When I was a kid in Texas with no cable there was a TV station that would pack it’s summer Sunday programming with Elvis movies. They are mostly formulaic, have familiar faces, take very little commitment, and include spontaneous music. I would commandeer the 4.5 inch portable TV and putter around in my room to the spontaneous Elvis-a-thons. This is how I best know Elvis. Over the fourth of July weekend I made cherry pie, and my husband and I embarked on an Elvis-a-thon of our own. We had bought a few extra movies just for this occasion; we didn’t watch them all.
We started on Thursday after work:
Jailhouse Rock – 1957 – Vince Everett is in jail for accidentally punching a guy to death in a bar fight. A young man, he forms a partnership with his cellmate, Hunk, who used to work the music scene. Vince is talented, and Hunk takes advantage of his naivety by drawing up a 50/50 partnership contract. Once Vince is out of jail he meets a woman who gets him set up in a recording studio, distribution deal, and whom he treats badly. Hunk gets out of jail and Vince treats him badly too. Vince is basically the jerkiest of all jerks. If you have favorable notions of Elvis, this movie might surprise you and possibly annoy you. That’s probably why the Texas TV station of my youth never included this in their spontaneous Elvis-a-thons.
Flaming Star – 1960 – Pacer lives with his Dad, half brother and Kiowa mother in untamed Oklahoma. Power struggles among the native tribe are testing the family loyalties and there are deaths and misplaced blame all around. I totally thought they made up the tribe name for this movie, and am happy to find out the Kiowa Indians are the native tribe of Oklahoma. My notes say: “I’m just gonna concentrate on the horses ’cause the plot ‘s kinda losin’ me.” Elvis sings very little.
And then continued on Friday:
Viva Los Vegas – 1964 – Lucky Jackson is a gear-head racer who is consistently thwarted in getting an engine for his car so he can win the big race. He is in a friendly rivalry with an Italian count, that escalates slightly when they both set eyes on Ann Margaret’s character. That’s pretty much the plot. There is some racing derailment while Lucky takes various odd jobs both to get money and be close to his leading lady. It all comes back around when they butt heads over him only ever thinking about racing. Ann Margaret, triple threat, pretty much steals the show as she sings, dances and acts as both the perfect girl and a strong woman with standards. She’s so frenetic it would be annoying if she weren’t so damn cute.
Blue Hawaii – 1961 – Chadwick Gates returns home to Hawaii from the army and spends the first few days avoiding his folks. By the time he sees his parents, he’s got a plan to avoid the family pineapple plantation and is set up as a tour guide by his girlfriend’s boss. His first customer is, of course, a pretty lady teacher and her 3 female students. Flirtation, jealousy, and unacceptable behavior ensue. Includes the most annoying female character of any Elvis movies I’ve seen to date.
Double Trouble – 1967 – Guy Lambert is a singer traveling in Europe. He is stalked by a 17 year old girl who repeated tries to seduce him. He saves her multiple times from the mysterious dangers of an inheritance scheme all while avoiding the bumbling thugs of a diamond heist who are chasing Guy and Guy’s bag to retrieve the goodies they stashed there. This is a crazy and confusing plot that might have been better if there were more commitment. There is only one Elvis in this movie. Don’t believe the movie cover or posters.
Spinout – 1966 – Mike McCoy, car lover, singer, contradiction, travels around with his band and lives a cartoon like bohemian life camping in the woods and enjoying gourmet cuisine on silver every night. Every woman Mike meets falls in love with him. Every woman Mike meets wants to marry him. Mike has constructed his life to avoid marriage at every cost. He doesn’t live in houses because, somehow, houses lead to marriage. The one thing Mike doesn’t avoid along with his avoidance of marriage is kissing and canoodling every girl he meets. I think Mike is asking for it.
And then on Saturday:
Harum Scarum – 1965 – actor, Johnny Tyrone is touring Rabulstan with a new movie: Sands of the Desert. His on screen leopard fighting prowess is admired by a prince and his escort, who invite him to their palace in the ‘Mountains of the Moon’ in Barislam. Or was that ‘Valley of the Moon,’ ‘Dunes of the Moon,’ ‘Moon Dunes?’ The countries and locations in this movie are so ridiculous, you can see why I though the Kiowa tribe in Flaming Star was also made up. So, anyway, Johnny’s journey to the palace in a country that has no transportation systems, roads, phones, or contact with anyone else of any kind is waylaid by a notorious group of assassins who want him to use his leopard killing abilities to kill their King. After being rescued/recruited by a group of thieves, Johnny gets to change into local attire and pulls on a pair of pants that looked like they couldn’t decide whether they were parachutes or skinny. They are awful. Then, Johnny has a slightly inappropriate song number with a little girl.
There are also many women fawning over Johnny after their raid on the closets of I Dream of Jeannie.
Easy Come, Easy Go – 1967 – Lt. Teddy Jackson has one more underwater mine to dispose of before discharge from the Navy. After some interference by rich snobs who think that rules don’t apply to them, he gets to it. While under water he sees a sunken ship and, though I didn’t see it, there’s treasure! Uh-oh, the rich snobs didn’t really go away and now Teddy’s plan to finance the rest of his life is put in danger. After they figure it out. After Teddy looks up the girl who’s father was the captain of the sunken ship and he figures it out. Only he likes the girl now, even though she’s a hippy, yoga, art is love freak who doesn’t like treasure hunters. If only Snyder from One Day At A Time were there to help him out. Oh wait, he is.
Charro – 1969 – Jess Wade is a tough, wizened, somewhat too pale, cowboy out in Mexico were there are no shaving razors. He’s trying to hook up with his girl, but he’s on the run from the law and the gang of criminals he skipped out on. He is also known as Charro, which is basically like calling a dude ‘cowboy,’ or ‘dude’ even, and should not be confused with Charo. Jess does not coochie coochie coo. His ex crime buddies make a big show of framing him for their stunt, but it doesn’t seem to change Jess’ situation more than the obligatory, ‘I can’t believe that of you’ from his girl. Of course he becomes a lawman while the gang is attacking.
Richard commented that this movie may have been at a time when Elvis was tired of making the formulaic Elvis movies. Unfortunately, he jumped into one of the most formulaic Western movies of all time.
Clambake – 1967 – Scott Hayward, genius, up-standing, and meritorious, heir to an oil dynasty, is tired of people treating him special because he has money. So, he does the only thing that a dream prince of a man can do to become more like every woman’s fantasy: he trades places with a cash poor ski instructor to prove to the world that he is awesome and can make his own fortune to add to his fortune. Along the way he hits it off with a girl who puts the breaks on their immediate attraction because she is trying to catch a rich husband, and she and Scott-who’s-not-Scott are two of the same: poor, normal, people. She can’t ignore the heart meltiness, however, when she catches him delivering a pep talk song to kids at the playground.
Speedway – 1968 – Steve Grayson, is under investigation by the IRS for tax evasion on his winnings from race car driving. He wins all the time. He also has a best friend, manager, who is a charming lying cheat/gambling addict, who never pays for anything he’s supposed to. This is a huge problem because Steve is bad with money: buying homes, station wagons, groceries, weddings, and household furnishings for every distressed and needy person he meets. Things only get worse when the IRS garnish his earnings and provide him a paltry allowance, administered by Nancy Sinatra, that isn’t enough to pay off the goons that Steve’s manager is in deep to.
It Happened at the World’s Fair – 1963 – Freelance crop duster and casanova, Mike Edwards, finishes up a job with his buddy and instantly loses his/their plane to the sheriff for unpaid debts. We understand that Mike’s buddy is a bad gambler, and though Mike is careful to lock away their pay, the friend breaks into the lock box and loses it all anyway. Without a plane, Mike and friend are picked up while hitchhiking by little Sue-Lin and her uncle on their way to the World’s Fair. Sue-Lin’s uncle soon finds out that his business in town is going to take longer than he thought and asks Mike to be Sue-Lin’s escort to the fair. Mike is, of course, great with kids.
Sue-Lin’s alarming eating habits take them to the infirmary where Mike meets the romance target of the movie. But this movie is much less about romance and more about a fabulous guy helping out a kid. You see, Sue-Lin’s uncle disappears the next day and she tracks down Mike as the only friend she’s got. Mike comes through, braving an idiot gambler friend in with the wrong people, child services, a hot headed nurse, and little Kurt Russel (who kicks him in the shin).
G.I. Blues – 1960 – Tulsa McClean and most of his tank unit are being moved to Frankfurt during West Germany occupation. He and his buddies are also a band, traveling the local scene and saving up money to open a club in Oklahoma once they get home. His whole unit makes a bet with another unit that their lothario will be successful with Franfurt’s beautiful ice queen. Unfortunately for the guys, the lothario is sent elsewhere. Unfortunately for Tulsa, his unit chooses him to woo the girl instead.
The set up is as old as the hills: 1. guy takes bet to get ungettable girl, 2. guy falls for ungettable girl 3. guy calls the bet off, perhaps unintentionally winning anyway, 4. girl finds out about bet and regards guy as scummiest scum, 5. guys reputation is saved by a baby/cute farm animal and everyone is happy once again. Even with the cookie-cutter plot, this movie is delightful. Elvis actually seems to be enjoying himself and is far from the bored-wooden or angry-wooden character he sometimes plays.
Roustabout – 1964 – Charlie Rogers, traveling singer and critic of the ivy leaguers who frequented the clubs he plays, is really good at picking fights, especially when there’s a girl involved. While on the road, he infuriates another driver who is as much of a hot head as he. He gets run off the road, and, like all the dangerous and unpredictable youth of the 50s, he is wholly ungracious with the woman passenger of the car who promises to put it right. It doesn’t help that the hot-head driver is still there rubbing salt in the wound. We find out the woman passenger is the owner of a carnival that’s in deep with the bank. She offers Charlie a job as a roustabout while she get’s his bike repaired.
In this movie, Elvis returns to the dangerous, misogynistic, anti-hero role that he played in Jailhouse Rock, only he comes out more likeable in the end. This movie makes me want to offer my services as a professional mediator.
Follow that Dream – 1962 – Toby Kwimper and his family pitch camp on the side of a highway when their car runs out of gas on the closed road his dad takes them down in West central Florida. The Kwimpers are very good at making the best of their situation and soon establish immunity from trespass under the homesteaders act, build themselves a house, dig a well, and start a bait and tackle business. All this despite the meddling and schemes of the highway developer, or the opportunistic actions of a nomadic mafia casino. The highway developer’s plan comes to a head when the Kwimper children, all adoptees of differing circumstances, are taken away by the government. Toby and his father go to court and make their case as honest, honorable and hard working American’s who do their best.
The romantic entanglements in this movie take even more of a backseat than they do at It Happened at the World’s Fair. This is also the first time I’ve seen Elvis play a character who is not the sharpest tool in the shed.
Kissin Cousins – 1964 – 2nd Ltd., Josh Morgan, is conscripted to a mission to obtain a land lease from the Tatums, Appalachian mountain natives, in order to get a missile base built. His special qualifications for the mission include being born on a neighboring mountain and having a great aunt that married into Tatum family. He, his commanding officer, and a small battalion are met with gunfire and then with kitty-hawks (sex-crazed wild girls of the lower mountain who attack and kidnap men) as they travel up the mountain pass. When Josh finally makes contact with the Tatums he comes face to face with himself, or Jody Tatum, second cousin thrice removed or something like that. Hilarity ensues!
If you’ve been wanting double Elvis since you found out there was no double in double trouble, then this is the movie for you. I remember it as the highlight of my childhood Elvis-a-thons. It continues to hold its own even though I may not say it is my favorite now.
Girl Happy – 1965 – Rusty Wells, singer of a trio playing in a Chicago night club, talks his boss into letting the band out of their gig so they can go to Ft. Lauderdale and keep an eye on his spring-break-ing daughter. When juggling their own romantic interests with foiling hers becomes too much to handle, Rusty volunteers to sacrifice himself for the good of his friend’s love lives. By this time, of course, he’s more interested in his boss’s daughter than he lets on. Bikinis, sand, stripping, cross-dressing and college hijinks ensue.