Friday, April 15, 2011

Girls! Girls! Girls! (1962, Norman Taurog)

Girls! Girls! Girls! is a real misnomer.  Elvis's Ross Carpenter starts the movie aboard a fishing boat looking at girls on an approaching sailboat through binoculars.  He awkwardly stands erect (not literally, that happens during the later number "The Walls Have Ears") and rhythmically snaps along, turkey-bobbing his neck to the lyrics "I'm just a red-blooded boy and I can't stop thinking about girls."  Only they blow the wad on the intro.  While Girls! Girls! Girls! is a first in that some of the jokes are more overtly sexual, the driving force behind the plot isn't in any way. 

The number ends as Ross is being called to the back of the boat.  See, he is a fisherman with big dreams of owning the boat his boss graciously lets him live on-- the boat Ross built with his father before he died.  Yes, Elvis's character is another man on his own in the world; his mother died in his childhood and his father left him little but a knowledge of the value of hard work.  This red-blooded boy is guiding the boat for a vacationing couple and the old man has hooked a marlin.  He lacks the virility to handle his own rod, even being fed pills by his wife.  Ross, young and full of vigor, is able to handle is easily and when the old man rushes off to sleep, his wife offers payment for certain services.  She soon finds that, though Ross claims to like women, he prefers the vessel.

There is nothing subversive about the conversation, and in many ways Girls! Girls! Girls! is the raunchiest of the comedies Elvis made.  His two main prospects in the film are sultry nightclub singer Robin Gantner (Stella Stevens) and the sweet (and very young-looking 19-year-old) Laurel Dodge (Laurel Goodwin) who takes a shine to Ross after he (shocker) fights her drunken boyfriend.  Stella Stevens always regretted the role for a number of fair reasons:  she was a trained singer but the film decided to dub her numbers with the vocals of Marni Nixon.  On top of that, her spurned character wasn't too dissimilar to the reaction on set.  Stevens's rough life (she was already a divorced mother at age 17) earned her a reputation of a "grown woman."  Though only a year younger than Elvis, it was as good as decades.  Laurel Goodwin, on the other hand, was the signature Elvis love interest in stature and age (though not quite as young as Priscilla).  There is never any real contention for Ross's affection in the film, just as there was no question who Elvis best got along with on set.  Their relationship is relatively chaste despite a few bawdy lines of out-of-place screenplay.  Ross, after walking Laurel home having just met her, turns to the camera astonished saying, "why am I leaving?"  Worse, an angry customer is laughed off with the line "now that's a name you don't fool around with" when she introduces herself as Ms. Figgot.

But Stevens wasn't the only cast member to hate the screenplay (she reportedly threw the script across the room calling it "dreck").  Elvis began to voice his discontent with infantile filler-songs, a problem that would worsen the longer this cash-cow was milked.  Here, Elvis sings "Song of the Shrimp" to a crustacean.  Ross has a couple of surrogate families, each heavily ethnic for the sake of caricature and sings another song in a similarly diminutive, demeaning way to a couple of Chinese girls, Mai and Tai (yuk, yuk, yuk) Ling (Ginny and Elizabeth Tiu).  That Chinese actors are the butt of sidekick comedy is of no surprise in 1962 (sadly it isn't much different in American cinema today), but much of it is horrendously bad taste.  All in a matter of twenty seconds there is a chopsticks gag, a Chinese-food-leaving-you-hungry-in-an-hour gag, and the balls to joke that an old Chinese proverb reads "man remember small things very big" complete with sitcom gag music.  The sequence is a low-light in a script full of ill-advised, mean-spirited jokes.

Girls! Girls! Girls! is not Taurog's finest hour.  There are odd, disjointed match edits where there should be continuity, and long takes of boats sailing which should be cut for brevity.  The film even ends with a strange, seemingly unchoreographed fight sequence in which Ross punches his enemy in the junk, speeds away on a boat that crashes, then immediately is shown correcting itself and speeding away.  It's as if the budget was so tight that Taurog didn't risk shooting extra footage.  The fix is a quick insert closeup of nemesis Wesley Johnson (Jeremy Slate) wiping his brow in relief is the excuse not to re-shoot the stunt.  Possibly the same reason Taurog didn't re-shoot a musical number when Little Elvis pops up for a spell.  Girls! Girls! Girls! feels breezy at its best, but rushed much of the rest of the time.  A low budget can be blamed for many short-comings, but it being one of the ugliest and most mean-spirited among Presley's pictures isn't one of them. --  *½ / four stars

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