"Quite often cited as Elvis' best performance (including by the King himself), King Creole holds up very well today, with Elvis' best cast and film crew aiding him enormously in this proto-film noir musical. Shot in silky, oppressively dark black & white widescreen, King Creole fulfills quite a few film noir requirements, including an angry, rebellious protagonist caught in criminal social forces beyond his control; a choice between a blonde "good girl" who offers salvation and a brunette "bad girl" who, though aware of her better nature, is doomed to never cross back over into the light; and a perverted kingpin who enjoys using his spider web of influence to crush people.
These noir elements fit comfortably, for the most part, with the film's musical structure when the songs Elvis sings maintain a nasty, mean tone (the celebrated Trouble and Hard Headed Woman could be noir theme songs). However, as was the Colonel's want, too many songs were crammed into the film (the better to fill out the nation's record bins), and inevitably, the lesser ones dim the overall soundtrack's impact."
So, without watching, you know it's a triangle film, so tilting in the spectrum as follows:
<--....hard-boiled .... .... ....mel XX odrama ....-->
Melo score: 130
There's enough "action" (punky delinquent thugs, led by Vic Morrow) to keep things from getting too sappy in the triangle plot structure--thus this is not a full-fledge "melo-noir." But this is all pretty much by-the-numbers stuff. Films about corrupt activities in the entertainment world, and the myriad mobbed-up sub-industries were a common part of the diffusion of noir tropes in the fifties, and we have to judge the characters and plots on something more akin to an absolute scale, rather than as a "check-off" list of attributes.
Doing that, KING CREOLE grades out on the noir-o-meter in the low 90s. Characters, mise-en-scene and setting clear the customary bar, but not by a lot. It's clear that noir is a template for this film, not a raison d'etre. The plot/screenwriting sinks under the level where actions create their own element of surprise that reveals a new wrinkle in the dialectic of alienation, and the story retreats toward melodrama.
Will Viharo in NOIR CITY years ago claimed it as a noir, but he did so only after (characteristically) denying any efficacy whatsoever to the process of trying to define anything as "noir." A couple of key points he mentions in his Lowenbrau-enhanced essay, however, are pertinent here. First, the film was originally envisioned for James Dean, and the source novel (where the lead character was a boxer) was shifted around in order to accommodate Elvis. Second, the film is tailored around the musical numbers--a fact that the live-in-the-moment Viharo embraces but the more analytical Mavis disparages--and this makes the "noir effect" in the film more artificial as a result (despite some fine efforts from Walter Matthau, Paul Stewart, Carolyn Jones, and the aforementioned Morrow).
Most of the writing about KING CREOLE focuses on Elvis and how the film showed his potential as an actor. That tends to distract folks from being more systematic about the film as it relates to what is by 1958 a well-established set of niches for dark-themed movies.
So the simple diagram for the noir-o-meter goes like this:
score/location: KING CREOLE (1958) XX
<----- hard-boiled ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- melodrama ----->
Of course, YMMV.