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In the King's fourteenth feature, Kissin' Cousins (1964), we've got two Elvis Presleys for the price of one. The one in the Air Force uniform is Josh and the one with the dirty blonde hair is his hillbilly cousin, Jodie. (Of course, in real life, Elvis really did have a twin brother but he died at birth). The reason these two Elvises come together is because Josh has a mission and it's to convince Tennessee moonshiner Arthur O'Connell to let the military build a secret rocket base in the backwoods. If this sounds suspiciously like the plot of Li'l Abner, we have to remind you that the latter didn't have the Kittyhawks, thirteen man-starved women from the backwoods who are partial to gifts of free underwear from the armed forces.
Filmed immediately after Viva Las Vegas (1964), Kissin' Cousins was the first Elvis movie produced by Sam "King of the Quickies" Katzman, who proved his moniker by completing the film in a record seventeen days. Viva Las Vegas had gone way over budget so Colonel Parker, Elvis' manager, wanted to make sure the same thing didn't happen here. As a result, Kissin' Cousins is considered the first true "low budget" Elvis movie and the King wasn't too pleased with the rushed pace of the filming. In Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley by Peter Guralnick, actor turned director Gene Nelson recalled, "I'd get uptight - and this upset Elvis. He came to me the last week and said he didn't like to work this way, it wasn't worth it. He said he knew what kind of pressure I was under, and he volunteered to get sick or show up late if it would help. I thanked him and said to hang in, it was my problem." So, to keep the shoot from becoming a chore, Presley and his pals would distract themselves, staging lots of pranks and water balloon fights. Still, there was considerable tension between Katzman and Nelson over the daily shooting schedule. At one point, Nelson recalled, "the Colonel came on the set with an old-fashioned white car coat all the way down to his ankles, with the names of all of Elvis' pictures sewed on it and a funny hat, and he walked in and said, "Well, fellas, what do you think of this?" Just, you know, trying to get us to relax and forget about whatever it was we were angry about."
There was also the famous wig dilemma; the Jodie character had dirty blonde hair like Elvis' natural color before he started dying it black so a special hairpiece was created for Elvis to wear in those scenes. Co-star Yvonne Craig said (in Elvis by Jerry Hopkins), "It was really traumatic for him. He didn't want to come out of the dressing room with the blond wig on. I figured other things were happening and I said to (director) Gene Nelson, 'What's the hang-up this morning? And Gene said, 'Well, it's a problem. Elvis feels that he looks odd in the blond wig and really he doesn't have the guts to get up and get out here yet. But don't anybody make any remarks like "Gee, you sure look funny with the blond wig on." On a more serious level, Glenda Farrell, who plays Ma Tatum in the film, broke her neck during a scene where she was supposed to flip Elvis off a porch and spent the rest of the shoot in a brace except for her scenes before the camera.
Well, nobody said making a movie with two Elvises would be easy but it does have its rewards, like the scene where Elvis gets in a fight with his double or the music score which has Elvis performing a duet with himself on the title track. Other song highlights include "Once is Enough," "There's Gold in the Mountain," "Barefoot Ballad," and "One Boy, Two Little Girls," performed by Elvis in a skintight white jumpsuit.
Another thing to keep in mind while watching Kissin' Cousins is to try and spot the daughter of a former U.S. President in a minor role. Okay, we can't keep a secret. She's Maureen Reagan, the daughter of Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman. You can also spot Teri Garr among the hillbillies.
Producer: Sam Katzman
Director: Gene Nelson
Screenplay: Gerald Drayson Adams, Gene Nelson
Cinematography: Ellis W. Carter
Film Editing: Ben Lewis
Art Direction: George W. Davis, Eddie Imazu
Music: Bernie Baum, Roy C. Bennett, Louis A. DeJesus, Dolores Fuller, Bill Giant, Florence Kaye, Paddy McMains, Victor Millrose, Lee Morris, Doc Pomus, Bob Roberts, Lenore Rosenblatt, Mort Shuman, Sid Tepper
Cast: Elvis Presley (Josh Morgan/Jodie Tatum), Arthur O'Connell (Pappy Tatum), Glenda Farrell (Ma Tatum), Jack Albertson (Capt. Robert Jason Salbo), Pamela Austin (Selena Tatum), Cynthia Pepper (Cpl. Midge Riley)
C-97m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.
by Jeff Stafford