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Girl Happy: Exploitation Movies Need Love Too. (article)

Wed Apr 14, 2010 5:03 am

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LiketheBike has written a fine valentine to this Elvis flick but it's a buried in FECC's review ghetto, so I thought I'd spotlight it here:


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Girl Happy: Exploitation Movies Need Love Too.

(by LiketheBike)

Let’s be straight up, Elvis’ 17th movie Girl Happy, released 45 years ago this week, was made solely to generate revenue. There was no artistic intent on behalf of the stars, the producers, the director, the writers and the studio. Its plot only intermittently makes contact with reality. Some sexist attitudes are expressed on the screen (although nothing too offensive particularly by modern standards). Its depiction of college age sexuality is dated. And, such a venture is well beneath the talents of its star, one of the most vital performers in 20th century American popular culture. For all that, I must admit that I love this movie. In its place, it gives me what I need. Sometimes you don’t want to be moved by a movie, or consider profound truths. Sometimes you’re looking for a cheap, breezy, good time and that’s what Girl Happy delivers.

In the movie, Elvis is Rusty Wells, the leader of a popular nightclub combo (Gary Crosby, Joby Baker, and Jimmy Hawkins) headlining a Chicago nightclub. The group is so popular that Mr. Frank (Harold J. Stone), the owner of the club (the 77 Club for you trivia buffs) wants to hold them over for another six weeks. This interferes with the groups’ intentions to play their annual Spring Break/Easter gig in Fort Lauderdale Florida. The guys are avidly anticipating chasing women and lounging in the Florida sun, a respite from an early spring snow storm in the Windy City. Mr. Frank, or Big Frank is some sort of gangster and the boys must listen when he talks. Luckily(?), Big Frank’s daughter Val (Shelley Fabares) is heading down to Spring Break with a few of her college friends and Big Frank is worried about her getting pregnant down in Florida, being that she will be surrounded by 30,000 “sex starved boys.” Rusty/Elvis uses Big Frank’s fatherly concern to not only allow the Combo to head to Fort Lauderdale, but to finance their trip under the provision that they will keep an eye on Fabares and keep her out of trouble. By playing at the local Sandbar Club, a popular hangout for the Fort Lauderdale crowd conveniently located near Fabares’ hotel, they can spy on her without her even knowing it.

Down in Florida, Elvis begins to appreciate Fabares’ charm. The pair fall in love, a union temporarily threatened when Fabares/Valerie finds out that Elvis/Rusty was sent there to spy on her. After a big brawl caused by her drunken depression over the discovery, Valerie winds up in jail and Elvis breaks in to explain. She misses him but finds out later. (In a fan favorite scene, Elvis dons a dress to break back out of the jail.) The film never quite 100 percent explains it, but Valerie is so touched by Rusty’s gesture, and by her father’s explanation that Rusty is not a paid boyfriend, that all ends well.

When Dave Marsh reviewed Elvis’ films in 1981, he assessed Girl Happy with a “What???” Considering the story of the movie, he’s absolutely right. The plot here is absolutely nuts. Can anyone picture Elvis being a Chicago gangster’s son-in-law? Even the execution of the tale asks us to take multiple leaps in logic. Marsh though was missing the forest for the trees though. Girl Happy is about Elvis, sex, sun, and music in that order. (There's also some low camp comedy, male bonding and romance thrown in.) Not that it has anything important to say about those subjects but that’s what it promises and that’s what it delivers.

In many ways this is the archetypal Elvis formula movie. There’s no attempt to create a picture postcard, nor appease people outside the base with the presence of high salaried character actors. It simply combines two of our favorite things- Elvis and Spring Break and all that comes with them. It does so with professionalism and not a small amount of relish. The end result is a movie that is far more entertaining than it has any right to be.

Girl Happy does not wait long to reveal its game. In the opening, we’re shown sunny Fort Lauderdale beach and an inane announcer gives us a quick lowdown on Spring Break. (The 30 seconds or so expended here is all that’s needed since everyone in 1965 knew the score from 1960s Where the Boys Are, and everyone since has known from its countless imitators.) The narrator practically salivates describing a bikini clad woman sunning herself on a Florida Beach. Then the mood is broken by a nighttime shot of a snow covered Chicago streetscape which is pretty much the current reality. The narrator, in a depressed voice, lets us know that there are pretty girls here too, but how can you tell? Then the camera pulls away from a bundled up woman walking into nightclub to the nightclub’s billboard. On the billboard, we see Elvis’ smiling face. The billboard advertises “Rusty Wells and his Combo,” but everyone in the audience knows it’s Elvis and because of that our mood instantly improves. It's like suddenly seeing an old friend pop up at the door. There is no other reason for this shot than to let us know that ELVIS, not "Rusty," is here as our guide to lead us away from the bondage of a dreary mid-western winter. Sometimes the person you're doing things with is more important than the things themselves.

And, aided by the cast and crew, he does. Director Boris Sagal was no visionary behind the camera but he moves this baby like a locomotive, so much so that we don’t linger on the story’s many absurdities or even the flaws in Elvis’ musical material. He photographs Elvis, his cast and the beach well, and gets lively performances out of his entire cast. The energy level never flags.

Elvis and Shelley Fabares are a joy to watch. Elvis is a nice guy, but not the desexualized creature he was in so many of his movies. He is extremely charismatic here. He is very much the Elvis persona, leaving aside the undercurrent of violence. Elvis pretty much swaggers through the role affecting an unthreatening confidence, the kind that the coolest guy you ever knew had. Freed from any need to project or make a great performance, he reacts as naturally as he did in any movie. He's also obviously enjoys the rest of the cast and is amused at their actions. Fabares, provides a perfect foil, projecting an inner confidence, joy and sweetness. Her freshness elicits some of her co-star's most genuine reactions, penetrating that swagger to provide a hint of vulnerability. Her chemistry with Elvis is not as electric as Ann Margret’s, but it's just as genuine. The couples’ joy in each other is evident in the film’s finale, and when Elvis sings “Do the Clam.”

Just the mere mention of “Do the Clam” may send some discriminating Elvis fans scurrying. It is a terrible song with maybe the worst chorus on any Elvis song. But because of Elvis and Fabares’ chemistry and Sagal’s staging, in the movie, it’s modestly enjoyable. I would say the same about the rest of the soundtrack. True musical highlights are few; “Meanest Girl in Town,” has a funny second verse, and “Puppet on a String” although not a classic, holds up without apology. There are also some numbers like “Do The Clam” and “Wolf Call” that are kind of embarrassing on record. Yet, most of it works in the film because the song’s peppy tempos and attitudes fit the energy level of the film and because the numbers are staged well. The deranged horniness of the title tune is especially appealing when played behind the film’s quick and colorful title credit sequence. The absurd but beautifully sung "Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce" receives an equally appealing presentation. It's kind of funny in this context. Fabares' reactions alone justify its existence.

The quality of a movie like this rides as much with the lower level professionals as by the glamor positions and that’s certainly the case with Girl Happy. The set design by Henry Grace and Hugh Hunt is wonderful, as is the art direction by George Davis and Addison Hehr. The color scheme captured by Director of Photography Philip Lathrop is gorgeous, emblematic of the day glow colors that characterized much pop art of the era.

Even the script by R.S. Allen and Harvey Bullock, marred as it is by its silly story, is not devoid of wit. There are several clever one-liners sprinkled throughout. The most memorable are in Elvis/Rusty’s line of bull. My favorite is when he tells Big Frank the only reason he visited Fort Lauderdale before was to drag his sister back. There’s even some nice little insights into the Spring Break experience such as when the girls describe to each other their first night dates.

My nephew, recently seeing the movie for the first time classed it with the 1960s Batman television show. I think that’s a fair comparison. Although the TV show was much more ambitious and much better written, Girl Happy taps into that same kind of immediate flashy cheap pop thrills vibe.

Fans in 1965 certainly responded to the unpretentious virtues of Girl Happy. The movie was the 25th highest grossing film of the year. That placed it amongst the Top 15 percent of all movies released that year. When I was a kid, it was rerun on television all the time. It still pops up on the classic movie channels once in awhile and received a beautiful DVD release in 2007. How could there still be a market for such an ephemeral film? After all, it’s only Elvis, pretty girls, a glamorous location and a bunch of mediocre songs. The answer is that sometimes that’s enough.


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"Girl Happy" Trailer:

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Last edited by Gregory Nolan Jr. on Fri Apr 30, 2010 5:48 pm, edited 5 times in total.

Re: "Girl Happy" on its 45th Anniversary (LiketheBike articl

Wed Apr 14, 2010 5:25 am

This a nice piece of guilty pleasure.

Elvis on spring break chasing chicks. YES!

It's a fun movie and ELvis and Shelly have great chemistry.

A few catchy numbers, a top 10 single, and there was much worse to come not too soon after.

Enjoy it for what it is.

Re: "Girl Happy" on its 45th Anniversary (LiketheBike articl

Wed Apr 14, 2010 6:20 am

I love Girl Happy, I love Shelley as a leading lady, I dig Elvis as a befuddled comic/romantic lead, I think they had chemistry together, I even dig the damn lightweight score.

Re: "Girl Happy" on its 45th Anniversary (LiketheBike articl

Wed Apr 14, 2010 6:51 am

I've always liked this movie, Shelley and Elvis are good together. It's one of the Elvis movies I've downloaded to my i-pod (I've downloaded 10). The movies with Shelley in them are among my favorites. I listen to the soundtrack often.

Re: "Girl Happy" on its 45th Anniversary (LiketheBike articl

Wed Apr 14, 2010 7:11 am

Elvis' "Beach Blanket Bingo"....

Fun movie (and you can't go wrong with Shelley Fabares :smt007 )

Re: "Girl Happy" on its 45th Anniversary (LiketheBike articl

Wed Apr 14, 2010 9:01 am

The soundtrack is terrible to my ears but Shelley is really a pretty girl, so...

Re: "Girl Happy" on its 45th Anniversary (LiketheBike articl

Wed Apr 14, 2010 9:04 am

A film worth re-visiting

Re: "Girl Happy" on its 45th Anniversary (LiketheBike articl

Wed Apr 14, 2010 9:48 am

Elvis’s acting in that movie is embarrassing, just like in Kissin’ Cousins. A few cringeworthy moments come to mind.

Re: "Girl Happy" on its 45th Anniversary (LiketheBike articl

Wed Apr 14, 2010 10:15 am

This is one of my personal favs. I always had a weak spot for that movie. This is light-weight entertainment presented in fine form: a really funny role for Elvis, the chemistry with Shelley Fabares just works great and the songs also fit in nicely (and Puppet on a string is one of my all time favorite ballads from the 60es).
I watch this movie quite regularly and never get tired of it. This was also how I got a friend of mine to become a Elvis fan in the first place: she was so thrilled from watching GH that she very soon started collecting Elvis and has become a good fan and collector herself since. :smt001

Re: "Girl Happy" on its 45th Anniversary (LiketheBike articl

Wed Apr 14, 2010 4:31 pm

Ken Jensen wrote:Elvis’s acting in that movie is embarrassing, just like in Kissin’ Cousins. A few cringeworthy moments come to mind.


How so exactly, Ken? That's sort of the common response in some camps. But I don't think the material (a light musical comedy) needs any overwrought "acting." I actually think "Kissin Cousins" (admittedly with some questionable moments) is also light fun.

It seems to say more about one's personal taste for light musical comedy of that era - rather than being an assessment we have to agree with. Behind any good negative critique of these films, one can often find that in general, that person just doesn't like (or get) this sort of movie which for their time put a lot of fannies in the seats. These flicks were not to be mistaken for high art but something to past the time with a chuckle and a foot tap. To be sure, there's some serious slippage by the time of "Kissin' Cousins" on budget alone! I think people forget that movies are intended to entertain (which is often hit or miss, especially comedy) and have the longevity in some respects of a good stick of gum...but you always come back for more..? Not sure about that analogy! :lol:

So I'd say his acting is fine for this sort of light vehicle. LTB rightly points out that he plays a cool character that many of us wouldn't mind being. If you mean when he's wearing a dress , I think that's rather funny and unexpected. :lol:

It's not that I don't cringe occasionally about his mid-'60s persona. His discomfort at times is very palpable and therefore even disturbing to watch as a fan who knows how "ill" the flicks (eventually) made him, according to the ELVIS ON TOUR interview.

I heard some of his talking in the "Roustabout" trailer recently and was reminded how much he'd lost off his fastball at times. But I'm so glad we have this aspect of his career to either come to his legacy in music or enjoy on their own..
Last edited by Gregory Nolan Jr. on Tue May 04, 2010 4:25 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Re: "Girl Happy" on its 45th Anniversary (LiketheBike articl

Fri Apr 30, 2010 5:43 pm

No more takers on LTB's fine little ode to GIRL HAPPY? :lol:

You must all be still on spring break. Just thought I'd ask since it's a week where CLAMBAKE & SPINOUT are getting the spotlight here.

Re: Girl Happy: Exploitation Movies Need Love Too. (article)

Fri Apr 30, 2010 8:32 pm

A nice piece of work from LTB

And I adore Girl Happy. A fine comedy with a nice soundtrack. Elvis is at his acting best in this. His slapstick scene when he dates two girls simultaneously is beautifully executed! His comedy timing was great. I wish he'd made more out and out comedies. The ones he did - Speedway, Live A Little, Spinout, Stay Away Joe, Follow That Dream, Tickle Me, Girl Happy etc are all terrific fun!

Re: "Girl Happy" on its 45th Anniversary (LiketheBike articl

Fri Apr 30, 2010 11:02 pm

jeanno wrote:The soundtrack is terrible to my ears but Shelley is really a pretty girl, so...


My thoughts exactly.
To me an Elvis movie can be redeemed if it has passable songs (Spinout comes to mind).
The soundtrack for Girl Happy is terrible.

By the way LTB, brilliantly written, as always.
Last edited by javilu on Fri Apr 30, 2010 11:08 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Re: Girl Happy: Exploitation Movies Need Love Too. (article)

Fri Apr 30, 2010 11:06 pm

Elvis did get two minor hits from the soundtrack of "Girl Happy" though: "Puppet on a String" and "Do the Clam" (terrible song...terrible recording...terrible idea).

Re: Girl Happy: Exploitation Movies Need Love Too. (article)

Fri Apr 30, 2010 11:22 pm

My personal Top 3 '60s movies ballads:
1. Can't Help Falling In Love
2. I Need Somebody To Lean On
3. Puppet On A String

Re: Girl Happy: Exploitation Movies Need Love Too. (article)

Sat May 01, 2010 12:18 am

I love the Girl Happy soundtrack.
*dodges flying flaming poop*

Re: Girl Happy: Exploitation Movies Need Love Too. (article)

Sat May 01, 2010 2:19 am

'Girl Happy' is the reason I became an Elvis fan. On Spring Break with my family in 1987, I sat in a Chicago hotel room and watched this movie while waiting to hit the road for home. Loved the movie then and love it now. Soon after, I purchased 'Elvis: The Number One Hits' on CD and basically became an Elvis fanatic.

Re: Girl Happy: Exploitation Movies Need Love Too. (article)

Sat May 01, 2010 2:27 am

Get real folks!

Look at what the real world was rocking to in 1965......then listen to the Girl Happy soundtrack!


The King Of Rock and Roll.........................yeah right .........In a pigs eye.

Re: "Girl Happy" on its 45th Anniversary (LiketheBike articl

Sat May 01, 2010 3:21 am

jeanno wrote:The soundtrack is terrible to my ears ...

You have good ears. And so did Elvis.

The 1964 soundtrack for "Girl Happy" was the first time since May 1957, and "Jailhouse Rock," that Presley angrily left the middle of a soundtrack session. Ironically, it was also for MGM Studios.

Sadly, this time it was not over producer interference that he split, but sheer frustration and embarrassment over the music he was supposed to record. Booked June 10-12, on the second night Elvis struggled through three awful tunes, over seventy takes, and then left. "Do Not Disturb" broke him. He did not return on June 12, and the session musicians cut instrumental tracks of the abandoned material.

Presley made up the session on a fourth night (June 15), but it was a brave new world for him. With the new music flashing all around, Elvis may have started to realize he was becoming totally irrelevant, an anachronism, a man out of time.

Re: Girl Happy: Exploitation Movies Need Love Too. (article)

Sat May 01, 2010 3:23 am

Doc, oh you lovable nut!

Re: Girl Happy: Exploitation Movies Need Love Too. (article)

Sat May 01, 2010 3:46 am

Maybe Girl Happy charted decently because of a rare fallow period for LPs.


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Billboard - Spotlight Albums - Apr 10, 1965

Re: Girl Happy: Exploitation Movies Need Love Too. (article)

Sat May 01, 2010 3:56 am

That's a cool DC5 album. Cannibal, too. Not a bad Frank comp. I love the Beatleblurb: "this reassembling into one LP will undoubtedly prove a bonanza".

Re: Girl Happy: Exploitation Movies Need Love Too. (article)

Sun May 02, 2010 10:03 pm

girl happy has always been one of my fav elvis movie's and Shelley was such a babe.

Re: Girl Happy: Exploitation Movies Need Love Too. (article)

Sun May 02, 2010 10:15 pm

drjohncarpenter wrote:Maybe Girl Happy charted decently because of a rare fallow period for LPs.


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Billboard - Spotlight Albums - Apr 10, 1965


It charted because Elvis still had a large fan base that bought nearly everything he put out.
He was only in the national spot light barely 10 years at this time.

And when is Ernst ever going to locate the un-edited versions of some of the songs.

Re: Girl Happy: Exploitation Movies Need Love Too. (article)

Sun May 02, 2010 11:51 pm

Was I supposed to buy everything the Beattles put out instead?