Frankie and Johnny – 1966

First, let me admit that I’ve never seen a complete Elvis Presley movie.  Second, let me admit that, until this past year (thank you Overture Center), I went out of my way to avoid musicals in general. This movie is both. As I was scrolling through the On Demand section of the TCM schedule on Sling yesterday, I came across Frankie and Johnny.  As I write this, we’re in the middle of the Covid-19/coronavirus pandemic and I’m taking advantage of all this stay-at-home time it’s providing us to broaden my movie horizons. I dove head first into this one and in the end, it felt pretty darn good.

Johnny, Frankie and the Redhead.

Frankie and Johnny is a musical set in the 1800s on a Mississippi riverboat. It stars Elvis Presley, Donna Douglas (Beverly Hillbillies) and Harry Morgan (Mash). This is a big, colorful, happy movie that’s chock-full of music. It has worked its magic on me.

Johnny (Presley) and his girlfriend, Frankie (Douglas) are actors and singers performing shows for the guests on the riverboat. Johnny has a gambling problem and he’s in debt. Of course this discourages Frankie from going too far into a relationship with him. She hates gambling. Always looking for a sign of good luck, Johnny’s friend Cully (Morgan) suggests they go see “Zolita” (an uncredited performance from Naomi Stevens) a gypsy fortune teller at one of their riverboat’s stops. When they do, she insists Johnnie will come in contact with a red head that will bring him good luck.

Remarkably, a red head, Nelly Bly (Nancy Kovak), joins the cast of their productions and appears to bring Johnny good luck at the riverboat’s roulette table just like Zolita said she would. Nelly has just broken up with the owner of the riverboat they all work on and Johnny catches her eye. It turns into a nasty little spat between Frankie and Johnny that culminates with her throwing all the gambling winnings he so desperately needed to pay off his debt, out the window.

Is it the best movie I ever saw? No. Is it the funniest? No. But it did the job for me. It felt good to spend time with it right now. Frankie and Johnny is fun. It gets bonus points for somehow being able to take my mind off of things for 87 minutes. This movie is full of bright colors and happy, 19th century styles. The costumes were beautiful. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much yellow….well, ever. Nor have I ever listened to so much Elvis Presley music….ever.  I’m a little ashamed of that, but I can admit now that I thoroughly enjoyed his singing here. I think my favorite song was near the end where he sings “Hard Luck” with the harmonica played by a boy on the street. I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did.

Frankie and Johnny was directed by Frederick De Cordova in 1966 for Frankie and Johnny Productions and United Artists. It’s On Demand on TCM right now and available to rent, streaming on Amazon.  Now, I might need to find another Elvis movie to try. Any suggestions? Or should I quit while I’m ahead?


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