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FRANKIE AND JOHNNY (Frederick De Cordova, 1966) **1/2
This is an oddity in Elvis’ filmography: a quaint but pleasing musical comedy based on the popular song which had already inspired a similarly-titled film from 1936 starring Helen Morgan – apart from being featured in the Mae West vehicle SHE DONE HIM WRONG (1933) and, again, as recently as Robert Altman’s A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION (2006).
The star isn’t entirely comfortable amid the 1890s riverboat setting, what with a few of his musical performances (and especially his hairdo) coming off as inextricably modern. Still, the plot – thin as it is – emerges to be quite engaging (what with its backdrop of fortune-telling, gambling parlors, variety acts and costume parties and involving mistaken identities, misunderstandings, an attempted murder and a bar-room brawl)! The cast presents three notable female roles: Donna Douglas (as Frankie), Nancy Kovack as Elvis’ red-headed lucky charm and the flame of his jealous boss, and Sue Ane Langdon as a ditzy “blonde” – who, along with Presley’s long-suffering sidekick Harry Morgan, turns out to be the most likable character as well as the purveyor of the film’s comic relief.
Elvis’ best ‘new’ number is “Hard Luck”; apart from the title tune, he also gets to sing the standard “When The Saints Go Marching In” (while dressed in full military regalia)! The film is short enough at 87 mins. not to overstay its welcome, but the rather low-key presentation also prevents it from being anything more than unassuming entertainment. I wouldn’t classify it among the top-flight Presley vehicles, therefore, but it’s certainly superior to some of the bigger-budgeted (yet simple-minded) fluff he made over at MGM – this being a production from independent producer Edward Small released through United Artists.
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