A Double Dose of Elvis: KISSIN COUSINS (1964)

Iffin the darn tootin’ U.S. government wants to use land in the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee they’d do mighty swell to find a Smokey Mountain boy to convince the local hillbillies to allow it.  And iffin that Smokey Mountain boy looks like Elvis Presley, sings like Elvis Presley and makes female critters swoon like Elvis Presley then the battle is all but won at the onset of Gene Nelson‘s Kissin Cousins (1964).

Standing: Yvonne Craig and Pamela Austin. Sitting: Jack Albertson, Elvis Presley, Arthur O'Connell and Glenda Farrell in the Tatum shack located in the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee
Standing: Yvonne Craig and Pamela Austin. Sitting: Jack Albertson, Elvis Presley, Arthur O’Connell and Glenda Farrell in the Tatum shack located in the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee

 

One would think that Elvis Presley could convince anybody to do anything quite easily…unless that “anybody” is a hillbilly.  Because of that things get mighty messy for Elvis in Kissin Cousins when he – as Army Lieutenant, Josh Morgan – is assigned a key role in operation “Big Smokey.” Josh’s mission is to convince his distant relatives, the Tatums, to lease part of their land to the government for missile launching.  Not unlike other disenfranchised communities the Tatums are distrusting of the government and have no interest in changing their lives or even worse, allowing army critters to disrupt their peace.  When Josh tries to enter Tatum land along with his Captain, Jason Salbo (Jack Albertson) they’re met with gunfire.  The Tatums shoot first and ask questions later – iffin the trespassers are still alive for a conversation.

The Tatums
The Tatums

Once the Tatums learn that Josh is kin, however, they drop their guards.  Or most of them do in any case.  Pappy Tatum (Arthur O’Connell who’d played Elvis’ father in Follow that Dream three years earlier), Ma (Glenda Farrell), their daughters, Azalea (Yvonne Craig who’d co-starred with Elvis in It Happened at the World’s Fair the year before) and Selena (Pamela Austin) welcome Josh with open arms.  But Pappy and Ma’s only son, Jodie Tatum (Elvis), who also happens to be Josh’s twin cousin is none too happy to have competition.  You see, female critters far outnumber male critters in them thar hills so Josh, with his dark, slim frame and rock-n-rollin’ talents quickly becomes the center of attention.

Vying for Josh's attention the Tatum sisters try the old Haystack trick
While vying for Josh’s attention the Tatum sisters try the old, falling in a Haystack trick

Cousin Jodie, who is supposed to be the mirror image of Josh ‘cepting his blonde hair is the prime beefcake until Josh shows up.  The slow-witted Jodie’s claim to fame is that he’s the wrestling champion of the area.  In fact, Jodie barely utters a word about anything other than wrestling and we learn he has some talents with the ladies, which makes him barely a step up from a walking hormone,

feat
Mirror images Josh and Jodie

While the U.S. military has left operation “Big Smokey” in Josh’s capable hands, the Lieutenant has to fight off the attentions of cousins Azalea and Selena who compete for him as does an entire group of wild, man-hungry women called the Kitty Hawks.  Mayhem ensues as Jodie tries to wrestle anyone he can, the Kitty Hawks set traps for the men and the army folk try to survive the moonshine and typical hillbilly vittles of stewed possum and some kind of fish eyes that enhance flavor.  There’s also time set aside for a few production numbers and the requisite, scantily clad girls are strewn about everywhere.  Whenever I watch Kissin Cousins, by the way, I think it could do with a touch of The Wistful Widow of Wagon Gap and a Marjorie Main cameo to spice things up a little.  Unfortunately that never happens.  Here’s the complete cast list so you can see who does show up on Tatum land.

Anyway – while we are getting to know the Tatums and life in the Smokey Mountains, Pappy Tatum maintains his stance against the government setting up shop anywhere near his home.  Eventually though Josh is able to reach an agreement with the old man just as the General arrives to investigate what’s taken the mission so long.  By that time there is a long list of new couplings.  Josh and Azalea will be married, which is a relief because of course one wants Elvis to end up with Batgirl.  Older sister Selena couples with another soldier and Jodie has fallen for a WAC named Midge (Cynthia Pepper).

I imagine the prospect of playing dual roles in a movie may have offered some degree of excitement to Elvis Presley who was quite dissatisfied with his film career by 1964.  We know he hated having to sing those inane movie songs and acting in movies with recycled scripts over and over again.  Unfortunately, it’s likely Kissin Cousins served to deepen Elvis’ disgust because not only did it not pose an opportunity for him to stretch his acting muscles, it probably petrified a few he’d previously honed.  The duals roles he plays in Kissin Cousin are for naught.  Only the brunette Elvis is a man of substance although the predicaments he’s put in are outrageous.  Blonde Elvis, on the other hand, is outright painful to watch.  Even for me.

SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS need not be threatened by KISSIN COUSINS, but there are a few semi-decent production numbers you might enjoy here.
SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS need not be threatened by KISSIN COUSINS, but there are a few semi-decent production numbers you might enjoy here.

If you don’t have a problem with the strawberry blonde wig, which Elvis himself hated and which nearly makes Elvis look less than beautiful – and if you can ignore Jodie’s inane dialogue then you might enjoy the double dose of Elvis in Kissin Cousins.  I mean, you do get more of him even though you can tell when it’s Elvis’ double, Lance LeGault and not Elvis himself in several scenes when the two cousins share the screen.  I find that a tad bit annoying, but all of this complaining doesn’t mean Kissin Cousins is a total bust.  There are a few good laughs to be had thanks (mostly) to Jack Albertson who approaches the material with zest and Cousins also features a few catchy tunes.  The movie’s soundtrack actually peaked at number six on Billboard’s Top LP chart and was later certified gold.  Audiences could never get enough of Elvis.

album

I have to be honest though.  I find the plot of Kissin Cousins particularly cheesy even though the movie was nominated for Best Written American Musical by the Writer’s Guild of America, a rather surprising tidbit given some of the other musicals released in 1964.  Those include the likes of My Fair Lady, Mary Poppins and Elvis’ own Viva Las Vegas and Roustabout, both of which are far superior to Cousins.  Regardless, people went to see it and Kissin Cousins made money.  Despite the quality of some of the productions Elvis starred in he was as secure a box-office draw as there was and the critters at MGM weren’t about to change a successful formula.

If I’d been around in 1964 I would’ve rushed to the local theater to watch anything Elvis.  I would have been particularly excited about a movie that features TWO Elvises as Kissin Cousins does. Unfortunately, today this is among my least favorite of all Elvis vehicles, but I chose it as my entry to the Dual Roles Blogathon hosted by Ruth at Silver Screenings and Christina Wehner because…well, it’s still Elvis.

kissin

Be sure to visit the Dual Roles Blogathon hosted by Christina Wehner and Ruth of Silver Screenings.  They’ll have you seeing double at every turn.
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17 thoughts

  1. I had to do a double-take when I saw the blond wig! 🙂 It does seem sad they did not take the opportunity to let Elvis use the dual roles to expand his acting, but as you say, it is still Elvis!

    I was very interested, reading your review, because I’ve recently been doing some reading about Elvis, trying to learn more about his place in the history of American music. It seems hard to overestimate it.

    Thanks so much for such an enjoyable review – so glad you could participate!

  2. Great review Aurora! I remember seeing this movie and thinking that the story nor the blond Elvis were very interesting even as a teen. And what a shame that was. But I had no idea that Glenda Farrell was in it until you mentioned it! I didn’t even know who she was back in the day when watching Elvis films. It almost makes me want to see it again.

  3. aurora , kissin cousins was the very first e.p. movie i went to see in a theater and remember it well. i still have the lp in mono.i became a big fan of pam austin and yvonne craig whom we recently lost. its still fun to see this movie to date.by todays standards,its seen as being alittle dumb by the younger generations(music an giddy stuff) but what a memory for most of us.i think it was also glenda farrell’s last film before passing,not possitive on that. kissin cousins was good times along with the beatles and beachboys,supremes,etc. ahhh,the 60’s.

    On Fri, Sep 30, 2016 at 12:30 AM, Once upon a screen… wrote:

    > Aurora posted: “Iffin the darn tootin’ U.S. government wants to use land > in the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee they’d do mighty swell to find a > Smokey Mountain boy to convince the local hillbillies to allow it. And > iffin that Smokey Mountain boy looks like Elvis Presley,” >

    1. Hi Daniel – even though I mention that this is my least favorite Elvis movie, it’s still a hoot to watch and Elvis is NEVER a waste of time. How wonderful to have those memories and I’m glad you stopped in a shared them.

  4. Honestly, your review was more entertaining than the movie. While The Beatles were shaking things up with songs like ” A Hard Day’s Night”, Elvis was droning on with tunes like “Barefoot Ballad.” At least I think that was the name of the song. The boy let the Colonel run his movie career into the ground with stuff like this. It’s sad because he showed signs that he could do both dramatic work (King Creole and Flaming Star) and comedy (Follow that Dream) in decent films when given the chance. As an Elvis fan you may know this but he was considered for the Jon Voight role in ‘Midnight Cowboy’ and later for the Kris Krisofferson role opposite Streisand in ‘A Star is Born.’ The Colonel nixed both deals.

  5. I’m with you, Aurora. If I’d been around when these films were released, I’d be rushing to the theatre to watch them, too.

    Come to think of it, I would rush to the theatre today if an Elvis movie were playing on the big screen. (Has TCMFF ever shown an Elvis flick?)

    Kissin’ Cousins sounds like a film you should see once, just to say you saw it. I’ve not seen it yet, but now that I’ve read your review, I know not to expect too much.

    Thanks for joining the blogathon and for bringing Elvis with you! 🙂

  6. Hey – sometimes cheesy is just what the doctor ordered. And, while it might have been pretty tame at the time, the prospect of 2 Elvis Presleys is pretty awesome. Fun post, girl!

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