Wednesday, November 23, 2011

'Girl Happy' : The Greatest Elvis Movie (Yes, I Really Mean It!)

Girl Happy is not a guilty pleasure. I have plenty of those. Like watching 'The New Zoo Revue' because Emmy Jo wore short skirts, leather boots and was a turn-on.

Before I celebrate Girl Happy, we need to define the term 'Elvis Movie'.

If I say 'Elvis movie', certain things pop into your head: A 'beach party' flick where Elvis has some cool job like helicopter pilot, race car driver, or musician. He gets involved in some nutty comedic plot, sings mediocre songs, gets in a fist fight or two, and is surrounded by a bevvy of pretty girls.

His early films, when he still had notions of being in league with Brando, James Dean or Tony Curtis, were pretty darn good: Loving You, Jailhouse Rock, and King Creole (Elvis' personal favorite). 

But they are not 'Elvis Movies'.

The first 'Elvis Movie' was G.I. Blues.  He tried a few more 'serious' flicks after that, but then came Blue Hawaii. It was so successful, and sold so many soundtrack albums, the formula was born. For the next eight years, he would make two, sometimes three 'Elvis Movies' a year.

Some were awful (Harum Scarum) and some were decent (Follow That Dream). But in 1965 came a gem called Girl Happy. It has all the typical ingredients (a beach, music, girls, fist fights, etc), but this one got it right.

The plot's not important. Let's just say Elvis is in a band and the story takes place in Fort Lauderdale. It's the chemistry of the cast, the director and the great songs that makes Girl Happy shine. Shelley Fabares and Mary Ann Mobley, both vying for Elvis' attention are great personalities and gorgeous. And for good measure, we get the sexy and REALLY underrated actress Nita Talbot playing a stripper.

The guys who play in Elvis' group, Gary Crosby, Joby Baker and Jimmy Hawkins are perfect. They actually seem like a real band. Cosby is especially good and I love the way he handles the bass guitar and fakes singing the low notes on 'Wolf Call'.

There's not a bad song in the bunch and the performances seem natural. The male characters are in a 'band' after all. It's not Elvis as a helicopter pilot who suddenly breaks into a tune every ten minutes.

I especially like 'Spring Fever', where the boys are driving to Florida singing about the fun that awaits. It cuts back and forth from them to Shelley and her girlfriends in another car, singing the same song. It's a unique and innovative scene and encapsulates the joy of youthful anticipation from both points of view. The editing is brilliant.

The movie also LOOKS great. The set of the motel is especially well done. It looks as good as anything in a Hitchcock or Kubrick film. And everything has that bright 1960's color you don't see anymore. It just JUMPS at you.

It's filled with great character actors: Harold Stone as Shelley's gangster dad, Jackie Coogan (Uncle Fester) as a cop, John Fielder as the Motel Manager. And lots of familiar faces in tiny parts. Like the fat college kid who yells for Elvis to sing 'Wolf Call'. I've seen him a million times. And according to IMDB, Kent McCord and Dan Haggarty (Grizzly Adams) are in it, too, though I've never noticed.

Other highlights: Elvis in drag and a Red West vs. Elvis fist fight.

The superiority of this movie over other Elvis flicks probably has a lot to do with the director Boris Sagal (Katey's dad). He gets the comic timing right and got the cast to do their best and look fantastic. Sagal directed a TON of TV and movies and it was his only Elvis flick. Most Elvis movies (the lousy ones) were directed by Norman Taurog, who did a lot of Martin and Lewis movies, too, and in most of them, somehow managed to make those two talents seem dull.

1965 was a nice year for rock 'n' roll movies. A few months after Girl Happy, the Beatles came out with Help!, which is my favorite Beatles' flick. Hmmm....Girl Happy over King Creole. Help! over A Hard Day's Night...maybe I'm just a contrarian.


Blogger stuart said...

Totally agree!! Girl happy is awesome...saw it on tv a bunch in late 60s and rented it this weekend on iTunes - it holds up very well - very well paced and great flow- every time I see it I want to be transported to Lauderdale in 1965!

Russell quinn

6:17 PM  

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