Friday, August 16, 2013

Looking for Trouble

August 16th marks another year since Elvis Presley passed away, and once again, thousands of fans gather at his Graceland estate in Memphis, TN, to pay their respects. If you're a fan like me, but you can't make it to the "Elvis Week" festivities this year, perhaps you'll mark the day by cranking some of his tunes or popping in one of his many movies.

Elvis made 31 scripted films in 13 years. Many of them have been dismissed by critics, which is unfortunate because Elvis always wanted to be taken seriously as an actor. Sadly, even as the highest-paid actor in Hollywood, Elvis just didn't get many opportunities to do serious work, and he grew to hate the kinds of roles he was often forced into. From time to time, though, Elvis made waves when he got the chance to really show what he could do!

When Elvis left for the Army in 1958, he wasn't sure if he'd still have a music career when he got home or not. He was afraid Rock 'n' Roll was just a passing fad, and nobody would remember him a couple years down the road. After completing work on King Creole, however, Elvis felt sure he could come back to a serious acting career. It's sad that Elvis' movie career didn't end up the way he hoped, but this film is still often held up as one of the best examples of Elvis' acting ability, and it boasts one of his strongest dramatic plotlines.

Directed by Michael Curtiz (Casablanca) and co-starring Walter Matthau and Carolyn Jones (who would go on to star in The Addams Family), this flick features Elvis in the role of Danny Fisher, an underprivileged, inner city youth in a story that's one part teen angst (a la James Dean) and one part film noir.

Danny Fisher is flunking high school, but he's been getting lessons from the school of hard knocks for most of his life. After his mother died, his father turned to alcohol to ease the pain, and this made it hard for him to keep a job. Consequently, Danny ended up taking jobs before and after classes to help make ends meet. Forced to grow up early, Danny developed a rough attitude, but this only leads him into more trouble.

About half an hour in, Danny is pressured by Maxie Fields (Matthau) to get up and sing at the nightclub where Danny's been working as a bus boy. In anger, Danny sings one of the film's most memorable tunes:
"If you're lookin' for trouble, you came to the right place.
If you're lookin' for trouble, just look right in my face."
Of course, one of the major themes of the movie is that Danny never has to go looking for trouble - trouble has a way of finding him! Underneath it all, Danny is a mostly good-hearted kid who knows the value of hard work and cares about helping others. A few times, he stands up for the rights of a mentally retarded kid the others call, "Dummy". He wants to see his family taken care of. He wishes he could save Ronnie (Jones) from the messed-up world of Maxie Fields. But everywhere Danny turns, trouble seems to follow. Despite trying to do the right thing and put in some honest work, he's harassed by Maxie's drunken friends. When he tries to defend Maxie's honor, he ends up in fights, which puts him at odds with a teacher and later with a group of thugs. And when he holds his own against the thugs, they begin to act friendly toward him, but they're never the kind of friends Danny really needs.

Danny uses broken bottles
to fend off Ronnie's attackers
Maybe you feel like Danny. You don't mean to do wrong, but it feels like everywhere you turn, you're under attack. The Bible says Satan is like a lion hunting his prey, trying to devour us!

Pretending to be a friend, gang leader Shark (Vic Morrow) invites Danny to help the group rob. Danny isn't sure, but the temptation of quick money lures him in. He doesn't even have to steal anything. All he has to do is create a distraction while the others do the stealing. Danny thinks what he's doing is harmless, but it's enough to start him down a dark path. Soon the boys pretend to be Danny's friend again so they can get him to take part in the assault and robbery of Mr. Fisher's boss. Though Danny's conscience warns him not to do it, he goes along with them, and his involvement is used by Maxie Fields later to blackmail Danny into doing what he wants.

That's the way sin often works. As Ronnie explains late in the film:
"You do something wrong, and it makes you do something worse, and the first thing you know, you don't know the difference anymore."
You tell one little lie. Then you tell another to cover it up. The next thing you know, you're caught in a whole web of lies, trying to keep things straight so no one figures out the truth! Or you give in to peer pressure and do drugs, and soon you're addicted. Then before long, you need something harder to get the same high. It gets more expensive, and you have to steal or maybe even commit violent crimes in order to come up with enough money for the next fix. Sin is so often a progressive thing that gets worse as you go, so you end up in a terrible place, but it's all because of something that seemed so insignificant in the beginning!

Danny's song about trouble concludes with the warning: "I'm evil, evil, evil as can be, so don't mess around, don't mess around with me." While it's just a song in the movie, it does speak an honest truth. There is something innately wrong with us. We are all born with this sin nature that drives us to do wrong, even when we don't want to! We often struggle internally the way the apostle Paul did, when he said:
"I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate... For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do... I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand... Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?"
- Romans 7:15-24
What's worse is that we often don't realize how many people our sins can hurt. Often your mistakes hurt not just yourself, but those you care most about, as well! You might think doing drugs only hurts yourself, but if you steal to support your habit or you act irrationally while under the influence, that hurts people. Families, relationships and lives can be destroyed! Or consider sex outside of marriage. There's the risk of disease, unplanned pregnancy, mixed-up emotions, ruined reputations...destroyed marriages... People develop trust issues. Innocent children often pay the price. You never know just how far-reaching the effects of your sins might be!

This is illustrated in the film when Shark convinces Danny to participate in the assault of the shop owner. That night, the shop owner decides to let Mr. Fisher take the money to the bank, and in his raincoat, Danny doesn't realize it's his own father who is being attacked instead of his father's boss! Danny didn't want to do wrong: he thought it would help his father if the boss got beat up. His conscience tried to warn him to stop it, but Danny was enticed to do evil by what he thought was a good reason.

There's never a good reason to do evil, but the devil will use anything to try to get us to go along with him. He tries to lure us with what looks like something good. He tries to tempt us with quick rewards. But in the end, his way only leads to destruction (Romans 6:23).

Maxie will do anything to get
his evil tentacles into Danny's life
In the movie, first it's Shark, and then Maxie Fields tries his best to lure Danny into deeper and deeper trouble. They use everything at their disposal - offers of money, veiled friendship, noble causes, offers of sex (with Ronnie), blackmail and threats of violence - and as Danny gets drawn in and begins to realize what's happened, he's filled with guilt, shame and anger. He wants nothing more than to break away from Maxie's hold and make things right... but getting free from Satan's grip is never easy, and you'll never succeed by your own strength!

Danny doesn't know what to do, so he tries to hide his problems. He thinks he can handle it alone, so he bottles everything up. He even calls off his engagement to his girlfriend, Nellie (Dolores Hart), because he says, "I can't walk in that church 'til I'm sure."

If only he realized how much he needed God's way at the time!

If Danny had come clean to Nellie, his father and others early on, there's no telling how the story might've turned out differently. But Danny chose to keep it to himself. Then later, when Maxie Fields is the one who tells Mr. Fisher the truth about Danny's involvement in his assault, it's devastating, and in his pain, Mr. Fisher decides to have nothing more to do with his son!

I'm reminded of a couple verses from Proverbs::

Young people who obey the law are wise;
those with wild friends bring shame to their parents...
People who conceal their sins will not prosper,
but if they confess and turn from them, they will receive mercy.
- Proverbs 28:7, 13 (NLT)

Danny comforts his sister
after his own sins put his
father in the hospital
Danny was afraid of what his father and others would think if they knew the truth, so he hid it from them, but look how much worse that made it when the truth was finally revealed! Even if people had looked down on him at first for the trouble he'd gotten into, at least by getting it out in the open, the process of healing could have begun sooner!

As the story plays out, Danny does his best to escape from Maxie's evil tentacles, but Danny and Ronnie can't hide from Maxie and his thugs forever. Danny gets stabbed. Ronnie gets shot. Evil has its way and leaves nothing but destruction in its wake!

Is there something you need to come clean to somebody about? Wouldn't you feel much better if you got it off your chest? Even if it will make them upset in the beginning, don't you think it would be worth it to get this behind you so the healing process can begin?

Even if you're still uncomfortable confessing your sins to others right now, there is good news, because the Lord wants to help you. He doesn't want you to live under guilt, shame, anger or fear; he wants you to have joy and peace! God doesn't want your life to be wasted; he wants it to be wonderful! As Jesus said:

"The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. 
My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life."
- John 10:10 (NLT)

Take your troubles to Jesus. Ask him to help you with the things that aren't your fault, and ask him to forgive you and help you with the things that are your fault (1 John 1:9). Then trust him that, even when the devil attacks, he can help. You don't have to give in! (1 Corinthians 10:13; 1 Peter 5:6-11)

As you overcome your troubles with God's help, perhaps you can even reimagine the words Elvis sang at the very end of the movie as a hymn to the Lord:

"Let the stars fade and fall,
And I won't care at all, 
As long as I have you..."

What troubles do you need to confess today?

For more Elvis-themed content, check out my other posts:
* The Real King - After visiting Graceland, I wrote about what I love about Elvis...
* Paging Dr. Elvis - A look at Elvis' last scripted film, Change of Habit...
* Graceland - On my other blog, a short write-up about why I loved visiting Elvis' home...

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