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The Evolution of the Elvis Movie Poster, U.K. Style

by Mike Bloomfield (10/15/13).

“Love Me Tender” (1956). The King announces his big-screen arrival with this simple but powerful poster design. (Photo: chantrellposter.com)

Elvis Presley was a movie star as well as a singer, starring in 33 big-screen productions. These films were not only hits in America but were widely appreciated overseas and probably no more so than in Britain. The legacy of Elvis Presley is such that all original Elvis movie posters are collectible and some of the most sought-after designs are those for U.K. posters.

Many American collectors have been extending their collections in recent years and have acquired choice U.K. Elvis posters. Even as Presley’s musical career encompassed a number of musical genres, including rock ’n’ roll, country, pop and cabaret, similarly, Elvis’s movie career resulted in a range of films genres. The purpose of this article will be to examine some of these and consider the collecting options for Elvis U.K. movie posters.

Hip Swivelling Arrives!

Elvis’s early posters evoke the man’s budding image as a symbol of both rock ’n’ roll, as well as teenage rebellion. “Love Me Tender,” released in 1956, marked Elvis’s big-screen debut while he was also establishing himself as a leading figure in the music world. The U.K. quad poster for the film, by artist Tom Chantrell, brilliantly captures the early animalistic quality of Elvis; the pink-toned photographic image oozing angst, yearning and sexuality. The smaller caricature of Elvis shivering with emotion just emphasizes the overall effect. Colonel Tom Parker (Presley’s manager) saw the movies as an excellent way of marketing Elvis to a global audience but, initially, Elvis films were chiefly seen as instruments to market Presley’s musical output and, as such, most early Elvis posters carried the song titles on the poster as here. Expect an original “Love Me Tender” U.K. quad in good condition to cost up to $2,000.

Elvis Goes Pop

“Follow That Dream” (1962). To appeal to a wider audience, a softer, less rebellious Elvis emerges, but the poster is still pushing his songs! (Photo: moviepostermem.com)

“California Holiday” (1966). Elvis embraces the “Swinging ’60s” in this explosion of color….the proliferation of scantily clad girls also provided something of interest for his male fans, too. (Photo: moviepostermem.com)

In 1958, Elvis was inducted into the U.S. Army and it would not be until 1960 when he would release another film. Following his discharge from the Army, and for much of the next decade, Elvis would star in two to three films each year, with many of these helping to promote his newest singles releases. This was the case with 1962’s “Follow That Dream,” which, like most of the Elvis poster designs from the period, presented breezy and care-free imagery while making sure to show girls and promote any songs used in the film.

For the next three to four years, this image of a wholesome, healthy and light-hearted character adorned most Elvis movie posters. “California Holiday,” released in 1966, continues this care-free and fun aesthetic through its colorful and vibrant design, which also makes sure to include plenty of images of dancing girls. However, although the film was still essentially a platform for Elvis to perform his latest songs by this stage, the song titles were no longer stated on the poster itself. Good quality and original “Follow That Dream” posters will fetch around $400 while “California Holiday,” one of the scarcer British Elvis posters, will retail at $600.

“Speedway” (1968). In step with the times, Elvis jives against a psychedelic flower-power background. (Photo: moviepostermem.com)

Moving with the Times: Psychedelic Elvis

The marketing formula for Elvis films throughout the 1960s was pretty standard, focusing on Elvis, girls and songs. However, the tempo of the times during the decade changed radically. The somewhat schmaltzy presentation of Elvis from the early to mid-1960s would have looked dated by the end of the decade. As the social and cultural mores of the times shifted, so the visual depiction of Elvis in poster designs underwent a transformation. As an example, look at the U.K. quad poster for the 1968 movie “Speedway.” Though we still have Elvis and plenty of female company, the song titles have gone and the poster design clearly embraces the prevailing mood of free love and psychedelic experimentation. Expect to pay $500 plus for nice copies of this U.K. poster.

“Charro!” (1969). Elvis finally gets his chance to play it straight in this western movie. (Photo: moviepostermem.com)

Elvis Gets Serious

Elvis Presley’s acting abilities were challenged little during the 1950s and ’60s. However, Elvis hankered for more serious roles and in 1969’s “Charro!,” Elvis got his chance. Apart from providing the title song over the opening credits, Elvis did not sing in “Charro!” Playing the lead role in a straight western was indeed a step up for Elvis and he handled the task with aplomb. The poster reflected the change of course, the tag-line reading “A Different Presley” and the stripped-down design signaling that Elvis was in a dramatic, rather than singing role. Although not quite as collectable as the earlier Elvis pieces, “Charro!” still represents an important stage in the Elvis filmography and original posters can cost about $300.

“Elvis on Tour” (1972). The King in his element, back on stage and in the spotlight! (Photo: moviepostermem.com)

The King Returns to the Stage

As Elvis began to wrest more control over his career, so the long-awaited return to live performance beckoned and Elvis undertook a number of stage concerts during the 1969-76 period. The 1972 film “Elvis on Tour” provided documentary evidence of Elvis in action in Las Vegas, the poster featuring Elvis in full rhinestone glory with a razzle-dazzle Vegas backdrop. The yellow dotted “Elvis” title is a nice touch, conjuring an image of stage spotlights. A stunning poster that provides a fitting epitaph to “The King’s” career, these highly sought-after quad posters can command prices of $500 for particularly good examples.

Conclusion

Elvis Presley was the consummate showman. He straddled the world of popular music and sold millions of records. His success and popularity was also reflected in his movie career. With an output of 33 films from 1956 to 1972, Elvis was a regular face in movie theatres across the globe. Elvis films may not have been “high art,” but with one exception (“Wild in the Country,” 1961) they all made money. The depiction of Elvis on his movie posters changed with the times and, without exception, they are all collectable. Though American Elvis posters have their own market, British equivalents often offer different imagery and, as we have seen, they are collectable in their own right.


Mike Bloomfield has been collecting cinema & music memorabilia, with a particular focus on U.K. concert memorabilia & quad cinema posters from the 1960s and ’70s, for 30 years. He runs the two MEM Music and Cinema Memorabilia websites—RockPopMem and MoviePosterMem holds private exhibitions too, provides insurance valuations, a consultancy service to the auction industry, and has contributed to various book publications. You can e-mail him at info@memcollect.co.uk.

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