Elvis's Wonderful Life
Compared to many of Elvis's movies "Follow that Dream" is definitely superior, it has a storyline, some comedy, a variety of characters and whilst also a handful of songs isn't reliant on The King trying to make some witty ditty sound good. And to be honest it's also a surprisingly impressive performance from The King as he shows what a dab hand he is at comedy, even if a lot of it works thanks to some smart comedic writing. But with a storyline about a mismatched family setting up home on a strip of land next to a new highway it is often a little too daft, trying to hard to be funny rather than letting the comedy flow naturally.
Having decided to take a brand new road yet to be open to the public the Kwimper family find themselves stuck in the middle of nowhere when their jalopy runs out of gas. Having waited for someone to drive along the new road they suddenly find themselves confronted by over officious state supervisor H. Arthur King (Alan Hewitt) who demands they leave, but being contrary Pop Kwimper (Arthur O'Connell - Operation Petticoat) digs his heals in and claims the land they are on as homesteaders. Along with his son Toby (Elvis Presley - Blue Hawaii) and his "adopted" children they set about creating a home on the land, making the most of the fish which swim in the nearby river. But between a couple of gangsters who set up a travelling casino and seductive welfare officer Alisha Claypoole (Joanna Moore) who tries to make life hard for the Kwimpers things become very difficult.
What is for certain is that "Follow that Dream" is less about any story rather than the amusing situations which Toby Kwimper finds himself in and how he naively sorts them out. So whilst the set up is that the Kwimpers end up homesteading on a strip of land next to a new highway and in doing so finding themselves not only battling the authorities but also a couple of gangsters who exploit the land to run a gambling house, these really just pave the way for various set ups. For example when the gangsters Nick and Carmine become sick of the Kwimper's they hire some hit men to bump them off, but in Toby's naive way mistakes them for drunk drivers who have guns because they are on a hunting trip and somehow manages to deal with them without ever realising that they are there to kill him. And that is the sort of thing which provides the basis of many a scene from confusion in a band through to a welfare officer trying to seduce Toby.
The thing is that for the most "Follow that Dream" is fun, these various set ups whilst telegraphed do make you smile and with a variety of characters from a very nervous bank loan manager through to the seductive welfare officer Alisha Claypoole the humour comes from various people. But annoyingly there are far too many times when it seems to be trying too hard to be funny, a scene where the Kwimper's jalopy gets stuck behind a log leads to Toby getting out and lifting it and all the people over, it's just a little too stupid and doesn't work because it is played straight. And there are a lot more which whilst fun just spoil things by simply interrupting the simple comedy with something far too over the top, which in a movie which is really about being just a little over the top is wrong.
What is good is that for me "Follow that Dream" gets the balance of song and story just right with just a handful of songs for Elvis to sing. Yes with it being a comedy the songs are a little cheesy, and they're not helped by some poor post production dubbing but as you would expect Elvis carries them off quite nicely. But with there being just a handful they never take the focus away from the actual movie and story.
As for the acting well you have to say that Elvis does deliver what for me is one of his best performances in a comedy because it is so restrained. It's because Elvis plays it straight making Toby naive and slightly uneducated which makes the jokes work when his politeness and innocent ends up solving an issue. And at the same time playing him straight he also gets across that back water simplicity just right, of a young man who is nervous of women and obeys his father. Some will probably not enjoy the performance because it's not full on Elvis but it is one of those rare movies which showed that Elvis was capable of much more than he was given in so many of his movies.
Aside from Elvis well in almost stereotypical fashion there are a couple of attractive actresses in Anne Helm as Holly Jones and Joanna Moore as welfare officer Alisha Claypoole who provide the movies obligatory romantic elements. And Alan Hewitt as the officious state highway man H. Arthur King provides some nice touches of comedy. But it is Arthur O'Connell as Pop Kwimper who steals many a scene thanks to the daftness of his character, as demonstrated in a scene where he is so excited to have got a toilet on his trip into town. The annoyance though is that whilst all these actors and that includes Elvis do a nice job of delivering amusement through their characters there is very little chemistry going on between them and so at times it feels slightly stilted.
What this all boils down to is that whilst "Follow that Dream" has its flaws is still an entertaining movie. It does try too hard to be funny but when it isn't the comedy of the naive Toby Kwimper sorting out a variety of problems is amusing and so is Elvis's performance which shows that he was a lot more talented as an actor than many gave him credit for.