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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.
Romping, colorful Presley vehicle with plenty of songs and good comedy from Harry Morgan and Donna Douglas. Johnny (Presley) is a riverboat gambler who becomes convinced that a redhead is his good luck charm -- problem is, Frankie (Douglas) is a blonde! She goes after him with a gun, and the rest is in the song (a personal favorite of Elvis', I understand). Edward Small's production clearly outclasses the Sam Katzman drek Presley would soon be floundering in. Some fairly elaborate musical numbers well-executed, quality photography and decent directing. DVD is a good one, buy it Elvis fans.
Elvis plays Johnny, a riverboat entertainer that has a big gambling problem. Donna Douglas, better known as Elly Mae Clampett, is Johnny's girl, Frankie. A fortune teller tells Johnny how he can change his luck. Enter a new lady luck played by Nancy Kovack and the cat fight begins. Costumes range from classy to gaudy. A dozen songs make up the soundtrack featuring "Hard Luck" and "Please Don't Stop Loving Me". This film was directed by Fred de Cordova, director of Johnny Carson's "Tonight Show". Also in the cast are Sue Ane Langdon, Harry Morgan and Anthony Eisley. A fun movie to watch.
Frankie and Johnny (1966)
** 1/2 (out of 4)
Johnny (Elvis) is a riverboat singer who is also one of the worst gamblers in the world, which gets him into major debt and grief to his partner Frankie (Donna Douglas). With no where else to turn, Johnny starts going to a gypsy for advice and she tells him that great luck will come in a beautiful redhead (Nancy Kovack) but this starts trouble with his boss as well as Frankie. I was pleasantly surprised to see how good this little film was, although it suffers from the same issues as many Elvis films of this period. The story is incredibly weak and once again we've gotta see The King fall for the wrong woman and try to get himself out of trouble while singing. What stands this film apart from the others through are the incredibly well done songs, which also feature some great musical numbers. The highlight is the wonderfully played out title song as well as several other tunes including "What Every Woman Lives For", "Down By the Riverside", "When the Saints Go Marching In" and "Hard Luck". Elvis doesn't give what I'd call a good performance but he fits his role well as the dumb but entertaining singer. The biggest credit must go to the supporting cast with Douglas stealing the show and Harry Morgan adding great comedy.
This may be considered bad some but it is a good musical set on a riverboat. The king sings some good songs and it is about getting to broadway and an unsuccessful gambler. The film may drag on but what the harm when Elvis is swinging his hips and singing lots.
This movie followed "Harum Scarum" and was a big step up simply because
"Harum Scarum" was arguably Elvis's worst movie. This one is actually
the closest thing that Elvis ever did to a typical Hollywood musical
like "Music Man." There's an interesting plot and some good energy that
carries through the first half of the movie, but it limps along badly
in the second half. I went to sleep and had to finish watching it the
The large amount of Broadway musical-type tunes simply doesn't fit Elvis' style very well. Only the title tune is really interesting and works very well. At the end, there is a gem called "Please, Don't Stop Loving Me." It comes at about 80 minutes of the film's 87 minute run and I'm not sure that anybody except Elvis fans will last that long.
Apparently Donna Douglas and Elvis had deep philosophical conversations on Paramahansa Yogananda and the Christian religion during the breaks while shooting this movie. This shows as there is very little chemistry between them. Second lead, Nancy Kovack provides whatever sexual chemistry the film does have. One suspects that if Douglas and Kovack had changed roles, the film would have worked much better.
This doesn't fit into the category of Elvis' good movies, but it also doesn't fit into the category of his bad movies. Lets just say that it is an okay movie that only Elvis fans will find pleasurable.
At first this Elvis Presley feature felt like a breath of fresh air, as it's a costume piece set aboard an old-time riverboat where Elvis plays an irresponsible and compulsive gambler named Johnny. Donna Douglas (best known as Elly May from "The Beverly Hillbillies") is his cutesy girlfriend and singing partner Frankie, and they perform as a duet on the boat (Douglas is unconvincingly dubbed). Harry Morgan of M*A*S*H fame plays Johnny's older mentor (he gets to sing too - uggghhh) who visits a gypsy fortune teller with Elvis to learn that a redhead (Nancy Kovack) will soon arrive to change his luck. Fate turns out to come true, but it creates a love triangle in the bargain. Once you get past the fancy costumes, this is fairly standard Elvis stuff. The stage songs aren't outstanding by any means, but they do fit nicely with the "showtime" feel of the proceedings.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Falling close to the middle of Presley's film career in both quantity and quality, this is an exercise in mediocrity with only a few things to recommend in it. Very loosely inspired by the classic title song, it showcases Presley as a riverboat performer and gambling addict. He has a relationship with his singing partner Douglas, but that is strained to the limit when he encounters Kovack, a redhead who he believes is essential in fulfilling his gypsy fortune to win big money at the roulette wheel. Unfortunately, Kovack is the one-time love of Presley's boss Eisley and he isn't quite ready to give her up yet, despite his own affair with kooky chorine Langdon. More direct comedy is provided by Morgan and Christie as Presley and Douglas' married friends. The shenanigans (including mistaken identity, flirtation, drunkenness and the roller coaster of the roulette wheel) all come to a head during a performance of the title song during which Presley's life is endangered. What may sound lively and entertaining in description is only partly so in reality. The pace of the film borders on stagnant, despite the setting, and the many songs Presley performs are chiefly forgettable and unimaginatively staged. Presley is close to his physical prime here, though his performance lacks any real spark. His infamous jet-black hair (which fails to ever move except for one cowlick in front) is incongruous with the time period, as are several of his costumes. It's surprising to see Douglas in a role other than her iconic Elly Mae Clampett. She is unable to ditch the accent from that character despite obviously trying to at various points. She is lovely to look at most of the time, but is obviously uncomfortable in the musical sequences in which her voice is dubbed and her movements are lacking in assurance. Morgan does a decent job, but Christie manages to outshine him with her caustic brand of dry humor. They share some of the movies most amusing bits. Langdon is, as usual, very broad in her role though she does contribute some energy to the proceedings. Eisley is adequate. Nothing more. Kovack is attractive, but, like Douglas, far from seeming at home in the musical interludes. The songs are mostly forgettable and the one major song, the title tune which has endured for so long, is rather mangled by switching it from a narrative style to a first-person number with people singing about themselves. Few things are as uncomfortable-looking as Presley loping down the street in his marching band get-up. Though the film has many colorful costumes and settings, it comes off as pretty cheap-looking. Fans of The King will still want to watch this for his brand of light romance and comedy, but it hardly ranks as one of his best outings.
Frankie and Johnny wasn't half bad as Elvis pictures go- which means it was half- watchable as a movie and not just a typical kitchy vehicle to ogle the King. The musical performances we're good and the sets and costumes interesting-the high point in the film is the last performance of Frankie and Johnny--Elvis actually comes off pretty suave at times as a river boat gambler and his character played well off a nubile, young Donna Douglas. Harry Morgan does a good job as Elvis' older, more wary sidekick and the rest of the cast work well and don't detract/subtract from the main action which is of course- Elvis. Not a bad way to kill an afternoon or round off an evening of insomnia.
"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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