Original US release date: April 14, 1965
Production budget: Unknown
Worldwide gross: $3,100,000
I might just happen to be a big Elvis Presley fan. My mom has always been a huge fan as she was growing up when Elvis hit it big. Her fandom was passed down to me. I’ve spent many hours listening to his Sirius radio channel and would say that I have anywhere from a moderate familiarity to an intimate knowledge of most of his songs. A lot of people consider themselves too cool for school when it comes to the King but make no mistake – he’s the reason for everything that came afterwards in popular music, including the Beatles.
Something else that was all the rage in the ’60s was the beach movie. I’m not going to pretend to understand how the appeal of a movie was suddenly elevated just because a large portion of it took place at a beach. Maybe because “the beach = fun”? Or perhaps the puritanistic lifestyles of Americans at that time might have been cultivating a deep-seated need for debauchery and young audiences were hoping to catch some bare Elvis chest or Shelley Fabares midriff? I can only speculate (it’s the second one) but, whatever the reason, beach movies were a rage and the marketing made sure to communicate that this film was, in fact, a beach movie.
Just look at that poster. Swimsuits everywhere! And “Elvis jumps with the campus crowd to make the beach ‘ball’ bounce!!!” I’m not even sure what that means! And I’m doubly-unsure of why “ball” is in quotation marks! And I’m even more unsure why it says that because I don’t recall an actual beach ball anywhere in this film! But I’m entirely sure that this is a beach movie that stars Elvis!
If you’re unaware, Elvis was a bona fide movie star in his day and made a huge number of films to help sell his music. Some were awful. Some were actually pretty good. And, of course, many were somewhere in between. But Elvis was a draw and Girl Happy is exactly the type of film that his target audience wanted to see from him.
I actually really like this movie, as silly as it gets at times. It’s a musical comedy that works better than it probably should. The music, of course, stands out with one catchy song after another for the duration of the movie. “Spring Fever”, “Puppet on a String” (which becomes a leitmotif for Fabares’s Val), and the title track are my personal favorites, but all hit the spot and are well-placed throughout the picture. Elvis is one of the two greatest musical performers of all-time and it all just comes so naturally to him. It really shows, here.
The movie, itself, follows Elvis’s Rusty, a club singer who is heading to Fort Lauderdale with his friends for spring break and is tasked by his boss Big Frank to keep watch over Frank’s daughter (Fabares), who is also headed to Fort Lauderdale. Frank wants to make sure she isn’t impregnated by a stranger, or something. They really dance around the implications behind Frank’s fears as they weren’t too comfortable just coming out and saying what they meant, back in 1965. Still, I was surprised to hear them actually say “sex” three times! This movie came out before I was born, so I can’t speak from experience, but I have always been under the impression that even saying “sex” in an Elvis movie would have been fairly shocking in 1965.
Nonetheless, the aim of the picture is to show a lot of attractive people in skimpy (1965 skimpy) clothes as they enjoy dancing, singing, and making out. And it’s harmless fun. One has to remember that the film is definitely a product of its time. Many today would be offended by some of the portrayals of stereotypes and certain actions by a couple of the characters, but no harm was meant. These things just weren’t considered to be hurtful or insulting back then. It was a more innocent time when many of the larger issues behind these smaller occurrences weren’t the omnipresent, hot-button topics that they are, today. If anything, it plays like a bunch of people making fun of themselves and not taking themselves too seriously. And if I’m not going to be offended by the token geek in the movie, then nobody else should be offended by anything, either.
The comedy aspect is surprisingly effective. It’s not nonstop, laugh-out-loud hilarious, but it’s consistently amusing and many of the jokes and gags actually land pretty solidly. And even when the jokes aren’t particularly sharp on paper, the cast delivers them so perfectly, that they usually work, anyway.
And the cast deserves a mention. The film simply wouldn’t be anything without these specific people in these specific roles. Elvis knew himself well and comes off as being totally comfortable in his role. Shelley Fabares, after rising to fame in The Donna Reed Show, made the transition to film and this was the first of three films she would star in with Elvis. She comes off as any guy’s perfect girl next door and serves as the heart of the film (even if Val might actually have a bit of a drinking problem. I hope they dealt with that after spring break.). The others perfectly fill their supporting roles, being just over-the-top enough to be entertaining without being disingenuous.
Girl Happy isn’t technically a “great” film, from an artistic perspective. But it’s great at accomplishing its goals and being a fun, entertaining diversion from real life. And who doesn’t need that, sometimes? I hadn’t watched this movie in quite a long time and it was actually one of the more enjoyable re-watches I’ve done for my weekly #ThrowbackThursday feature. I’m sure nostalgia and my Elvis fandom helped with that, but it was also nice to watch something that exists solely to entertain and do nothing else. Plus, I couldn’t stop singing “Spring Fever”. Actually, I might never stop singing “Spring Fever”. Elvis . . . still the King.
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