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even devoted admirers of Elvis will find themselves feeling short-changed by this one
"Frankie and Johnny" is one in the long line of musicals which Elvis Presley churned out in the sixties. It has no connection with the Al Pacino/Michelle Pfeiffer film of the same name from 1991, but is instead fairly loosely based upon the well-known American folk-song. It is set some time in the late nineteenth century, probably around 1880 or 1890, although the exact date is never stated. Johnny and his girlfriend Frankie are performers on a Mississippi riverboat; Johnny is also a compulsive gambler, and as the boat has a casino on board he has plenty of opportunities to gamble. The film deals with the complications caused in their relationship by Johnny's gambling habit and Frankie's jealousy of his friendship with an attractive redhead named Nellie Bly. Johnny's interest in Nellie arises from the fact that a gypsy fortune-teller has informed him that a red-haired woman will bring him luck, but the jealous Frankie suspects that their relationship goes much deeper.
One of the problems of casting a rock star in a Victorian period drama is that rock didn't actually exist in the Victorian era. The makers of this film are not really all that concerned with period accuracy- some of the music we hear sounds suspiciously like jazz, which didn't really exist in the 1880s, and even the song "Frankie and Johnny" itself was not published in its modern form until the 1920s. Somebody, however, obviously realised that rock-and-roll would be anachronistic, so the star gets to sing a series of bland, totally forgettable easy-listening numbers.
Elvis was always fairly laid-back as an actor, but in this film he doesn't seem to make much effort as a singer either, being content just to stroll his way through the film. The rest of the cast are no better; in his film career Elvis played opposite some pretty obscure leading ladies, but Donna Douglas is one of the least memorable of the bunch. I was not surprised to discover that this was the last film she made in a brief cinema career. About the complicated and often far-fetched plot, the less said the better. Most Elvis Presley films these days are unlikely to appeal to anyone other than his many devoted admirers, but I suspect that even they will find themselves feeling a bit short-changed by this one. 4/10
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