Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Easy Come, Easy Go (1967, John Rich)

By 1967, any hint of Dean rebel was ancient history in the Elvis persona, and the suave, less-promiscuous, mom-friendly version of James Bond was finding its way into Elvis scripts.  Easy Come, Easy Go is, then, a strange version of Thunderball-- when Elvis's watersports had been exhausted, take him underwater for a little scuba.  That isn't to say it is an action movie: what is ill-advised about this clearly un-Taurogian picture is that John Rich's action direction is dull.  He has little competence in the compositional structure or kinetic relevance of long stretches of underwater shots.  And worse yet for the fans, Elvis can't sing underwater.

Elvis plays Navy frogman Ross Carpenter who is reaching the end of his tour of duty.  He's chasing down sunken treasure, and what is particularly frustrating about the narrative is that he's written as such a selfish, one-dimensional goon, there is no joy in following any sort of character arc when we know he'll eventually do the right thing: it's his only option.  It takes the wind out of any murky sails and fails to afford any tension or moral ambiguity.  The man wants the money, so of course he'll have a decision to make.  It doesn't help that the film's title destroys any suspense.

The only choice he has to his viewers is to sympathize with the hippie daughter (and lone descendant) of the deceased captain of the ship containing Carpenter's treasure.  The woman, Jo Symington (Dodie Marshall) wants him to be a sophisticated man interested in history and art.  Instead for the entirety of the "adventure" we hear Carpenter spout dialogue comparable to "she doesn't know I only care about sunken treasure!" and "she probably won't be too happy I didn't tell her about the sunken treasure!"  It probably didn't help Presley's image in 1967 youth culture to make all the hippies "kooks" and calling them "beatniks" (really? in '67?), but that is the least of Presley's concerns regarding his public image.

Director John Rich had, like Presley, given up on producer Hal Wallis at this point.  He had gained an appreciation for what Elvis had to put up with and in this film there are moments where he is clearly phoning it in.  Dialogue interchanges are stilted and we're just waiting to hear the beat.  Rich does nothing to correct it, and Elvis looks bloated throughout the picture, easily on autopilot. 

As cheap as Wallis was known to be in these productions, the green-screen isn't distracting mostly because the sunken treasure is in open water.  The studio lighting isn't the best, but it's easier to not screw up being surrounded by ocean.  This would be Elvis's final Wallis production and, while it surprisingly doesn't look cheap, it is evident other corners were cut.

The music particularly suffers in Easy Come, Easy Go.  Elvis only recorded a six-song EP for release in conjunction with the film, but he personally referred to the quality of music as "shit".  The numbers are clearly calculated and don't come close to fitting the narrative.  Instead of earlier Elvis films in which poor songs were written to loosely string the narrative together, here it seems like poor songs were written and then narrative bits were added for their inclusion.  Therefore, someone performs yoga for the inclusion of the insipid "Yoga Is As Yoga Does", one of the worst songs in the entire Elvis filmography.  Further numbers have Elvis breaking the fourth wall (or just badly choreographed?), singing at the camera and pretending to play unplugged electric instruments.  Fortunately, they are limited to to six.

Not all the gags in Easy Come, Easy Go are duds (one artist disassembles Ross's car and lends him his multi-colored, fur-upholstered Rolls-Royce that doubled as Cesar Romero's Jokermobile), but the zaniness is too little, too late.  The bare-bones plot was so contrived approaching the climax, the sudden tonal change is welcome, but unfulfilling. 

For Hal Wallis, this would be the end of the line, and the soundtrack sales for this EP and box office receipts were dire compared to their heyday.  No singles charted after Wallis refused Col. Parker's demand for better songs.  Though it would take roughly four more paint-by-number pictures before Presley pictures were allowed to cross the lines, the Wallis/Presley schism was a long time coming, and for the best.  Easy Come, Easy Go is the casualty in the wake, but isn't all that bad, all things considered. -- *½ / four stars

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