“He was her man!”
Elvis Presley appeared in 31 films over a 15-year period beginning in 1956 with Love Me Tender. Jailhouse Rock (1957) was one of the best of them and Flaming Star (1960) suggested that Elvis could be more than just a singing star on the screen. But a formulaic pattern soon imposed itself on the films — Elvis as a flawed character who would break into song ten times or so and be triumphant at the end, an exotic or unusual setting, and lots of attractive women. Viva Las Vegas (1964) probably represented the formula at its zenith. Two years and five films later, the whole thing was growing pretty stale. That’s when Frankie and Johnny was released by United Artists. It was actually Elvis’s 20th film, but it hardly was much of a milestone. For some reason or other, MGM decided to waste DVD production capacity by recently making it available on the shiny little disc.
Johnny is a riverboat singer who is addicted to games of chance and seems able to see the opportunity for a wager in almost any situation. Needless to say, he never wins. According to his singing partner and girlfriend Frankie, Johnny’s life has become “one great big roulette wheel.” At one stop along the river, Johnny learns of a gypsy woman who seems to be giving good advice to others that leads to their success. Her prescription for Johnny is to find a redhead who will be his good luck charm. Johnny sets out to do so and is soon courting carrot-top Nellie Bly. This, however, soon runs him afoul of Frankie who as you might have guessed is a blonde. Predictable results ensue.
Frankie and Johnny is just plain and simply a boring film. The story plays itself out in an entirely predictable fashion, with nothing remotely out of the ordinary to provide a spark as it trudges to a conclusion. It’s a very long 88 minutes. As Johnny, Elvis works his way through 11 unmemorable songs. Only the title tune has had any sort of staying power at all, but even so, it’s hardly in your top thousand of all time. The song stagings lack freshness, and although Elvis tries to convey enthusiasm, one can’t help feeling that he’s rather tired of the whole thing. Viewed from 35 years in the future, it’s amazing that he managed to churn out eleven more of these turkeys after this one.
Aside from the occasional spark provided by the reliable Harry Morgan (more familiar to contemporary audiences for his role as Col. Potter in the “M*A*S*H” TV series), the supporting cast is pretty forgettable. Donna Douglas, Sue Ann Langdon, and Nancy Kovack (aside from their different hair colours) are interchangeable as the various love interests in Johnny’s life.
After a short career as a film director of B and minor-A movies at WB in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Freddie de Cordova increasingly turned his attention to television series. As far as direction was concerned, Frankie and Johnny proved to be his last feature film. I guess he finally realized that if that was as good as it was going to get, he might as well get out of that end of things. A good decision, for in 1971, he took over as executive producer of the “Tonight” show and guided that program through a long successful run.
Despite the low standard of the film content, MGM has certainly produced a fine looking disc. It’s a 1.66:1 widescreen effort, but not anamorphically enhanced. Nevertheless, the transfer is an excellent-looking one with little wear apparent. Colours are bright, vibrant and stable, and edge enhancement is non-existent.
The sound is the original mono, but does a serviceable job of conveying the songs and dialogue. There’s no noticeable hiss or distortion. An entirely adequate presentation given the low standard of the material.
Normally, I would place my comments on MGM’s miserly supplementary content in the “Rebuttal” section. In this case, however, it’s a blessing that all we get is the theatrical trailer. You don’t really want to see any more about this film than you have to, and even sitting through the trailer after watching the film is trying. In this case, kudos to MGM for saving all reviewers from having to see alternate takes of the songs, or a making-of documentary, or — shudder — an audio commentary.
I think I’ve pretty well said it all about Frankie and Johnny. There’s no point in flogging a dead horse. Too bad they hadn’t filmed this one using nitrate stock; it might have decomposed by now.
Bad film. Good transfer. Gratifying lack of supplementary material. An excellent opportunity to save your money for more-rewarding DVD fare.