It was 51 years ago today (November 11th, 1970), that Elvis Presley's first concert film, Elvis – That's The Way It Is, premiered. The movie, which chronicled the Los Angeles rehearsals and the opening shows of Presley's third Las Vegas stand at the International Hotel, provided a behind-the-scenes look at Presley at work and at play.
The rehearsal footage, taped in Los Angeles' MGM Studios, shows Elvis working up material with the core of his TCB Band: lead guitarist James Burton, keyboardist Glenn D. Hardin, bassist Jerry Scheff, drummer Ronnie Tutt, and rhythm guitarist John Wilkerson.
The second part of the film, which features highlights of Elvis' first six shows of the Vegas stand, shows “The King” at the top of his game, both vocally and physically. Among the highlights in the film are his renditions of the Righteous Brothers' “You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling,” Dusty Springfield's “You Don't Have To Say You Love Me,” B.J. Thomas' “I Just Can't Help Believing',” Neil Diamond's “Sweet Caroline,” and his own recent chart topper “Suspicious Minds.”
Elvis also is seen performing a handful of his '50s and '60s hits including “Little Sister,” “Love Me Tender,” “Hound Dog,” “Blue Suede Shoes,” and “Can't Help Falling In Love.”
On February 27th, 1970 during a rare press conference in Houston, Texas, Elvis explained why he returned to performing after laying low throughout the 1960's: “I just missed it. I missed the closeness of an audience, of a live audience. So, as soon as I got out of the movie contracts, I started to do live performances again.”
Guitarist and bandleader James Burton performed alongside Elvis at every show he played between July 1969 and June 1977. He says that Presley always kept the musicians on their toes: “Every show was different because Elvis didn't want to do the same thing every night. And even though he went by that song list, he never went by that song list, he'd jump all over the place.”
The soundtrack to Elvis – That's The Way It Is peaked at Number 21 on the Billboard 200, and at Number Eight on the magazine's Country charts.
Although Presley had made several successful TV concert specials, including the 1973 Aloha From Hawaii and 1977's posthumous Elvis In Concert, he only made one other full-length concert film, 1973's Elvis On Tour.