Recently was not the first time I had seen the movie Girl Happy. Set in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida (my hometown), the movie is sold at Publix (the best grocery store ever), CVS, 7 Eleven, and even Starbucks. Ft. Lauderdale likes to promote itself, it’s somewhat of a narcissistic city (it’s close to Miami), and the fact that The King, Elvis Presley, is involved doesn’t help.
I watched Girl Happy sporadically and lightheartedly since I first watched it a year and a half ago – it was a great movie to watch while I was sewing. It didn’t require much thought to tag along to the plot – but it wasn’t until I read an article in The Wall Street Journal (link below) that I started watching it more frequently and with a closer eye.
First, a brief synopsis of the story. The movie debuted in 1965 and it centers around Rusty Wells (Elvis), a night club singer, and his band as they make their annual spring break trip to Fort Lauderdale. Their trip almost didn’t happen when their boss, Big Frank, extends the band’s schedule, requiring them to play while they are supposed to be in Florida. Rusty and his band’s escape route is through Big Frank’s daughter, Valerie, who is also vacationing in Fort Lauderdale the same time. A protective father (aren’t they all), Big Frank worries about Valerie being in such a… shall I say… slutty city? To curb his nerves, Big Frank hires Rusty and his band to look after Valerie and keep her out of trouble.
In Ft. Lauderdale, Rusty has a hard time keeping Valerie out of trouble. A sex-crazed Italian exchange student name Romano is on the prowl for her and while keeping him away, Rusty must continue to explain to his love interest, Deena, why he continues to stand her up. Following the plot of every other romantic comedy, this one being a musical, Rusty’s watch over Valerie eventually leads to a romance between the two. When Valerie’s father reveals to her that he hired Rusty to keep her out of trouble, Valerie is devastated and does as any broke- hearted delinquent would do – gets drunk and lands herself in jail. Her father comes to the rescue and bails her out and in doing so, sees that Rusty has truly fallen in love with Valerie and asks her to rekindle the relationship.
Call me naïve or too young but my only memories of Elvis are of him in his golden age. My mind only stores images of him dancing to …”you ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog, cryin’ all the time.” It wasn’t until I read WSJ’s article did I realize that Elvis had a tumultuous career end. The article prompted me to research Girl Happy a little more. Girl Happy was the first of many movies during the late 1960s featuring the singer that were solely meant to keep money flowing to Elvis and his studio. Elvis career in film started in 1956 with Love Me Tender but in the decade following, directors realized his cinematic performances were way below par of his musical performances. With a simple plot and low budget, Girl Happy and the string of movies following were films geared towards Presley’s most loyal followers who only needed a casting list with his name in it to see the movie. The studios made the movies just to make money.
Learning about Elvis’ not-so-good era didn’t put a damper on the movie the next time I watched it, it simply added another layer to it. As I watch the movie now, I continue to think about how ironic the movie’s title, which includes the word happy, is. From what I read, Elvis wasn’t very happy at this point in his life or his career.
1. Turner Movie Classics writes a brief blurb on some of the behind-the-scenes facts and shenanigans of the movie
2. History of Elvis blog explains the purpose of the movie and gives insight to the reaction the movie received here
4. Read about one of Elvis’ last concerts in Rapid City, South Dakota in The Wall Street Journal