Walter Gulick (Elvis Presley) has just been discharged from the army and has headed back to the place of his birth, a small community called Cream Valley, in New York. He arrives looking for work as a mechanic, and wanders into the local boxing trainers' establishment, owned by Willy Grogan (Gig Young), where he meets Grogan's long time girlfriend, Dolly (Lola Albright), who offers Walter a meal. Willy invites Walter to try his hands at boxing, but doesn't mention that his livelihood depends on betting on his boxers, and that he is now heavily in debt. Could Walter be the man he is looking for?
This Kid Galahad was a remake of a thirties boxing film which starred Edward G. Robinson, Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart, and was scripted by William Fay. It follows the familiar pattern of the young upstart in the sport being unexpectedly proficient, only to be exploited, but this is more a light drama than a searing expose, so the real bad guys are not the likes of Grogan, but the gangsters he is in debt to. Being an Elvis movie there are musical numbers, too, but these are more naturalistic than staging a Broadway style production, and largely feature the star crooning along to the radio or a handy guitar played by someone else.
Walter's talent for boxing takes the form of having his head battered about fifty times in the first round, then producing a punch to his opponent from nowhere that kicks like a mule. Presley's manager, Colonel Tom Parker, is credited as a technical adviser, and with that in mind, it's surprising that the film should feature its hero being ruthlessly taken advantage of by an unscrupulous promoter for most of the running time. Even more telling, perhaps, is that Grogan shows himself to be a decent guy after all by the finish, having been acting in Walter's best interests (as well as his own) all along.
It wouldn't be an Elvis movie without romance, and Walter falls in love with Rose (Joan Blackman), who happens to be the sister of the overprotective Grogan (although looking at Young, he appears closer in age to her father). But where Presley's previous films showed him to be a rebel - a good hearted rebel, of course - here he's more of a role model. Once Walter and Rose are an item, he immediately suggests getting wed because it's "safer", and refuses to entertain the thought of sex before marriage, despite the furious Grogan's insinuations. The King of Rock 'n' Roll believing in the sanctity of marriage? It's almost square!
The songs are undistinguished, and indistinguishable, apart from the jaunty "I Got Lucky" (even though he didn't, because he doesn't believe in... yep), and are purely present to provide a soundtrack album, doing nothing to further the plot - if he can sing like that, what does he want to be a mechanic for? A grittier tone might have helped, but Presley's gritty movies were behind him, and even Charles Bronson, as the trainer Lou, is an easygoing nice guy, though the gangsters do cut up his hands to keep him out of the way. Boxing may be corrupt, but the right participant can emerge uncorrupted, according to this version of Kid Galahad - it's not exactly Body and Soul, but I guess the fans at the time, and Colonel Parker, didn't want to watch that anyway. Music by Jeff Alexander.