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“Girl Happy” Review – Elvis Presley (Summer Under the Stars #1)

I thought it would be fun (or maybe just plain crazy) to set myself a challenge to watch one movie for each star featured in Turner Classic Movies’ Summer Under the Stars event this month. I’ll also be writing reviews for each of the films!

The first actor is none other than Elvis Presley and I decided to watch his 17th movie, Girl Happy (1965).

Thoughts on Elvis:

I used to have mixed feelings on Elvis, I’d definitely heard his name since he’s one of the biggest pop culture icons of all time, but I always thought he was just kind of meh. As I got older, I heard all kinds of rumors and stories about him that clouded my vision, so I started to not really like him.

But things changed this summer when I went to see Elvis in the theaters and was amazed to learn that he was a lot different than I had initially thought. That led me to want to watch his films and learn more about who he was.

While I’d still say that Elvis was a complex figure, he means a lot more to me now than he did just a couple months ago. And honestly, he’s a lot better of an actor than I would have thought.

TCM Movie Schedule:

  • This is Elvis
  • The Trouble With Girls
  • Speedway
  • Double Trouble
  • Elvis on Tour
  • Kissin’ Cousins
  • Girl Happy
  • Viva Las Vegas
  • Elvis: That’s the Way It Is
  • It Happened at the World’s Fair
  • Spinout
  • Live a Little, Love a Little

Film Review:

Singer Rusty Wells (Elvis Presley) is hired by his boss (Harold J. Stone) to keep an eye on his daughter, Val (Shelley Fabares), while she is on vacation in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Things go awry when Rusty starts to fall for Val.

I probably should have known what I was getting into with this film pretty much right off the bat. The narrator starts off by saying there are a lot of reasons to visit Fort Lauderdale over Spring Break. As the camera zooms in on a woman lying on the beach in a bikini, the narrator says, “good reasons, like 36-24-36.”

That pretty much sets the stage for the rampant sexism throughout the course of the movie – objectifying women’s bodies, men saying only looks matter in finding a potential partner, and lots of cringe-worthy dialogue. Thankfully, that stuff kind of peters out around the 30-minute mark, but it’s almost unbearably dated up until then.

If you can get past the first half or so, it starts to turn into a pretty decent comedy with a pleasant soundtrack. Presley seems to be having a good time too. It’s not his worst film, but it’s also not his best. Songs that stood out are ‘Wolf Call’ and ‘Puppet on a String.’ The rest of the soundtrack ranges from unmemorable to good. It’s not my favorite, but has a good mix of ballads and upbeat tracks.

I feel like it would have benefitted from being an all-out screwball comedy. When we get hints of it, those are the best parts: the boat chase scene, Elvis messing with a cop, Elvis trying to keep his love interests from seeing each other. I’m not shy to admit that I think Elvis was actually a good comedic actor. He could have used training, but had a lot of potential there. Also, there’s a scene when he’s in drag and that was something I never knew I needed until now.

This movie seemed to have a relatively high production value, all of the costumes were appealing to look at and they were even able to shoot on an actual beach for a couple scenes. The rear projection work is… questionable, but it is the ’60s and that technology wasn’t quite developed yet. The set for The Seadrift Motel is tacky, but you get used to it as the movie goes on.

As with most Elvis movies, there’s not really much of a plot, but it wasn’t as fun and wild as the others I’ve seen. It was missing some key elements and needed either better characters, a more developed plot, or for the majority of the film to be focused on the relationship between Rusty and Val. A lot of it was dedicated to Rusty palling around with his bandmates, which wasn’t as funny as it seemed to think it was.

The Monthly Film Bulletin said Girl Happy “was very much a standard Presley vehicle. In other words, Elvis is the only really interesting thing about it.” To a certain extent, I agree. But I think Faberas was also very good; she portrayed her character as a young adult who is struggling to please her father but also wants to be her own person.

Faberas and Presley have great chemistry and ended up working on two other films together, Spinout (1966) and Clambake (1967). They became close friends in real life, and I think that’s very evident within the film because they feel so natural together.

Superlatives:

  • Favorite Song: ‘Puppet on a String’
  • Favorite Scene: “From Girl to Girl”
  • Favorite Character: Val
  • Presley’s Performance: Kind of middle of the road. He’s able to be more comedic and his character isn’t really a jerk like he normally plays. It’s fun to watch him perform the songs and he’s always very charming. I’d give his performance 3/5 stars.
  • Would I Recommend? If you like Elvis Presley, you would probably like this movie. Otherwise, I would pass on it.

Overall Rating:

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.
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audrey cornell View All

Audrey is a self-proclaimed film buff who loves to watch, read, and write about movies. Her passions include queer & feminist studies, watching obscure 80s/90s and Old Hollywood films, and discovering new music. She also writes for Scribe Magazine.

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