More Cheesy than Chesay for Elvis
As with many of Elvis's movies "Frankie and Johnny" works to a formula and that is in-between various musical moments there is a slim storyline surrounding Elvis's character and at least one woman more often than not two. Now sometimes that formula works and other times it most certainly doesn't and sadly in the case of "Frankie and Johnny" it doesn't really work and what we get is a passionless movie which feels like everyone from the cast through to the writers are on auto pilot, going through the motions and nothing more. It doesn't help that the numerous songs which Elvis gets to sing are all very old fashioned and forgettable thanks to what I can only describe as being pointless little ditties. And to compound the problems is that there is no chemistry between Elvis and the various women in the movie making it a movie which just doesn't come to life.
Johnny (Elvis Presley - Viva Las Vegas) is a performer aboard a Mississippi steam boat which is quite unfortunate as he is also a gambler and cannot resist the temptation of the casino the minute he has any money. When Johnny and his friend Cully (Harry Morgan - How the West Was Won) pay a visit to a gypsy fortune teller things get worse as he is told a red head will bring him luck and so when he meets red headed Nellie Bly (Nancy Kovack) he not only manages to upset his partner Frankie (Donna Douglas - Lover Come Back) but also Braden (Anthony Eisley) who owns the steam boat and is Nellie's other half. When everyone goes to a costume party things get very messy for Johnny as not only does Frankie dress up as Marquise de Pompadour but so does Nellie and young performer Mitzi (Sue Ane Langdon - Roustabout) who has been carrying on with Braden behind Nellie's back.
So as for the storyline to "Frankie and Johnny" it is very much the thin, generic nonsense which far too many of Elvis's movies were built upon. And so whilst we have this storyline surrounding Johnny being a gambler who is desperate to get his winning streak back what it is really about is Elvis finding himself in women trouble when his sort of girlfriend Frankie gets jealous of the red headed Nelly. Oh there is more to it than that, and there is the owner of the steam boat who is in fact in love with Nelly but finds himself in an uncompromising position with young dancer Mitzi and there is also a gypsy who tells Johnny that a red head will bring him luck. But to be frank the storyline is wafer thin and very much a stereotypical tale of Elvis and jealous women.
The irony of this is that many of Elvis's movies traded on a similar set up and it was the musical element which would make up for the stories deficiencies. But here in "Frankie and Johnny" part of the issue is that the musical side is as dull as the actual story. In the entire movie there is only one song "Shout it Out" which has the energy you expect and you can see that Elvis enjoyed singing it, giving that scene a real burst of energy. But all the other songs are slow, lifeless and ultimately old fashioned and so songs such as "Petunia the Gardener's Daughter", "Chesay" and "What Every Woman Lives For" end up very forgettable.
And like the actual songs the actual performances are just as forgettable with Elvis Presley coming across as uninterested in the movie. It just feels like Elvis is on auto pilot, going through the motions, doing what he is told to do but because he looks bored it comes across as being passionless. The same can be said of Donna Douglas who plays Frankie and for someone who is supposedly meant to be a love interest seems like she is frightened of getting to close to Elvis. And so it goes on because Nancy Kovack as redhead Nellie Bly and Anthony Eisley as boat owner Braden are just as lifeless. The saving grace is Harry Morgan who as Johnny's comedy sidekick at least makes you smile with his wise cracking and it is Harry Morgan you remember "Frankie and Johnny" for rather than for it being an Elvis Presley movie.
What this all boils down to is that "Frankie and Johnny" is one of Elvis's more disappointing movies because it is so lifeless. With the exception of Harry Morgan it seems like everyone is just going through their paces, doing the bare minimum and it shows in what end up passionless performances. But it also doesn't help that the musical element is equally dull and relies on various songs which end up not only being slow and old fashioned but also quite corny. As such "Frankie and Johnny" would have been a poor Elvis movie if it wasn't for the fact that Harry Morgan makes you smile.