As a pop music star, Elvis Presley had an unparalleled career (although it is questionable whether his music is much listened to today outside of Memphis). His film career, although financially successful, was a different story altogether—remarkable only in the thirty-plus (mostly wretched) films produced in a scant dozen years. Among the worst, which is saying a lot, are two near the end of his film run. Itching to get back into live performance, Presley was merely fulfilling his MGM contract at this point and, barely mastering any enthusiasm, took whatever script was handed him.
Live a Little, Love a Little (1968, directed by frequent Presley collaborator Norman Taurog and scripted by Dan Greenburg from his novel “Kiss My Firm but Pliant Lips”) is a like the Rankin and Bass cartoon “Year Without a Santa Claus” (1974) in that it contains a single scene of naive surrealism at its most jaw-dropping, “WTF were they thinking?” level, which almost makes the whole enterprise worthwhile.
The Pelvis is a photojournalist here named Greg, working at a “Playboy”-like outfit. Of course, that means he’s going to be taking lots of pinup pics. The blatant sexism would seem woefully dated, except we’ve elected a lot of Neanderthal politicos lately (from both sides), and that unfortunately renders the film more contemporary than it was a few years ago. Greg’s practically stalked by a wacky, bikini-clad gal who might be named Bernice… or Alice… or Suzy…don’t ask. I’m still not sure, but whoever she is, she’s played by Michele Carey, one of those anonymous eye-candy actresses you may recall seeing a lot. (Carey is primarily known for this and the 1967 John Wayne/Howard Hawks oater El Dorado). Bernice also has a Great Dane named Albert who will become for this film what Mr. Heat Miser was for “Year Without A Santa Claus.” Rounding off a weird cast is prolific character actor Sterling Holloway (whom we recently saw as Professor Twiddle/Professor Quinn in “ The Adventures of Superman”) as a milkman (don’t ask—I still don’t know why), Rudy Valle as a Hugh Heffner type (?), and Dick Sargent (best known as Darren #2 from “Bewitched”), who might be Bernice’s husband (just don’t ask).
Bernice and Albert run a close second to Glenn Close in the obsession department (although we’re never sure why Bernice is bonkers about Greg), which opens the door for a scene that…. forget “Magical Mystery Tour,” or even Presley’s “Little Egypt” and “Big Boss Man” numbers from his 1968 comeback special for a moment and embrace one of the most awkward moments of surrealism ever committed to celluloid. With Albert crashed in the baby playpen next to him, Greg, in baby blue silk PJs, has a dream about his furry companion, who is now a guy in a wrinkled dog suit with a disturbingly long, wagging tongue. Albert, standing on two legs, pushes Greg through a red door (Hell?), leading to the musical number “The Edge Of Reality,” in which the Pelvis, after falling through something, lands somewhere (a psychedelic wonderland?) and barely shakes while dancing with shirt-skirted gals (each one an avatar for Bernice and her split personalities)—and Albert, of course. The 60s color palette is choreographed to lyrics that couldn’t be more apt: “On the edge of reality she sits there tormenting me, the girl with the nameless face, where she overpowers me with fears that I can’t explain. She drove me to the point of madness, the brink of misery.”
After this all-too-brief and senseless vignette, Greg bonds with Albert and the two become “dune buggy riding pals!,” and it’s as dull as it sounds. Greg even falls for his fatal attraction, who might indeed be named Bernice. It’s all downhill after “The Edge of Reality,” possibly because reality is like that. The only other possible point of interest in the film (for those into that sort of thing) would be Presley’s spirited kung fu fight in the first quarter. What’s the motive for the fight? I have no idea, but Elvis gets to kick some ninja-clothed baddies—including bodyguard Red West, who eventually got the last laugh when he outed Elvis as a druggie in his 1977 tell-all book “Elvis: What Happened?” After experiencing “The Edge of Reality,” one might wish Elvis had done more drugs.
The surrealism of Easy Come, Easy Go (1967, directed by John Rich) isn’t as blatant, but how about this? Elvis plays a frogman (?!?) who sings a duet called “Yoga Is as Yoga Does” with Bride of Frankenstein Elsa Lanchester (!?!) He sings the gospel standard (the music he was best at) “Sing, You Children Sing” with hippies and beatniks. Those two numbers aside (along with scenes of scuba diving, if that’s your idea of entertainment), the remainder of Easy Come, Easy Go draws a blank.