whether the schedule had been incorrect. With that title and Elvis’ involvement in the film, I expected it to be much sillier and fluffier than it is. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it is actually a solid Western drama, with introspective characters and solid performances.
Love Me Tender starts out much like any western, with stunning black and white photography of Western scenery, and a story involving a gang of gruff men committing crimes. The film blends an eventual love triangle between brothers (once the older Renos return home and Clint enters the story) with a more typical western tale of stolen money. A pretty successful balance is struck between the two sides of the plot.
Debra Paget and Richard Egan both give strong performances, as well as supporting player Mildred Dunnock. Dunnock’s role as the widowed matriarch of the Reno family is small, but she makes the most of her screen time, showing obvious affection for her on-screen children. Mrs. Reno seems genuinely delighted for her children to all be together again, despite their complicated circumstances, after the loss and hardship of the war years.
The songs, added due to Elvis’ popularity and for the benefit of his fans, are fun. Elvis performing them in his typical hip-swinging style made it difficult for me to think of him as a character rather than himself in the musical scenes (especially “We’re Gonna Move” and “Poor Boy”). That being said, his performance in the non-musical scenes is quite convincing. He does well with the character in the more dramatic parts of the plot, even if his songs distract from the heart of the film.
I enjoyed Love Me Tender much more than I expected to, and though it was only Elvis’ first film, I think it can be ranked among his best. The score: 3.5/5