Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Hail and Happy Birthday to the King :: It's Dames, Diamonds, Discoteques, Danger and Elvis in Norman Taurog's Double Trouble (1967)

As if singer Guy Lambert (The Big E) didn't have enough problems trying to solve the enigma of his new girlfriend, a gal of mystery who always seems *ahem* 'hot to trot' but then inexplicably turns into a pumpkin at the stroke of nine o'clock, along comes another woman (Romain), who casts a sultry hook for him that's hard to ignore, which brings out the claws and sparks with our boy caught in the middle. Nearly fed up with the former, it's soon revealed the reason Jill (Day) has been so reluctant is due to being a few days shy of her 18th birthday. (No, officer. I swear!) Warned off by her uncle (Williams), who thinks this lothario is only after his niece's sizable inheritance, Lambert bids them all bon voyage as his tour moves from England to Belgium. However, Jill isn't one to give up that easily, pursuing him all over the Continent, ticking off the days and tour stops until they reach Switzerland, where it's legal to marry at 18.

Unfortunately, someone else has other plans for them as a series of accidents, which quickly escalate to full blown and brazen assassination attempts, constantly plague our couple, who are also being relentlessly pursued by a pair of bumbling smugglers, looking to recover their stash of diamonds secreted in Lambert's suitcase (don't ask), Jill's guardian, that other woman, the police, and many other familiar faces, who keep popping up most sinisterly, no matter where they run or wind up. But who are the killers really after? And why? Well, I'm not gonna tell ya. So there. *thhhbbbttthhhhh*

Okay, Boils and Ghouls, it's that special day, January the 8th, where we annually celebrate m'man Elvis Presley's birthday by cannonballing into a vat of Royal Crown pomade and bogarting a fried peanut-butter 'n' 'nanner sammich while taking a look at another one of his fine fractured forays into feature film. Forays that I'm beginning to appreciate more and more as we both get older for what they are than for what they aren't. And with Double Trouble (1967) crossed off the list, that leaves just Girls! GIrls! Girls! (1962) and Frankie and Johnny (1966) as the only Elvis Presley pictures I haven't seen yet.

I had honestly avoided Double Trouble for the longest time, based on its notorious reputation as Elvis' mod spy movie and the misleading promotional materials that had me fearing we were barreling into Kissin' Cousins (1964) territory again. (A film I do enjoy but for all the wrong reasons.) But it's not really a spy movie either. More of a Hitchcockian wrong man kind of thing. Whichever, I'll admit, it's kind of a mess -- and when it opened with the Big E in swinging London, fronting a quintet of five mop-tops, my eyes nearly rolled out of their sockets but I'm glad I stuck with it because, turns out, there was plenty to like. I especially loved the early duet Presley croons, harmonizing with his own vocals on a record player. And I appreciated the earnest effort to sustain the mystery and suspense over who was really the target of all those 'accidents' and stray bullets, though who was behind it all was rather obvious from the get go; and when the movie finally makes that official, and the damsel is distressed, Elvis and his kung-fu are there to take care of business and save the day. Hooray! 

As I've stated before on many of these write-ups on Elvis' film career, one cannot underestimate the contributions of director Norman Taurog, who always seemed to get a little extra effort out of his reluctant star no matter how, for the lack of a better word, asinine the scripts got. A career that began with a ton of silent short subjects in the 1920s, Taurog moved onto features the next decade, notching himself an Academy Award for Skippy (1931), and helming the likes of The Big Broadcast of 1936 (1936) and Boy's Town (1938), which also got him nominated for another Oscar -- which he lost to Frank Capra for You Can't Take it WIth You (1938). He was also one of a half-dozen directors listed as shooting at least something for David O. Selznick's The Wizard of Oz (1939).

Working steadily over the next two decades, but never really breaking out, Taurog seemed to finally find his niche when he latched on to direct a good chunk of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis' screen sojourns -- The Stooge (1951), Pardners (1956) and even herded Lewis through a few of his inaugural solo features -- Don't Give Up the Ship (1959), Visit to a Small Planet (1960), before entering into Presley's orbit with G.I. Blues in 1960. One could argue that all of Taurog's Presley pictures were written and geared more toward Lewis' strengths, but the director did his best to pound the mismatched square peg into a succession of very round holes with more than passable results. For, as one looks back through Presley's floundering film career, odds are the ones that turned out a helluva lot better than you were told or remembered were directed by Taurog. Just compare the likes of Spinout (1966) and Live a Little, Love a Little (1968) to Easy Come, Easy Go (1967) and Clambake (1967) and I think you'll see what I mean.

Double Trouble was also the debut of producer Irwin Winkler, whose career exploded almost immediately with the release of Point Blank (1967), The Split (1968), and They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (1969) over the next twelve months before reaching orbit in the 1970s backing Sylvester Stallone in Rocky (1976), and all of its sequels, and later, Martin Scorcese for Raging Bull (1980) and Goodfellas (1990). And it was Winkler's co-producer, Judd Bernard, who discovered Annette Day, working at a shop in London, who coaxed her to Hollywood for a screen test, which landed her this role. And though they had no control over it (thanks a lot, there, Colonel), this kind of international intrigue is really hamstrung when you're stuck trying to pass off Culver City as several European hot-spots. Yeah. No matter how you dress it up, you cannot shake the Made-for TV-ness of this feature.

It's sad this was Day's only screen credit. She was pretty good, held her own, and sparked the old chemistry set just fine with her mega co-star in a plot that was eerily similar to Presley's own romance with Priscilla Beaulieu (who were 23 and 14 when they first met in 1959); and both performers do the best they can with Jo Heim's throw everything against the wall and see what sticks script. That's not an exaggeration, either, as we got espionage shenanigans, smuggling, mistaken identities, heroes on the run, assassins hounding their heels, and more MacGuffins than you can shake a stick at on top of the usual sudsy romance, musical interludes, and the six-pack of slapstick that brought us all here in the first place. 

The romance we've addressed, the comedy will get to in a sec, but musically speaking, it's a wash-out due to the inclusion of 'Old MacDonald' as the film's showstopper, which tends to negate everything else. As the legend goes, the star nearly had an apocalyptic stroke over this once he got wind of it. Can't really blame him, either. And yet, always the trooper, it's there in all its moronic glory. And to his credit, Elvis pulls it off. (Even though a duck tries to steal it.) Truly amazing.

On the comedy side, it's about a 50/50 split. Too bad Monte Landis disappeared, who played one of those mop-topped second bananas in Lambert's band. (I kept referring to them as the Potato Bug 5. Just think about it for a second...) Coming in late, the Wiere Brothers were actually pretty great as the trio of disaster-prone detectives and, truth be told, the film would've been better served giving them all the screen time mistakenly devoted to the lather-rinse-repeat antics of Raffety and Rossington as the oafish smugglers trying to get their diamonds back from their unwitting accomplices. And then there's the big payoff at the very end, which explains away a nigh inexplicable earlier interlude on a derelict freighter, which had me saluting the screen with an audible 'Okay, movie, you win.'

Alas, audiences weren't as forgiving as me back in the day. Seems despite all efforts -- admittedly, most of them pretty half-assed, 1967 was a pretty dismal year for Presley, cinematically speaking. Double Trouble was sandwiched between the releases of Easy Come, Easy Go and Clambake (-- again, two films I enjoy but admit they're pretty terrible). Hal Wallis had been sitting on Easy Come, Easy Go for several months, unsure if it was even releasable. Turns out, he was right. Double Trouble would follow and flounder just as badly a mere two weeks later. After stabilizing somewhat the year before, it soon became apparent that Presley's films weren't the instant cash cows anymore, with two of the three releases, including this one, failing to make back their production costs. And the fact those budgets were so dirt cheap to begin with adds an extra-lethal sting to this box-office drought. 

And not only were the films performing miserably, but the soundtracks were also stagnating in both sales and on the popular charts. And remember, aside from a few gospel and Christmas albums, these soundtracks were the ONLY THINGS being released from the Presley camp. Something had to change, a comeback was in order, and thankfully, 1968 was just around the corner. 

Other Points of Interest:

Double Trouble (1967) Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) / P: Judd Bernard, Irwin Winkler / D: Norman Taurog / W: Jo Heims, Marc Brandell / C: Daniel L. Fapp / E: John McSweeney Jr. / M: Jeff Alexander / S: Elvis Presley, Annette Day, John Williams, Yvonne Romain, Monte Landis, The Wiere Brothers


DorianTB said...

Hey, I remember DOUBLE TROUBLE from when I was a kid watching this on TV in the Bronx! Sure, DOUBLE TROUBLE won't make anyone forget A HARD DAY'S NIGHT or HELP! when it comes to musical comedy-adventures, but I like the swell cast (wish Annette Day had a better career), and darn it, that music was catchy for my money! Besides, I always got a kick out of this dialogue between Guy (Elvis) and Uncle John (John Williams of many a Hitchcock film), about the lovers' future:

Uncle Gerald: "Rather an uncertain life, I should think. It's not really steady employment, it is?"

Guy (being a bit of a wise guy): "Well, we're not all on Relief."

Uncle Gerard: "I assure you it wasn't my intention to offend you."

Guy: "I'm not offended, I'm in a hurry. I don't want to lose my place on the bread line

Your review made DOUBLE TROUBLE far more fun than it would have been otherwise! Swell post!

W.B. Kelso said...

I had an epiphany a couple years ago on these later Elvis pictures and stopped wailing and gnashing my teeth over the woulda, coulda, shoulda and wasted potential and concentrate, instead, on the total goofs they were intended to be. Turns they are goofy, and a pretty good time to boot.

Thanks for commenting!

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