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Thursday, December 17, 2020

1965's Elvis Easter Basket


Where I Come to Praise Girl Happy

Elvis Presley at career crest of musicals lumped then and now into sea of tar by those who've not seen them and forever refuse to. Yet there were ones that rose above an average, Girl Happy for me a best among them. Elvis was deft with dialogue from early on, a natural. Did he close-study words, or read once and let it fly? I bet he recovered quick from missed cues or errant lines, figuring these didn't matter right or wrong. Was Elvis like Sinatra in preferring single takes? Singers couldn't help respecting music over spoken word. Elvis skates over dumb talk in hope we'll forgive him for speaking it. His is a relaxed modesty most would be hard put to ridicule or resent. Blame the movie, they'd say, not Elvis. Joe Pasternak produced for MGM, his first of two Presleys, with quality result to make you wish he and Hal Wallis had split the whole of Elvis and taken turns doing them. Pasternak knew how to play to a singer's strength, having developed Deanna Durbin, Kathryn Grayson, Mario Lanza, numerous others. His were never-never songbooks for what was left of a studio candyland, Presley among last to guide us through. His formula admittedly locked by 1965, yet there was seasoning Pasternak could apply, little enough of that needed to tip Girl Happy well past Sam Katzman-produced Kissin' Cousins or Harum Scarum, cheaters that bookended Girl Happy and made it stand out all a more to ones of us fated to see the lot first-run.

I ran the Elvis table pretty much from Roustabout in 1964 to Spinout circa 1966, with live-to-regret drop-ins to Speedway (nearly a walkout) and grizzled Presley of Charro, an effort at image modification to foresee the King finished in theatres. I felt old (at 19!) when acquaintances said they'd never been to an Elvis movie, not imagining in the 60's that there were such persons. I had gone to his in a same rote habit that observed each new Disney. They were Baby Ruth shows, joy of the jumbo bar topping tepid treat on the screen. Brief enthusiasm for Elvis put me in receipt of the Harum Scarum LP (Shake, Shake, The Little Tambourine, Shake, Shake A Ring-Jing, Jingaling ...) and oddity of a 45RPM "extended play" of songs from Tickle Me, noteworthy at the time for being in all ways a Paramount venture oddly released by Allied Artists.

Girl Happy
was a beach movie done right, being improvement on Pasternak's previous Where The Boys Are, both set at Fort Lauderdale, location shooting for the Presley limited to a second unit, whereas Boys took cast/crew to Florida for much of principal photography. Girl Happy has at least a soundstage motor court more arresting than Warner's stopover for Palm Springs Weekend, and there's not aggressive product placement as in another 1965 release with motel setting, Red Line 7000. We see what looks like a Pepsi machine in background's distance, but when Elvis and Shelly Fabares say Good Night, it's a generic "Ice Cold Soft Drink" dispenser that shares the frame. Budget was a discipline observed for Elvis, his vehicles aimed at dollars calculable to a dime. Girl Happy had negative cost of $1.8 million, more than the $1.2M Katzman spent on 1963's Kissin' Cousins, and maybe crowds sensed the upgrade, because Girl Happy brought a best Elvis return ($5.1 million worldwide) that MGM had seen from one of his since Jailhouse Rock.

Release of Elvis vehicles were generally timed to holiday breaks, provided yours was a key site or somewhere other than stix serviced by our Liberty, where Girl Happy limped into school-getting-out week, early June, fans of urban placement having got it over Easter. Depended then, on how you ranked holidays, none to my mind so festive as classes kaput for summer. Tardy arrival may have been result of holdovers elsewhere. Girl Happy was past a peak of beach blanketing. Was Elvis the bracer this cycle needed? He was thirty in 1965, seemed fatherly to me for having been round since diapers, only right he should be calming influence upon bandmate knuckleheads who accompany him on mission to guard virtue of Shelly Fabares, offspring of tough club boss for whom Elvis works. I cite the set-up to claim Girl Happy as segue to chaperone duty for the star, a responsible grown-up now, so you need not lock up your daughters. Maybe a part of him had been that all along, for “Elvis” seldom was predatory, at least onscreen, and I don’t recall consummations for him beyond wedding plan revealed at fade-outs, Girl Happy no exception to prevailing Presley policy.

Girl Happy
came in midst of American-International's rival beach run and trounced highest grossing of these. Some call Elvis output moronic. I submit the AIP’s were more moronic. Was it appeal of Presley or better Metro distribution? Girl Happy improved upon Where The Boys Are by avoiding moral dilemma(s) faced by youth cast of MGM's '60 blueprint for beaching to come. AIP understood kids weren't for being preached at or parentally overseen, which Jim/Sam saw as reason their sand-surf was healthier. Could be, but purity leagues held sway, no matter bikinis on view or randy Frankies that never got near Annettes. Code compliance was the more a priority because these pictures were aimed at youth, and so were perceived as behavior guides that adults must monitor closely. Big studio dramas, like the Delmer Daves group for WB, certainly Where The Boys Are, had grown-ups to pick up pieces of teen missteps, or in
Boys instance, a timely auto to strike down Yvette Mimieux for stepping off celibacy's curb, moral compensation writ/directed by old men observing rules long ago embedded. Girl Happy, despite compliance, has froth enough to avoid castor oil trap that spoiled fun of hider-bound teen pics in the 50/60's, being happiest of an oceanfront cycle fast winding down by Easter ’65 arrival. Songbook was best of a long time for Presley and probably a last worthwhile soundtrack issued for one of his musicals. Say I’m daft for ranking The Meanest Girl In Town among favorite Elvis tunes, proof such things are entirely subjective. Girl Happy is available on a CD combo with music from Harum Scarum. The feature plays TCM in HD.


Blogger Supersoul said...

I was 19 in 1965 and had not paid to see an Elvis movie in a theatre since "GI Blues". Elvis had not had a major hit since "Return to Sender" in 1962 and had become passé once the British Invasion had begun in late 1963. I literally did not know anyone near my age that had any interest in Elvis in that post-Beatles era or, at least, they were too ashamed to admit it if they did.

This is not to say that I never liked Elvis or his music, but I found most of his movie musicals to be insipid and the songs mostly forgettable. Had Elvis managed to escape the firm grip of Colonel Parker who had Elvis trapped in a time warp of lame movie musicals with songs you never heard played on the radio, perhaps he might have found a manager who could have helped him evolve with the times.

Instead, Elvis became increasingly irrelevant as the rest of the youth culture evolved along with the changing times of the 60's. Although I never paid to see an Elvis movie again, I was pleasantly surprised in 1972 when he released one of his best of all time songs, "Hunk of Burning Love". That alone proved to me that Elvis had the potential to achieve so much more than he did during those revolutionary years. By the time Elvis grew his hair long, I had already cut mine. Frank B.

10:17 AM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

I dunno. For me, once the Beatles came to America, I couldn't figure out why anyone went for Elvis anymore. The year of "Norwegian Wood", Elvis records "Do the Clam". Good Lord.

10:36 AM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

ELVIS flicks did boffo at my home town cinema for ten years. They always ran seven days (usually during a holiday). I can count on one hand the movies which played more than seven days between 1955-1975.

During this period, three categories of movies consistently drew well enough for the spill-over balcony at the Playhouse Theatre to be needed: ELVIS, DISNEY and JERRY LEWIS.

I saw most of the ELVIS flicks until HARUM SCARUM. Boy, they had to fumigate the building after that one.

I also gave up on Uncle Walt and Jerry about the same time. Figured I was "too old" by then. When Jerry left Paramount, I left Jerry.

12:57 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

Like millions of other kids I did Elvis spoof "Bye Bye Birdie" in high school. This was 1970 and we were already doing the show as a period piece, so that reinforced the idea of Elvis being ancient (the movie was then past prime time network airings). He was almost a member of the Rat Pack from my perspective. He had one song, "U.S. Male", that got a lot of radio play when elder siblings drove us to junior high, but that was about it.

In some ways he was the Marlon Brando of cinema crooners, celebrated for early work but grumpily reluctant to do anything but the occasional paycheck job. Story is that Streisand tried to get him for her remake of "A Star is Born". That would have been memorable, if not necessarily successful.

Trailers for his movies would show at the Granada, but somehow we never got to see any of them. Our folks took us to Bonds and even Matt Helms, so it wasn't parental censorship. He was, in our household anyway, merely irrelevant.

9:42 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

And now Buster is gone.

10:03 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

All I'll say is that, every time Turner Classic Movies plays an Elvis picture, it makes a mockery of the channel's name.

3:37 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Elvis is a huge part of the culture and the history. He embodies the best and worst of both.

10:03 AM  
Blogger Filmfanman said...

I dig "Do The Clam", and I also think "Norwegian Wood" would have been better with bongos.

12:40 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

Dug out "Harum Scarum" for my first cinematic Elvis. Not the worst movie I've seen; it wouldn't drive me out of the theater if the second feature was remotely promising. Sometimes insipid and forgettable is exactly what hits the spot, like airport food.

It had the freshly painted, slightly-more-money-than-television look of Disney and Universal Bs, and a script that might have served for "Man From Uncle" at its campiest. Plus pretty American girls speaking Arabian Night cliches; a vigorous Billy Barty not speaking at all; and Elvis launching into a lame song every few minutes. He's natural and relaxed, which is all wrong for such unapologetic goofery. But random singing does help make him as absurd as everything else.

One creepy misstep: He sings a suggestive song, "Hey, Little Girl", to an actual little girl doing big girl dance moves. If there was any gossip about Priscilla, this didn't help.

The set includes "Speedway" and "The Trouble With Girls", the latter set in the 20s and including Vincent Price.

3:40 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

"He sings a suggestive song, 'Hey, Little Girl', to an actual little girl doing big girl dance moves."

We see an awful lot of little girls (and little boys) not just in Elvis movies but everywhere doing big folk dance moves (and more).

I have to wonder if the mothers and fathers (mostly mothers I suspect) behind these know what they are doing. If they don't there's an awful lot of ignorance out there. If they do, there's an awful lot of wilful ignorance out there.

9:46 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

I took a look at CHARRO.It had been offered to Clint Eastwood. Evidently a stronger script was sent to Presley than what he was stuck with once he signed.

Too bad the film lacked a Sergio Leone 'cause he could have set Presly on a whole new movie path just as he did Eastwood.

Most American westerns look far to clean.

Too much Max Factor make-up and lip rouge.

These films call for dust, sweat and dirt.

Anyway, Covid gives us all too much time. Going to spend some of catching up on Elvis after reading your post. Missed most of his films.

6:47 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

A few years back I bought the Deluxe Edition version of the ELVIS '68 COMEBACK SPECIAL which was designed to undo the bowdlerized image of Elvis projected in his films. That it did.

12:28 PM  
Blogger Lionel Braithwaite said...


Elvis had not had a major hit since "Return to Sender" in 1962 and had become passé once the British Invasion had begun in late 1963. I literally did not know anyone near my age that had any interest in Elvis in that post-Beatles era or, at least, they were too ashamed to admit it if they did.

The Beatles (Lennon & McCartney specifically) said it best; Elvis lost his mojo when he was drafted into the U.S. Army, and these movies prove it. Elvis just becomes a guy who is able to sing in these movies (from G.I. Blues onward, most likely) and none of what was in his earlier films was in these movies he made in the early '60's.

As for his singing Hey, Little Girl to the girl in Harum Scarum, to people of that era, it was inocous and not meant to offend, and it didn't; that it's potentially offensive and is considered 'creepy' say a lot about current society, as Reg indicated when he included a link to that famous Bloom County strip in a response to me he made a while ago.

12:45 PM  

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