Judge Bill Treadway's admiration of Elvis is shaken by this unsuccessful period piece.
As American as the Fourth of July, apple pie, and Elvis!
"Trouble" is right, dear readers. The Trouble with Girls is a colossal train wreck of a movie. The fact that it remains one of the lesser known, unseen Elvis Presley films is not a good omen. Despite elements that suggest a great film lurked within, the available evidence is sluggish and rather dull.
Facts of the Case
The year is 1927. Walter Hale (Elvis Presley, King Creole) is in charge of the Chautauqua, a nationwide traveling show. The film opens as the Chautauqua arrives in Radford Center, Iowa. The show consists of games, lectures, and sideshow attractions. And would it be an Elvis film without music?
A tug-of-war develops between Hale and the strong-minded feminist Charlene (Marlyn Mason) over the casting of the lead role in the Alice in Wonderland pageant. There's also a subplot featuring the roving eye of Harry Riley (Dabney Coleman, Modern Problems) who lusts over Mrs. Bix (Sheree North), his employee.
By the time our film was made, Elvis Presley was becoming tired of the standard musical comedies he had been churning out under the influence of his manager, Colonel Tom Parker. In 1969, no less than three atypical films were released as part of his attempt to break away from such fare: Charro!, a decent attempt at a straight Western; Change of Habit, which contained one of Presley's very best performances; and The Trouble with Girls, a strange bird of a movie. It is not a comedy, despite the efforts of MGM to promote it as such. It isn't a full-fledged musical, as Elvis only performs three songs, a low amount as far as he is concerned. It's too silly to succeed as drama and too historically inaccurate to pass as a period piece.
Before we go further with this review, let's get one thing straight: I am a big Elvis fan. I was pretty much one at birth, born to parents who loved the King like crazy. I grew up watching his films on television. Yet for the life of me, I never ever saw The Trouble with Girls in any form. When I saw this disc on the screener list, I requested it. As soon as it arrived, I popped the disc in the player and settled down for 99 minutes of good, clean fun.
I soon discovered the reason why The Trouble with Girls isn't better known and better regarded among the 33 films made by the King. The final cut is a disjointed mess. It appears as if the filmmakers shot enough film to make a three-hour film but were forced to a management-mandated running time of 99 minutes. How else to explain so many loose ends and unresolved threads? It has a promising start, with lively staging and stylish photography. The frenzied pace suggests a good time. After the opening credits, however, the film settles down to a monotonous snail's pace. We sit waiting for things to happen. When they do, the film quickly cuts to another story thread without resolving or explaining what happened before. Whole story threads are ignored, such as the aforementioned pageant.
The title is misleading to boot. It suggests a quirky battle-of-the-sexes comedy instead of giving us a hint of what the film is really about. Out of curiosity, I looked up the film on the Internet Movie Database and discovered a curious thing. The original title was The Chautauqua, which is a more accurate title than the one MGM slapped on. The film's G rating is as inaccurate as the title: This is a film that discusses very adult topics. The biggest howler is when Elvis talks about getting a girl into his bed, and that's just for starters. Yet, presumably because there is no nudity or foul language, the film receives a G rating.
There are some good things about the film that suggest it could have been better. Despite the brevity of his appearance and his "guest star" billing, Vincent Price perks things up considerably as Mr. Morality, one of the Chautauqua attractions. Watch his scenes and see a direction The Trouble with Girls could have taken. Joyce Van Patten is so hilarious as Hale's assistant that one wonders why they didn't make her the lead. John Carradine is a hoot as a Shakespearean actor; one wonders if most of his scenes were left on the cutting room floor for time. The few songs featured here are among the best ever in an Elvis film, and the final half-hour contains such energy, wit, and huge laughs that it makes the rest of the film look terrible by comparison.
The performances are difficult to judge due to the extreme unevenness of the screenplay. Despite his star billing, Elvis is given surprisingly little to do in the first forty minutes. His performance is quite good in the pieces provided, though: He has strong screen presence and makes a likable hero. Marlyn Mason, on the other hand, provides a performance that makes her the most irritating female lead in an Elvis picture since Donna Douglas in Frankie and Johnny. It is possible that the screenplay never fleshed out Charlene as a character, so Mason may not have had good material to work with. Still, it is an overacted, not to mention constipated, performance. Likewise, Dabney Coleman's villain isn't fleshed out enough to make us react strongly or care about what he does.
Warner Bros. presents The Trouble with Girls in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Despite the unevenness of the finished product, this is a handsomely shot film. The transfer accurately recreates the beautiful photography. Although there is some light grain and a smattering of specks here and there, the print used here appears to be very clean. Colors look sharp and lush, and edge enhancement is nil.
Audio is an above-average Dolby Digital 1.0 mono mix. Although Elvis doesn't sing as much as he usually does, the music remains an important element. The songs are mixed far higher than the dialogue, but this is a positive aspect rather than a debit. The dialogue is easy to hear, although considering how cheesy it is at times, one almost wishes for a muddier mix.
The sole extras provided are theatrical trailers for Spinout, Speedway, Double Trouble, and The Trouble with Girls. Watch the trailer for our film and see the predecessor of that marvel of modern studio promotion: the misleading trailer. All the trailers are presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen and look surprisingly great.
As much of an Elvis fan as I am, I wasn't all that enraptured with The Trouble With Girls. I'm known as the guy who liked Speedway and Stay Away Joe, two of Elvis's most reviled films, so that has to say something. I'm only recommending this film to the most rabid Elvis fans on the planet. Casual viewers or those new to Elvis should check out Jailhouse Rock or Spinout instead. The Trouble with Girls is not the place to start.
Warner Bros. has made The Trouble with Girls affordable to purchase, but if you only have money for one Warner Bros. Elvis release, make it Spinout. Otherwise, go ahead and buy this disc. You're not going to hurt my feelings.
Warner has given The Trouble With Girls better treatment than it deserves. MGM is found guilty of false promotion and advertisement, taking an atypical film and advertising it as a typical Presley vehicle.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Theatrical Trailers for The Trouble with Girls, Spinout, Double Trouble, and Speedway
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