Monday, May 2, 2011

Live A Little, Love A Little (1968, Norman Taurog)

Live A Little, Love A Little is a bizarre screwball comedy that suffers, burning the candle at both ends:  not only do the screenwriters not fully embrace the full wackiness needed to elevate Michele Carey's character to a Hepburn's Susan Vance of Bringing Up Baby (or even Streisand's Judy Maxwell in the later What's Up, Doc?), it also can't emasculate Elvis.  Although Elvis never had a problem condescending for a laugh, the film wouldn't take the risk of letting him clown too much.  The couple meet cute, but there isn't anything neurotic or lacking enough in Elvis's Greg Nolan to convince us that the two need to be together.  After all, this is an Elvis that just married off three potential suitors Spinout and walked off into the sunset.

But it very nearly gets it right.  What begins as a ridiculous male fantasy with a beautiful (perhaps mentally unstable) woman relentlessly throwing herself at our hero ends with a clear domestication of the male spirit.  It's playfully subversive romance that resolves like the gender roles in (another photography movie) Rear Window. "I'm a man, I like to make decisions for myself.  If you ever start thinking like a woman, you'll understand what that means," Elvis's Greg Nolan tells "Bernice" (the stunning Michele Carey) in an argument.  But it's clear who's on the leash when, upon reconciliation at the beach, Bernice tells Greg "I'll meet you half way," only they embrace without her taking a single step.

Bernice spots Greg on the beach one morning though her telescope and sends her Great Dane, Albert down to exert a little muscle.  It's one of the few altercations Elvis doesn't win:  Albert chases him into the ocean and Greg is played for a fool.  Bernice (or is it Alice? Or Betty? Suzie?) has different names for different moods and each man in her life knows her by a different one.  She's clearly meant to embody the late '60s free spirit who uses sex to hide the fear of connecting with someone in love.  Kinda like Julie Christie in Petulia (or David Warner in Morgan!): the anarchic world is treated by youth with lunacy.  Bernice is the sexual aggressor, and that, too, is something an Elvis character is unfamiliar with.  She dangles the carrot in front of many faces, but she is played more a headcase than a tramp.  And it is such behavior that provokes Greg's jealousy, flipping the script, painting the typical Elvis role as hypocritical.

Bernice quickly loses Greg's apartment and job, finds him a new apartment and pays his back rent, making him deeply indebted to her.  In an act of counter-aggression (preserving his male dominance), he gets not one, but two simultaneous jobs as photographer (one a very professional, conservative publisher, another for a more casual girlie magazine).  Shenanigans ensue as Greg juggles two jobs and Bernice juggles men, always subverting said dominance. 

It's a real shame that throughout the many Elvis musicals, there was never anything cinematic about the numbers.  The closest he ever came was probably "Jailhouse Rock", but even that looks like it was a filmed version of something produced for a stage.  Too often, the choreography would have action surrounding Elvis, but he would just be standing, awkwardly snapping (or worse, rhythmically clapping) and staring into the camera.  Live A Little, Love A Little isn't a conventional musical, but they procure a decent number in a dream sequence that involves a man talking to Greg from inside a dog suit, Greg falling into a psychedelic rabbit hole and then performing "Edge of Reality" on a desolate sound stage.  Really?  A very visual photographer has a psychedelic dream and the location is pastel disco-lit non-location white room?

The other numbers (of which there are very few) are less performance than narrative.  They include the once obscure "A Little Less Conversation", whose remixed version would become a number one hit in the UK 25 years after Presley's death. 

Live A Little, Love A Little is full of beautiful women and, while they try to throw in a side romance with Celeste Yarnall, the chemistry between Presley and Carey is spot on.  It may be the only true Presley romance, as the formula of his prior seventeen films had the romance as a side dish: a free dessert that cost nothing of the characters and was, therefore, of little value.  That isn't to blow this light screwball comedy out of proportion, but the film is stronger because there are stakes involved.

This would be Taurog's last film before he was overcome with blindness, but his eye for comedy and beautiful women is in full force here.  Dumb touches like Elvis speeding around the beach in a dune buggy and Albert the Great Dane making faces and covering his eyes are shot without a shred of irony and fit the tone of the picture.  Elvis even decks Darrin #2 from "Bewitched".  Consider it Presley's first film as an "adult"-- formula would take a backseat in the few remaining films of Presley's career, and each are better for it.  Live A Little, Love A Little is a fine swansong to the testament of Taurog's work. -- **½ / four stars

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