What's your desert-island Elvis film? Hey, quit laughing. Mine's Spinout. Not because it's good, because it definitely isn't (what Elvis film is?), but because it's entertainingly bad. That's a rare accomplishment in the Presley film pantheon. Elvis auteur, Norman Taurog, was almost 70 years old when he directed Spinout in 1966—the perfect guy to shape another winning Presley performance, featuring the world's leading rock sex symbol as a drugged out, neutered version of himself.
Taurog and Presley had an ongoing working relationship, having made Blue Hawaii, G.I. Blues, and Girls! Girls! Girls! together. They'd go on to create Double Trouble, Speedway, and Live a Little, Love a Little; none of which is as ca-razy fun as Spinout, in my opinion. How do I know this? Because back in the day, before cable TV, there was a little show called "The 3:30 Movie," and when you came home from school, you could watch this if your mom wasn't uptight about your viewing habits (mine wasn't—she loves TV and is a big influence on my life). At times I would give in and watch an Elvis film, though they were never as good or cool as "monster movie week," or the occasional Hitchcock festival (always featuring The Birds, which guaranteed that you would ask your friends the next day, "Did you see that guy with his eyes pecked out?!?").
Spinout was probably my first bad film that I liked because it featured such an inane plot with supposedly grown-up themes. A barely awake Presley plays Mike McCoy—alpha-male, race-car driver, rock band leader. The plot is basically swiped from an "Our Gang" comedy. Picture a chubby little boy saying, "Awwww, girls! Who needs 'em?" and a Buster-Brown-haired little girl retorting back, "Just you wait—you'll change your mind!" Only with an all-adult cast aggressively dressed in go-go attire, and that's Spinout.
Memorable moments: The drummer in McCoy's band is a girl who everyone thinks is a guy. She has to keep reminding them, "I'm a GIRL—not a GUY!" She's also a gourmet cook and serves the band meals on fine china in the middle of their bohemian campground when they're between gigs. There's also some great (now-vintage) instruments in the film: a double-neck guitar; Elvis plays a really groovy 12-string in one scene. Too bad the songs suck and are more like cabaret than rock, but you gotta admire the look of it all. Also, the film really should have been called FRUG OUT, since every musical number consists of a hundred or so blessedly wide-hipped women, frugging to the crazy cabaret beat. It's like the choreographer shouted, "That's it! Keeeep frugging—yes! Follow Elvis around the pool. Keep FRUGGING, DAMMIT! Never! Stop! The FRUG!"
Perhaps Spinout endears because it contains a grain of truth about the life of its star. Even sleepy and a little pudgy, Elvis really did have nearly everyone around him in a sexual frenzy at all times during his young-adult life. He sleepwalks through his role with a bemused smile, a lazy (slurry?) drawl and a bit of his younger-self charm. He makes an effort to move his arms around a little when he performs his terrible songs (memorable chorus: I'm just wild about Smorgasbord, I'm just crazy about Smorgasbord.). He was down, but not yet out. The frugging hadn't completely trampled his spirit. And now: