Thursday, April 28, 2011

Double Trouble (1967, Norman Taurog)

Double Trouble is not a good movie.  Grading on a curve, it isn't even a good movie as far as Elvis movies go.  But somehow, I like it anyway.  Chalk it up to director Taurog's insistence on never phoning in an Elvis picture (the same can not be said of John Rich or Gene Nelson).  Taurog, the workhorse, was perhaps the only Elvis director who could have shot "Old MacDonald" as if it actually meant something.  Of course, it didn't.  Though producer Hal Wallis jumped ship following Easy Come, Easy Go, Judd Bernard and Irwin Winkler were confident Elvisploitation was not over.  It's something of a minor miracle that Taurog can glean moments of pure entertainment out of the formula this late in the game.

I can't overstate the "Old MacDonald" scene: it's where everything seemed to come to a head in Presley's discontent.  The music isn't as bad as his prior film, Easy Come, Easy Go, but the songs aren't memorable in a good way.  His choreography amounts to little more than his awkward, somewhat-rhythmic snapping and sometimes he pretends to play instruments.  Double Trouble would have been one instance in which no music would have been a good move.

But music notwithstanding, two distinct differences in Double Trouble really work for it.  First of all, like Tickle Me, the movie is outright zany in a Don Knotts sort of way.  The plot doesn't try to walk a line between celebrity aura and a teen fantasy world where one could just maybe stumble upon Elvis.  Double Trouble takes place in Europe (though shot exclusively in a Hollywood studio), has characters disguising their identities and physical violence is used for slapstick.

This isn't done altogether perfectly: timing, after all, is everything in comedy, and a lot of the beats miss.  One sequence feels lifted directly from Billy Wilder's Some Like It Hot, not only in tone, but in a quip of dialogue delivered by Presley.  The film fails to march out the rhythm it tries to set, but its heart is in the right place.

Furthermore, while the danger is cartoonified, the film carries bona fide consequence.  The film is delightfully screwball (well, at least cornball), but characters are firing guns.  The mysterious, malevolent hand is trying to knock off our heroes.  It is played for laughs, but characters do die.  It's a welcome escape from the Elvis Movie World of even-tempered, wind-blown sand resolve.

It doesn't change the fact that the plot is more than a little creepy:  Presley's Guy Lambert is an (American?) singer touring Europe and willing to take home a woman any night of the week.  When he happens to take home young red-head Jill Conway (Annette Day), he has no idea that she is due to receive a large inheritance.  Nor does he realize that she is only seventeen.  The schoolgirl plays hard to get until Guy finds out the whole story.  Then she turns into a Lolita, trying to wed him, stat.

The lines drawn by Guy's conscience are indecipherable.  The threat of statutory was a cold shower initially, but then they're off kissing again.  The movie takes place over the final three days before Jill's eighteenth birthday, but it's just a little uneasy.  And at this point in the Elvis formula, I welcome the lack of conformity (not to mention, he courted Priscilla when she was a mere fourteen).

Elvis and redheads were a winning formula throughout the franchise-- Ann-Margret and Deborah Walley were enough to make their respective films pull away from the pack, and their chemistry with the King really worked.  Double Trouble "co-stars" and "introduces" the world to Annette Day, an all too British-looking female lead who, after said introduction, would never be featured in a film again.  Not only does the film call for a strange chemistry, Day just doesn't have the pull on-screen to make it work.

Double Trouble isn't exactly a spoof, but it riffs on mod culture (a welcome atonement from the out-of-touch treatment of Beatniks in Easy Come, Easy Go), and isn't too out of line with something like Murder By Death.  There are many ways in which the film doesn't work, but its chutzpah makes up the difference. -- **/four stars

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