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Fort Lauderdale has served as the background for countless beach party flicks but no film better captures the Spring Break atmosphere than Girl Happy (1965) which presents an almost surreal landscape of pristine beaches, classic sixties cars, and bikini-clad co-eds. And we wouldn't expect anything less from producer Joe Pasternak who perfected this formula with his trend-setting drive-in hit, Where the Boys Are (1960). The odd thing is, Girl Happy was filmed on the MGM back lot with no on-location shooting in Florida except for some exterior establishing shots.
In his eighteenth feature, Elvis Presley is cast as Rusty Wells, a rock 'n roll singer (no stretch there) who is hired by a Chicago mobster to play chaperone to his daughter Valerie (Shelley Fabares). In between fending off wild, wanton college girls and keeping Valerie out of trouble, Elvis finds time to perform numerous songs with his trusty combo at the local nightclub. Among these, you might recognize "Do the Clam," "Puppet on a String," "The Meanest Girl in Town," or "Cross My Heart and Hope to Die." Not exactly gold record material here but what is memorable is the "witty" dialogue. Girl Happy is wall to wall with quotable lines like "The beach is crowded today" followed by the zinger "Not as crowded as that bathing suit" or a wry observation like "Not much upstairs, but what a staircase." The film is also your only chance to see Elvis in drag (for one brief scene that takes place in a women's prison cell - don't ask me to explain it here).
During the filming of Girl Happy, Elvis passed the time between takes goofing off with his entourage and supporting cast member Gary Crosby, son of Bing. Ann-Margret frequently dropped by to see her former co-star from Viva Las Vegas (1964) but the visitor who attracted the most attention was Elvis fan Lynda Bird Johnson, daughter of President Lyndon Johnson, who showed up at the set one day surrounded by secret service men wearing dark sunglasses and blank expressions.
Girl Happy producer Joe Pasternak was a Hungarian immigrant who had worked his way up from waiting tables at the Paramount studios commissary to saving Universal Studios from bankruptcy with a series of hugely successful Deanna Durbin musicals. He moved to MGM in the forties but was an independent producer by the time he pitched Girl Happy to the studio as an Elvis vehicle. The low-budget film - shot on a six-week schedule - was a financial success and Pasternak would team with the King on one more picture, Speedway (1968), before retiring in 1968 due to Parkinson's disease.
Producer: Joe Pasternak
Director: Boris Sagal
Screenplay: Harvey Bullock, R.S. Allen
Cinematography: Philip H. Lathrop
Film Editing: Rita Roland
Original Music: George E. Stoll
Cast: Elvis Presley (Rusty Wells), Shelley Fabares (Valerie Frank), Harold J. Stone (Big Frank), Gary Crosby (Andy), Joby Baker (Wilbur), Nita Talbot (Sunny Daze), Mary Ann Mobley (Deena Shepherd), Jackie Coogan (Sgt. Benson), Chris Noel (Betsy), Jimmy Hawkins (Doc).
C-95m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.
by Jeff Stafford