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August 17, 2005

Girls! Girls! Girls!

Norman Taurog - 1962
Paramount Region 1 DVD

During the 4th of July weekend of 2004, I was at what may be the most American place to celebrate the holiday, Graceland. I stayed at, yes, the Heartbreak Hotel in all its wonderful tackiness. One of the features of the Heartbreak Hotel is that there was a television channel dedicated exclusively to showing Elvis Presley movies. In honor of the passing of "The King", I took it upon myself to see one of his films.

Like most Presley films, Girls! Girls! Girls! is an amiable time waster. While not as good as Flaming Star, it's not as rotten as Kissin' Cousins. I'm not sure why the film is called Girls! Girls! Girls! as Elvis is caught between Stella Stevens and Laurel Goodwin. I guess it would take a genius like James Toback to come up with a film titled Two Girls and a Guy. Second bill Stevens is hardly in the film. Mostly seen singing in a nightclub, she does one somewhat jazzy piece. Stevens' talents were put to much better use the year before in the infinitely hipper Too Late Blues by John Cassavetes. As for Laurel Goodwin, she's sort of cute, but I kept thinking she was essentially a stand-in for Deborah Walley.

As it is, the title song is not particularly interesting. The musical high point is actually one of the handful of Elvis songs I like, Return to Sender. In addition to being sung over the opening credits, the title song is used for a musical number at the end of the film. Costumed dancers representing "girls" from around the world (Africa not included), surround Elvis.

What is somewhat remarkable about Girls! is that there are a more Chinese actors in this films than usual for an American film. There are more than one even sees in Wayne Wang's last few films. I bring this up because of the low profile Asians have in most American films period. Where the film also gets it right is that it is actors of Chinese descent playing characters of Chinese descent, unlike the upcoming Memoirs of a Geisha which has Chinese actors as Japanese characters. Unfortunately the characters speak as if they are in the old Charlie Chan movies, with references to honorable ancestors and Number One son. At least Elvis is game enough to let two cute little Chinese girls steal the film from him.

The film was directed by Norman Taurog. If I were Christopher Nolan, Sam Raimi, or Bryan Singer, I would have a shrine devoted to Norman Taurog. Norman Taurog has probably made lots of fairly routine films most notably with Jerry Lewis and Elvis. Norman Taurog not only won an Academy Award for Best Director, but he won directing a movie based on a comic strip. Who in the name of John Avildsen did Taurog beat in the year of 1931? Josef von Sternberg for Morocco and Lewis Milestone for The Front Page to name two contenders. Clarence Brown, six nominations and zero wins was another nominee as was Wesley Ruggles who saw his film Cimarron win Best Picture. Taurog's film, Skippy, starring Taurog's nephew, Jackie Cooper is unavailable on tape or DVD, so I have to assume that based on the Academy's esteem, Taurog actually had one good movie in him.

There is one good aspect of the screenplay by Edward Anhalt. Producer Hal Wallis assigned Anhalt the screenplay to Girls! Girls! Girls! has his condition for allowing Anhalt to next adapt the screenplay for Becket. Thanks to his time with Elvis, Anhalt won his own Academy Award.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at August 17, 2005 04:10 PM