|A Review of Elvis: Return to Tupelo
By Kevin of Stevenage
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I have heard nothing but praise for this DVD. So I have obviously been looking
forward to seeing it as we are long overdue a quality documentary on Elvis with
in-depth research and some insight into the pre-fame life of Elvis as it helps to
build the picture and make up of the star we have read so much.
So, does it live up to all the plaudits? Is it a breath of fresh air or another money
making haphazardly produced mockumentary full of errors?
The first thing that strikes me is the clarity of the pictures and the interesting use
of the graphics to create the illusion of 3D. This is used throughout. There are
some clips of Elvis on stage at the 1956 Mississippi Alabama Dairy show.
Then we see a brief clip of the wonderful Elaine Dundy, writer of the fine 1985
novel “Elvis and Gladys”. [If you have never read it get a copy from wherever you can]. Sadly she passed away on May 1st 2008. This
lady spent 4 months living in Tupelo when she was researching that book. She makes a couple of prophetic comments about Elvis
followed by a brief history of Tupelo.
The image of the 2-room shack referred to as the Presley’s home almost certainly isn’t the
There is a couple of cringe worthy comments concerning Elvis and his twin brother as it
appears the death of his brother “haunted him for the rest of his life” and “he had to do
enough living for the both of them”.........Of course it was sad, but surely he got over it?
Pat Broeske quotes Vernon and Gladys’s comments about Elvis being a Christ like immaculate
birth with the blue streak in the sky and rings around the moon. These were comments correctly quoted by Albert Goldman in his trashy
book about Elvis with the help of his “researcher” and general hate-spitter Lamar Fike. It was covered in a more detailed balanced
account in the ”God of Elvis” books I reviewed.
I do like the Tupelo friends of Elvis recalling stories and they can be forgiven for applying retrospective views on the stories they tell They
really are sweet accounts of events. There are some famous friends as well of course and you notice the difference immediately. Wink
Martindale has to point out that he was in the studio the very night Sam Phillips brought Dewey Phillips a copy of “That’s all right Mama”.
And there is G.K. of course whose unfaltering memory is always a revelation. I think it may have been better to stick with the known but
non-famous friends providing insight into one of Tupelo’s poorest family’s.
The Tornado that hit on April 5 1936 completely destroyed the St. Marks Methodist Church across the street from the Presley’s shack but
there was minimal damage to the Presley home. This DVD does a good job on covering this sad episode in Tupelo’s history.
The story continues with the music young Elvis was exposed to and covers the forging of the cheque by
Vernon, in an attempt to help his family through the Great Depression, and him being sent to Parchman
The story goes onto Elvis buying his first guitar when he and Glady’s went to the Tupelo Hardware Co. store
to, as far as Elvis was concerned, by an air rifle. I never knew this and I always thought it was a bike. Of course
it was interesting to hear the stories of Elvis learning to play the guitar. Brother Frank Smith taught Elvis’ class
“Old Shep”. The writer rather dresses up Vernon’s unwillingness to work. But paints a lovely picture of the
“Huckleberry Finn” life that Elvis had. It was unusual to see Elvis in glasses as a boy.
After the silly stories that have circulated in recent years about Elvis being a racist, all spawned from an article
with no foundation to it, it was a pleasure to hear Elvis being described as colour blind. Anybody who thinks
differently really does not understand Elvis’ roots.
Then the story moves on to Memphis where the family lived in a boarding house before moving to Lauderdale
Courts. It highlights Elvis exposure to different types of music and the style of clothing at Lansky brothers that black
Africans favoured. He entered, and won, the Hume’s High School talent contest.
You see a very young J.D Sumner in the top right of the poster of the Blackwood Bros Quartet although he is not
mentioned. J.D. joined the gospel singers following he deaths of R.W. Blackwood and Bill Lyles. The group sang at
The difference between bustling Memphis and poverty stricken Tupelo is well put across.
The continual integration of Elvis speaking with Kris Kristofferson works really well. Kris said it was a pleasure to do
this documentary and he thought it was respectful. He was right.
Sun records and the Memphis recording service stories are excellent and interesting. Though it was disappointing to
see the Sun single “That’s All right Mama” presented with the wrong sleeve.
There are good accounts of his early stage performances and the Louisiana Hayride shows and the audiences’ rather muted reaction to
him. D.J Fontana always seems to give a realistic account of what went on. As in every film and documentary the entrance of The Colonel
changes everything. This one is no different. Suddenly there was T.V. appearances as well as shows in Vegas and a film in Hollywood.
The stories of June Juanico, just like the home movies, are old hat, but seem to fit in well. I don’t particularly enjoy watching certain people
making more of their importance in the life of Elvis than it actually was. Obviously this lady got herself a great agent. I remember her video
and there may have been books I cant remember now. She certainly makes herself available for these documentaries.
Then we are taken back to Tupelo, hence the title. The triumphant homecoming concert on the same stage where Elvis sang Old Shep as
a boy is amazing and of course provides us with the only official concert, although not presented here in it’s entirety, of Elvis in the fifties
with both sound and vision. The reception he got was mind blowing with the street procession and at the concert.
It must have been an emotional experience to have left your hometown so poor and returned rich and
famous. Yes I concur Tupelo is proud of their native son.
The conclusion is simple, a very good documentary about Elvis without any unnecessary bizarre re-arranged
stories like we still hear and read today. There are only minimal glimpses of the one-up-man ship that usually
dogs stories of Elvis when people he knew are involved.
The research to me seems excellent and well presented. I suppose I would have liked there to be one major
new story or revelation. But if there are none to tell or reveal then you can’t.
The actual burial place of Jesse Garon on film would have been interesting. Overall I think Michael Rose has
written and directed an excellent film.
There are newsreels of Elvis entering and leaving the army. Then we see some footage of his wedding.
There is some extended footage on the tornado that ripped though Tupelo. Then here is some strange Drew
Pearson presenting Washington merry go round.
There are disappointing moments involving some weirdo's dressed as imps. So that makes them “imp imps” I guess. These are shown
during the Elvis week festival. Then we have the extended version of the Alamo Girls travelling 120 odd miles to see the Tupelo concert.
There is a strange piece on Sam Phillips’ mistake concerning the selling of Elvis’ contract to RCA. Finally there is a little story on Elvis
meeting Bill Monroe and liking each other’s version of Monroe’s “Blue Moon of Kentucky”.
I am not sure all of the extras are necessary but hey get as much on the DVD as possible. I, of course, would have preferred them without
the brain-deads in boiler suits of course.
Some Extra Elvis Tupelo Facts
Singer Sewing Machines were operated at the Tupelo Garment Factory where Gladys worked from 1932-1938.
In the 1930’s East Tupelo had 5 streets.
Orville Bean lived in Old Saltillo Road. It was he that lent Vernon and Gladys $180 to build their two-room shack in the same road.
It was Bean that reported Vernon for forging the cheque that sent him to jail. He went on to evict the Presley’s from the shack in 1939 after
they fell behind on the loan repayments.
Jesse Garon was, it is rumoured, buried dressed in a baby blue outfit in a shoebox. Gladys tied a red ribbon round the box and Jesse was
buried in an unmarked grave in Priceville Cemetery 3 miles Northeast of Tupelo.
Elvis’ great uncle Noah Pressley became mayor of East Tupelo.
Prior to going to jail for forging a cheque Vernon spent a few days in jail for stealing food from a local grocery store.
In the 1930’s Tupelo had three water wells. As the Presley’s had no running water, Elvis and his mum would walk to the nearest well to fill
Elvis started to wear glasses at the age of 8.
Frank Smith who taught Elvis and his class “Old Shep” also baptized Elvis at the First Assembly of God church in Tupelo in 1944.
In 1948 East Tupelo and Tupelo merged. They were one mile apart.