was Elvis' worst film?: Author Paul Simpson takes aim at the fans!
on you Elvis fans. It's hard to believe that 97 of you voted
Harum Scarum (Harem Holiday) as the worst film Elvis ever made
in a recent EIN poll. Every fan is entitled to their opinion
but I have to confess to a secret addiction for this film in
which Elvis plays Johnny Tyrone, a rock and roll signer kidnapped
by assassins to kill the king of the mythical middle eastern
kingdom Lunakan with his bare hands while singing "Shake that
tambourine… that tambourine… that tambourine…" but somehow manages
to get the girl (the gorgeous Mary Ann Mobley) and take the
whole crew back to Las Vegas for a celebration.
it's not the best middle eastern romp in movie history, nor is it
the best film Elvis ever made, but it is definitely the best film
Elvis ever made wearing a turban. Produced by Sam Katzman and directed
by Gene Nelson, whose other offences to be taken into consideration
include Kissin Cousins and a few episodes of Fantasy Island, Harum
Scarum is, at least, compellingly weird.
is even weirder than my summary makes it sound, and the songs vary
from the awful to the awfully addictive (the title song has a hook
which sticks in your memory against your will) to the half-decent
(Kismet, So Close Yet So Far). But the sense that you never quite
know what will happen next, how often the thief will tell El his
fee is "most reasonable" and the frequency with which lines sound
like they're meant to be puns though you're not sure if it's deliberate
(such as when the baddie tells Elvis: "Aishah is Aishah")… all these
make Harum Scarum one of his most intriguing movies from the mid-1960s.
not just me - if you check out the user comments on the film on
the Internet Movie Database they're surprisingly evenly split. Harum
Scarum is a genuine oddity which, for me, is infinitely preferable
to factory fodder like Paradise Hawaiian Style - the only Elvis
movie I can't bear to watch the whole way through.
way I can watch this movie is to fast forward through the scenes
involving Donna Butterworth, the child actress whose appalling precocity
is indulged by director Michael Moore. Nothing personal, Donna,
but watching you crucify the classic Bill Bailey Won't You Please
Come Home? must have been the worst, of many, humiliations that
Elvis suffered in his movie career.
interest, Suzanna Leigh, could more accurately be described as the
love lack-of-interest. You can't help wondering why Elvis doesn't
just run off with Marianne Hill - her leg-flashing duet on Scratch
My Back is, alongside This Is My Heaven/Drums of The Island and
Stop Where You Are, one of the film's few genuine highlights. For
all the originality and thought that went into this movie, they
might as well have called it Blue Hawaii 2 or Elvis 21. His character's
name says it all - Rick Richards - they couldn't even be bothered
to think of a surname that differed from his first name.
- and do - enjoy watching all of Elvis's other 32 movies though,
like many voters in this poll, I find Easy Come Easy Go hard to
take. The movie I return to, for all its flaws, is The Trouble With
Girls. It's never been a fan favourite because Elvis isn't on screen
half the time and it would have benefited from judicious cutting
(especially the scene where the murderer gets drunk) but it has
a proper plot, some good lines and some real actors in the cast.
even the critics have belatedly begun to realise its virtues. French
film critics have invented a genre they call "film maudit" to refer
to movies which fall, unjustly, into disrepute or in which you can
see the ruins of good films shining through. And the latter, to
me, sums up many of Elvis's post-Army movies. Double Trouble, for
all its flaws, has a genuine air of suspense for a while and one
stand out number, City By Night. In Frankie And Johnny, Please Don't
Stop Loving Me is affecting, as is They Remind Me Too Much Of You
in It Happened At the World's Fair.
In The Country, the scene where Elvis stops at a motel with Hope
Lange till the rain passes is so good you realise how fine this
movie could have been. And Charro is saved by the thoughtful scene
where Elvis bangs the prisoner's head against the bars. I could
go on - Speedway, Clambake, Stay Away Joe, Kissin' Cousins, - all
have similar moments of redemption which is why I still find them
of these glimpses were enough to save Elvis's movie career or to
enable his female co-stars to beat the curse of the Elvis movie.
Of all Elvis's love interests, very few went on to better things
on celluloid. Dolores Hart, romantic lead in Loving You and King
Creole, became a nun. Judy Tyler (Jailhouse Rock) died tragically
before the film was released. Donna Douglas (Frankie And Johnny),
Dodie Marshall (Easy Come Easy Go), Annette Day (Double Trouble),
Quentin Dean (Stay Away Joe) and Nancy Sinatra (Speedway) never
made another Hollywood movie after starring opposite Elvis.
O'Brien made only one film after her turn in It Happened At The
World's Fair. Jocelyn Lane (Tickle Me) saw her movie career peter
out so fast that in her last film, a 1970 'thriller', she played
opposite rock and roller Fabian, who was badly miscast as gangster
Pretty Boy Floyd. Diane McBain (Spinout) soon sank into tacky exploitation
movies. Even Shelley Fabares only made two movies in the next 23
years after her third, and last, role in an Elvis film in Clambake.
fashionable to sneer at Elvis movies but with each passing Elvisless
year, they seem a greater treasure. And a handful of them - King
Creole, Flaming Star, Jailhouse Rock, Loving You, Viva Las Vegas,
most of Wild In The Country, Blue Hawaii - really do stand on their
own merit as movies, as many critics are finally starting to realise.
I haven't included GI Blues in this list because, although it's
well made, it's not one of his movies I feel great affection for
- I'd much rather watch Girl Happy or Fun in Acapulco although I
can see they're not as well done.
proves, I suppose, why these polls are so compelling. It's all down
to opinion. That said give me Elvis shaking his tambourine over
Donna Butterworth shaking her grass skirt any day.
on this article can be made to: Paul.Simpson@Haynet.com