Flaming Star (1960)

“We have no place to go: we have to fight, or we die.”

Synopsis:
A half-breed Kiowa (Elvis Presley) living on a ranch with his father (Don McIntire), mother (Dolores del Rio), and half-brother (Steve Forrest) finds his loyalties divided when a local Kiowa tribe led by Buffalo Horn (Rodolfo Acosta) seeks revenge for stolen land by massacring a neighboring homestead family.

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Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary writes, “Don Siegel directed this action-packed western, which features what is generally accepted as Elvis Presley’s best performance” (though he himself believes “Presley’s performance is adequate, no better”). He notes that the “racial-prejudice theme was unusual in westerns until this film and the same year’s The Unforgiven,” but argues that the “the film is as unkind to Indians as it is to racist whites”. However, I don’t think Peary’s review gives quite enough credit to this western. Presley’s work here is likely his best: he’s invested and highly believable as a perpetual outsider attempting to navigate between two worlds. The movie’s exploration of Indians and whites’ tenuous attempt to co-exist goes beyond what we normally see in such films, and it’s easy to sympathize with both sides. The “frightening first appearance of Indians” may be, as Peary writes, the “film’s best moment” — and swiftly establishes tensions borne out throughout the film, as family members turn on one another, loyalties are consistently tested, and numerous likable characters die — but it’s not the only memorable scene by far. Flaming Star isn’t easy viewing, but it is worthwhile, and often poignant.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Elvis Presley’s committed performance as Pacer
  • John McIntire as ‘Pa’ Burton
  • Strong direction by Siegel
  • Beautiful Cinemascope cinematography
  • A surprisingly hard-hitting script by Clair Huffaker and Nunnally Johnson

Must See?
Yes, as a fine Elvis vehicle.

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