Monday, April 18, 2011

Kissin' Cousins (1964, Gene Nelson)

By far the worst to helm Presley pictures, veteran sitcom director Gene Nelson is responsible of two of the three worst Elvis movies.  Both rely heavily on stereotype for characterization and "otherness" for laughs-- Kissin' Cousins and Harum Scarum both attempt indulgent superiority.  Where Nelson (who also wrote the screenplay to Kissin' Cousins) has the chops to look down his nose at anyone is beyond me, as his directorial output consists mainly of things like "The Mod Squad" and "Fantasy Island".  

In what appears to be a limited double-feature of Fun In Acapulco and Girls! Girls! Girls!, a poster claiming "Twice As Much Elvis As Ever!" must have really got the wheels turning in the heads of the creative geniuses behind Film Elvis.  A not so subtle inbreeding joke pairs two Elvis's on the screen in Kissin' Cousins.  Elvis #1 is Josh Morgan, an Air Force officer whose backwoods heritage gets him selected to return to Hillbilly, Tennessee to talk distant kin into giving up their land for a missile base.  Elvis #2 is the blond Jodie Tatum, the contentious wrestling champion of the Smoky Mountains who doesn't take too kindly to strangers.

Neither do the innumerable (and indistinguishable) Kittyhawks-- the lusty mountain women who fire shotguns at trespassers.  That is, until the girls realize the intruders are men.  At this point they become unhinged and attack Josh and every soldier in the platoon as they are desperate for sex.

You can see where this is going real fast.  Two Elvises means he can kiss that many more females.  The local color only care about shacking up, hootenannies and moonshine.  Elvis #1 hooks up with a distant hillbilly cousin, Elvis #2 hooks up with a female Corporal-- even the government hooks up with the hillbillies, agreeing to split the mountain as long as the moonshine industry is untouched.  Gonzo patriotism marries bumpkin libertarianism, but what seems screwball framework produces less laughs than my mom's eighth-grade limerick about a plane being hijacked to Cuba.

The film was produced on the smallest budget for an Elvis film to date, and it shows.  Though the movie takes place mostly in outdoor Appalachia, it was filmed mostly in a Hollywood studio.  The soft lighting looks odd, the shadows of camera equipment looks amateurish, and Nelson's directorial eye leaves something to be desired.  The film is so entertained by its two-role gimmick, that it demands to constantly remind us of it.  In scenes that bear no reason for it, shots are framed so that the back of one of the Elvis's heads faces the camera while two other characters are having a conversation.  There's a lot of wrestling around between the two Elvises and sometimes the editing lets slip (long enough to be noticeable) a visage that spoils the illusion. 

Not that he probably had too much say in the matter, but Presley even screened another quickie musical-comedy produced by Sam Katzman, directed by Gene Nelson with music direction by Fred Karger before this project entitled Hootenanny Hoot-- a D-grade precursor to The T.A.M.I. Show with exploitation in the stead of artistic merit and a first-draft cardboard narrative to string together performances.  Kissin' Cousins is equally exploitative, but the music is worse.  It's a movie that puffs itself up by making its stereotypes idiots.  Even letters in the title card are backward, resembling a trend I find offensive amongst preschool signage.  And those kids are four.  The movie leaves you with a sour feeling knowing it made money for such atrocities. -- ½* / four stars

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