Well, I can finally say that I’m in no-man’s land as far as these films are concerned. With The British Invasion in full swing and the quality of these films going down, down, down, Elvis was starting to lose his patience and it shows. In fact, he hated the music he was forced to record for Girl Happy so much he refused to record any new songs for several months after—and I can’t say I blame him. As a result, all of the songs in Tickle Me are just recycled from previous recordings.
As for me, well, I’ve now watched eighteen Elvis films—that’s more than halfway through—and I’m finally starting to feel some fatigue. On one hand, I’m really enjoying how much Elvis knowledge I’ve acquired; I find myself able to have conversations with people I know in which I drop a ton of Elvis facts with ease and confidence, and watch them respond in turn with polite nods and glances at their watches. Well, after these next two films, I too was looking at my watch. The year is 1965, and as dopey as I thought Help! was, these next two make it look like a lost Spielberg epic.
Girl Happy (1965) | 96 min.
The opening lines of this film tell you there are many reasons to go to Fort Lauderdale, “good reasons,” it says, as the camera zooms into a woman laying on the beach, “Good reasons, like 36-24-36.”
Rusty Wells (Elvis Presley) is the lead singer of a local Chicago band which has just wrapped up their final show and are ready to head out to Fort Lauderdale Florida for SPRAAAANG BREAAAAAAAK. But just as he’s about to let head-honcho club owner Big Frank (Harold Stone) know that they’re going on hiatus, Big Frank vents angrily to Rusty that his daughter is defying his wishes and going down to that gosh darn unsafe Fort Lauderdale, and boy does he hate that place. Rusty, seeing that this won’t end well for him, volunteers to go down to Florida in order to keep an eye on daughter Valerie (Shelley Fabares) as a favor. The plan is set, and Big Frank agrees to pay him to spy on his daughter for the week.
Cut to Rusty and the gang driving down to Florida and checking into their motel. Immediately, all of the boys are going gaga over the countless chicks in bikinis—one buxom bather in particular named Deena (Mary Ann Mobley) really makes Rusty sweat. However, they don’t have time to indulge in the bounty of Fort Lauderdale because Valerie turns out not to be an ugly duckling as expected, but instead a real head turner. When she starts to get courted by Italian exchange student Romano (Fabrizio Mioni), Rusty and the gang must jump into action.
On her first date, Rusty and friends literally hitch Romano’s boat to a truck and drive it out of the water with Romano and Valerie inside of it. They dump it into the hotel pool, and Valerie, too drunk to notice anything wrong, wanders out and back to her room unscathed.
On her second date, Rusty tells the Hotel manager that Valerie has a boy in her room (a real no-no, apparently) and gets Romano kicked out in the middle of a game of bridge.
On their third date, Romano straight up takes Valerie to a strip club, where a stripper offers to give her lessons if she ever wants. Rusty manages to draw her out by staging a huge irresistible concert on the beach.
Eventually, Rusty realizes the only way to truly get Valerie away from this Italian for good is to seduce her himself, which he successfully does while still trying to have Deena on the side. Everything’s going great until Valerie tells her father over the phone that she’s met the most wonderful man, and her father straight up laughs in her face and goes “yeah, I paid him to hang out with you”. Valerie flips out and immediately calls up Romano. This time, they go back to the strip club and Valerie gets so drunk she jumps on stage. Rusty runs in just in time to start punching everybody he sees, and Valerie is so drunk at this point that she starts punching and kicking girls off the stage while still stripping.
Eventually, the cops come and arrest everybody but Rusty. Rusty then has to scheme to break in to jail to be able to tell Valerie his true feelings. Hijinks ensue, especially when Big Frank shows up to bail his little princess outta jail.
This has got to be the dopiest Elvis movie I’ve watched. Between the skirt-chasing plot and the cornball music, this move is so ’60s it hurts. However, it’s full of bright colors, and not gonna lie, I can get behind some mindless yé-yé ’60s pop nonsense once in a while.
A lot of the band interactions, especially the first scene where they’re backstage messing with a poster, really reminded me of Beatles style humor (I have a not so sneaking suspicion the Colonel specifically chose comedy writers this time in order to compete.) The humor is mostly flat, though—it never pushes the boundaries far enough, or is satiricial enough, to be truly funny. Some of the physical humor does work, such as the aforementioned boat-to-pool heist, but it’s ho-hum when it’s jokes about strippers or cheesy men-in-drag gags.
Elvis does some hardcore seducing in this one, and it’s pretty great. I liked him serenading Valerie only to get distracted midway and start serenading Deena. And he does wear some fly, bright-as-hell, button down shirts in tropical colors—I can certainly get behind that.
Also worth noting is the scene in which Elvis tries his best to get arrested so he can get into the jail to talk to Valerie—he tries every prank in the book short of literally slapping a cop in the face, but the cop doesn’t care. “Boys will be boys” he says, after Elvis puts sand in the cop’s helmet, takes the air out of his motorcycle tires, and ties his radio antennae into a bow. Just goes to show what white men can get away with in this country!
By the way, even though every single girl in this movie is in a bikini, Elvis never once takes his top off. In fact, dude even water-skis in long sleeves. What gives Elvis? Bad waxing job?
Best Song: Most of these songs are insufferably bad (“Do The Clam“ immediately comes to mind). However, one song that I genuinely laughed at was “Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce,” a pretty ridiculous, if not prurient song whose lyrics come off as a public health bulletin about how it’s illegal to not mack on hot chicks when in Florida.
2 out of 5 stars,
3 1/2 out of 5 Elvises
Tickle Me (1965) | 90 min.
Lonnie Beale (Presley) is a famous rodeo cowboy who, of course, enjoys singing on the side. After a gig ends with him punching the lights out of a jealous boyfriend and destroying half the venue, he finds himself taking a job as a stable boy for a luxury women’s ranch-spa owned by Vera Radford (Julie Adams). “Any objections to working for a woman?” she asks him. “No objections,” he says. “I’ve never had a lady-boss before.”
It turns out this place caters only to models and rich wives trying to “get in shape.” This means they diet severely and do very important exercises, such as bending over, moaning seductively, and giggling. The one show-stopper is Pam (Jocelyn Lane), the gymnastics instructor. Lonnie tries his best to butter her up, but she’s not having it. That is until a masked man tries to kidnap her and Lonnie busts in Kool-Aid Man style to save her.
Lonnie and Pam call the police, but the sheriff tells Pam she “brought this on herself” because she’s been walking around town asking too many questions. (And I’m sure the way she’s dressed is also a part of why it happened, too. Snore.) Pam eventually confides in Lonnie that she has a ye olde letter from her granpappy that says where thousands of gold coins are buried in Silverado, now a ghost town, and that that’s why people are after her.
So, life in the camp goes on, with Lonnie serenading all the women, and Pam continually getting kidnapped, with Lonnie always saving her just in the nick of time. Shit gets out of hand for Lonnie though when Pam walks in on him making out with his lady-boss Vera. Super bad timing, because he’s just about to leave the ranch to go do his rodeo thing, and Pam will have nothing to do with him. So, off Lonnie goes to do his circuit, but he can’t get his mind off of Pam, and it affects his work.
Eventually, Lonnie returns to the ranch to seek out Pam, but she still has him on freeze. So Lonnie decides the best way to win back a girl who wants nothing to do with you is to stalk her. Lonnie and Stanley (Jack Mullaney), one of the ranch hands, follow Pam into Silverado. When they all arrive, they get rained out by a huge storm and seek refuge in an abandoned hotel filled with wax dummies that are terrifying. Pam spends the next 20 minutes just screaming constantly, and eventually lets Lonnie in the room to feel safe (though, considering he’s such a lecherous creep, I don’t know whether that’s safer). Turns out the guys who were trying to kidnap Pam just so happen to be there too, wearing scary funhouse masks and trying to stab everybody. Eventually they all find themselves in the basement, and mistakenly stumble upon the gold coins. Hooray.
I’m sorry, but who is this movie for? You’ve got Elvis, okay, sure, but then you’ve got bikini-clad women running around a dude ranch, mixed with a ‘violent kidnappers on a treasure-hunt’ plot a seven-year-old could have thought up, but also just enough haunted house material to scare you if you were actually a child viewer. Also, why the hell is this movie called Tickle Me!? I want answers.
Elvis is basically a predator in this movie, just trying to seduce every woman in camp. And in the one scene where everybody’s wearing white and gets caught in the rain, he picks up Pam under protest, then slaps her on the ass while carrying her indoors. Awkward. (I won’t lie, though—Jocelyn Lane is easily one of the most attractive chicks I’ve seen in an Elvis movie thus far.)
He’s also constantly brawling in this movie, beating up just about every other guy he encounters. (Dude even beats the shit out of a cop!) Sounds exciting, but it all happens so often you’re eventually just checking your watch. I suspect the producers were trying to cater to the husbands and boyfriends dragged to the movie. At least the girls get Elvis looking great in western wear.
The haunted house is actually not terrible to watch, because it’s at least something different—it’s semi-amusing to see Stanley keep getting punched in the face by a mysterious hand, or Elvis open the closet and see at a weird ass dude in white paint makeup smiling creepily at him while sitting in a rocking chair. And the guy in the werewolf mask who shows up thing-on-the-wing, Twilight Zone-style genuinely made me jump.
I don’t know what else to say about this film other than I wish they had cut the filler crap out and just stuck with one theme. The rodeo scenes are totally ridiculous, and the haunted house is unique, so this one gets ‘it’s bad but kinda watchable’ pass, in my book.
Best Song: “Put The Blame On Me“ is definitely the best song. It’s meant to be a fantasy flashback about what this old saloon was like back in the day. Why the hell wasn’t this whole movie just a western period drama? Elvis looks fantastic, and it would have been amazing. I don’t know why all of these movies dance around their best plot points. Anyway, this song has great costumes, colors, and staging—well, except for that one behind-the-bar gag that they shot too high and ruined the trick of. The cinematographer was Loyal Griggs, and I like to think he thought of this film as the logical next step after his Academy Award for Shane. (Actually, he already did G.I. Blues and Girls! Girls! Girls! before this.)
2 out of 5 stars,
3 out of 5 Elvises