Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Follow That Dream (1962, Gordon Douglas)

Where we last left off, Elvis waxed nostalgic about the possibility of spending the rest of his days idly on the beach.  Unfortunately, he found that he did need to get a job.  Follow That Dream tells us "not so!" in one of the most romantic notions set to celluloid.  In Blue Hawaii, Elvis's girlfriend was most jealous of a schoolteacher she thought was vying for his attention; what she didn't know was that the real threat was a 17-year-old would-be (if this weren't a family film) Lolita.  And so it now starts to make its way onto the screen that Elvis's love interests could often seem inappropriate (if not nigh adolescent) to the modern eye (though it makes some financial sense in keeping tapped into the youth demographic, it is worth bearing in mind that his courtship with Priscilla began in 1959 when she was just 14).
To make things stranger, Elvis's primary love interest in Follow That Dream is his character's 19-year-old adopted sister.  But somehow it's not weird.  Follow That Dream is so sincere in its gonzo worldview, we accept the film's outcome.  It succeeds as both bizarro fantasy and devout patriotism.  It is the first in only a handful of Elvis films that comes so close to flying off the rails of plausibility that it is likable because of it.  Elvis has the charisma to ground it, and the film ends in a (mostly unintentionally) hilarious courtroom victory that rivals Woody Allen's Bananas.  And does it straight-faced.

Billed as a satire, Follow That Dream is based upon Richard P. Powell's Pioneer, Go Home!, a tale of the welfare-enabled Kwimper family who inadvertently squat on some land and become heroes fighting big government.  Elvis plays Toby Kwimper, the (again motherless) son of vagabond "Pop" (Arthur O'Connell) who has a penchant for adopting children.  The two men have taken in the now 19-year-old Holly Jones (Anne Helm) who plays babysitter for three much younger children, including a set of twins no one can tell apart.  Unemployed and nigh hirudinean, the happy-go-lucky family deserves a vacation and heads down to Florida until they run out of gas on some unclaimed beachfront property.

Try as they might, Johnny Law can't evict the squatters, but the trouble doesn't stop there.  Social worker Alisha Claypoole (Joanna Moore) is assigned to check up on the non-traditional family, but spends more time vying for the attention of the oblivious Toby.  Very aware of the charade is Holly who-- despite bringing up the children and starting the new family business-- is subjugated, falling into feminine jealousy.  A trend now a staple in the Elvis picture: the stronger the female, the more she can't resist.

Follow That Dream is a more dopey, less saccharine You Can't Take It With You by way of that one musical episode of "Rocko's Modern Life" where Rocko fights city hall and wins.  There is something pleasing in the Kwimpers' victory, namely that (unlike in the Capra) they aren't so eccentric that the preachiness beats us over the head.  That isn't to say a fair amount of insanity doesn't ensue (or that, perhaps, it is necessary for such a pioneering spirit), but they have earnestness in spades.  And that is what makes it so endearing.

Perhaps the satire from the novel is lost: the joke is on big government, yes, but the Kwimpers get a free pass in the movie, as if the government owed them the welfare they lived on for so long.  And when they start their successful business, it's not seen so much as an answer to a social problem but a happenstance they stumbled into.  Poverty doesn't seem to have ever been an issue, which is a little unfair.

But the comeuppance laid down by Toby's new found street smarts in the court of law is something of a Rocky story that manages optimistic patriotism without resorting to naïve pandering.  The titular dream still demands work, but on your own terms.  Toby's eyes being opened to Holly as a grown woman is a victory of the same, homegrown girl-next-door Americana.  Follow Your Dream is a Capra-esque fantasy that is daffier than the typical Elvis musical-comedy.  In its sincerity, it is also one of his best. -- ***/four stars 

Back to The Films of Elvis Presley

No comments:

Post a Comment