He Watched It Sober.

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Tickle Me

     "I gotta dirty, dirty feeling, something dirty's goin' on."

-- Lonnie Beale    




Gonzoid Cinema




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Sights &
Tickle Me

Long Live
'da King:
The Fine
Films of 
Elvis Presley.

Love Me Tender

Loving You

Jailhouse Rock

Blue Hawaii 

Fun in Acapulco

Kissin' Cousins

Tickle Me


Change of Habit

Elvis: That's the Way it Is

This is Elvis

We open in sagebrush country, where we spy a Greyhound bus winding it's way down a lonely highway. Then, our ears pick up a soulful crooner, serenading these open-spaces, and find Lonnie Beale (Elvis Presley) riding the bus that eventually winds its way to Zuni Wells -- the last stop before you officially get to nowhere. After debarking, Lonnie takes up his meager possessions -- a suitcase, a saddle, and a guitar, and then moseys into the nearest watering hole, where the bartender is busily talking to a Deputy Sturtevant (Bill Williams) about how the Sheriff is out of town fishing and won't be back for two whole weeks. (And yes, this bit of seemingly trivial exposition should trip your foreshadow-meter alarm, meaning this will probably prove relevant later.)  When Sturtevant leaves, Lonnie asks the bartender the whereabouts of one Pete Bowman. Well, turns out this Bowman ran into some trouble with the law and skipped town awhile back, meaning Bowman's promised job as a ranch-hand is long gone. However, the bartender recognizes the champion bull-rider and bronco-buster, which is fine and dandy, but what Lonnie really needs a job until rodeo season starts. When the bartender eyes the guitar, Lonnie rolls his eyes, knowing full well what the implications are.

Taking the offered gig to provide some live entertainment, Lonnie's music and gyrating hips go over well with the females in the audience. Too well for some, namely a lanky blonde, who swoons for him, drawing the ire of her surly boyfriend (Memphis Mafioso Red West). And when the show is interrupted while these two brawl and destroy some furniture, Lonnie whips out some kung-fu and quickly dispatches the lout. Also of note, the singer's fighting prowess draws the attention of Vera Redford (Julie Adams), the owner of the Circle-Z Ranch, who is so impressed she offers him a job -- if he has no reservations about working for a woman. Are you kidding? Nope. No problems here, and Lonnie agrees. 

Arriving at the Circle-Z, Lonnie finds the place hopping with activity. He also finds out that the Circle-Z is nothing more than an all female dude ranch/fat farm. Putting her new hire in charge of the horses, Vera tells Brad Bentley (Edward Faulkner), her second in command, to show the new guy to the bunkhouse. But seeing Lonnie as a rival for Vera's attention, these two are less then friendly, and, as they walk by an aerobics class, where Lonnie is instantly smitten with the flexible instructor, the churlish Brad assures him that Pam Merrit (Jocelyn Lane) isn't interested in some saddle bum. To which Lonnie counters, saying, There ain't no such animal as a girl that ain't interested in him. 'Cuz he's the King of Rock-n-Roll, baby, and he can do whatever he wants!

...Elvis Aron Presley allegedly fell off the toilet and left this mortal coil some 30 years ago back in August of 1977. I say allegedly, but even The Weekly World News says Elvis is dead. Of course, according to them, he died in 1992 after teaming up with Bat-Boy and the Loch Ness Monster to thwart a Red-Chinese communist plot to tilt the world of it's axis and send it spinning into the sun. (Thanks, fellas, we owes ya big.) To quote Tommy Lee Jones from the first Men in Black: "No, Elvis is not dead. He just went home." Of course, some people disagree, and think he's still here, alive and well, working as a short-order cook for some greasy spoon in Yuba, Wisconsin. And I personally saw him in a VW micro-bus outside a launderette in New Orleans in 1991. Swear to god.

Anyways, from the time Elvis got out of the army in '60, until his comeback in '68, he gave up touring and performing live to concentrate on his acting career. Well, we all know how that turned out: while Elvis was making a string of B-movie offal, the British pop invasion hit in full-force and left the Big-E floundering in its wake. Whose to blame for this? One of the most despised men in my household: Colonel Tom Parker. As Elvis' manager and "technical advisor" he could have [and should have] done something to get a few better scripts, or perhaps hack up a little more money to get some better talent behind the camera for his client. But these films were easily-assembled cash cows. Made on the cheap, they were raking in the dough. And less money spent meant more money made, so why rock the boat, right?

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   "Who is that fast-talking hillbilly sonofabitch that nobody can understand? One day he's singing to a dog, then to a car, then to a cow. They are all the same damn movie with that Southerner just singing to something different."

-- Elvis Presley  

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At the time of Tickle Me's inception, Parker was in renegotiations with Hal Wallis, looking for that million dollar a picture pay-off -- up from the $200000 of the original contract. With only one film left on that deal, like usual, Parker shopped Elvis around and found a taker in the financially strapped Allied Artists, who desperately needed an instant infusion of cash. Therefore, Presley's salary ate up almost half of Tickle Me's allotted budget, but that didn't stop Parker, always looking for more profit, from encouraging director Norman Taurog to save money on the other end by bringing the film in early and under budget.

Taurog was a former Academy Award winning director, who had spent most of the 1950's working with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, for the likes of The Caddy and Pardners, as the comedy duo waned and eventually split. In the 1960's, the director would helm nine of Presley's pictures, starting with G.I. Blues. Presley got along well with Taurog because he turned a blind eye on the usual hijinx and property damage left in the wake of his rowdy entourage. Parker liked him because he worked quick, and had an innate ability to cajole Elvis, who always looked a little uncomfortable playing the goof, into buying into the constant slapstick elements of the scripts. And believe me, there are plenty of slapstick elements in Tickle Me as it was scripted by Elwood Ullman and Eddie Bernds, who cemented their Hollywood careers writing shorts for the Three Stooges. Bernds has graced this site before with Queen of Outer Space, and also gave us World Without End and Valley of the Dragons -- all three infamously using the same unfortunate looking giant-mutant-spider prop. And later the same year, Ullman and Taurog would team up again for Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine for American International. Also bringing a ton of B-Movie clout, Julie Adams has aged just fine since her encounter with The Creature from the Black Lagoon a decade prior. Wowzers. And also keep your eye out for Allison "Attack of the 50ft. Woman" Hayes as another client trying to lose weight.

Putting all of those ingredients together on screen, it becomes quite obvious that what worked for Larry, Mo and Curly doesn't always work for the King of Rock-n-roll, but, god bless 'em, they all kept right on trying to pound that stubborn  square peg into a very round hole.

Back at the Circle-Z, Brad dumps our hero into the capable, but always fumbling, hands of Stanley Potter (Jack Mullaney -- who will be serving as Lonnie's sidekick, and one-half of the bad comedy relief). Giving Lonnie a crash course [...literally] on what they do at the Circle-Z, Stanely says, basically, they take the pretty girls and make them beautiful: "We roast 'em. Toast 'em. Wiggle 'em. Jiggle 'em. And give them very little to eat." Asked how he handles all the *ahem* "distractions", Stanely says to keep it strictly on a business level and it's all gold. Lonnie says he'll try, but it won't be easy with all these beautiful women around ... After a tiring first day, the ranchers gather at the chuck wagon for a very light supper. While running the chow line, Lonnie and Stanley have to deal with Estelle (Merry Anders), who's always complaining about the small portions of food, and high-hilarity ensues as she tries again and again and again and again to get some seconds (-- thus providing the other half of our bad comedy relief). Moving on, as Lonnie tries to get chummy with Pam, she gives him the cold shoulder until he tries to help everyone's digestion by breaking into song, singing something about easy answers and easy questions. And as he croons away, Pam slowly thaws to Lonnie's roguish charm; but Brad's simmering jealously is coming to a boil when Vera interjects herself and tries to get too friendly with Lonnie again.

The next morning, while feeding the horses, Lonnie starts another ruckus by doing a little rock-a-billy number, bringing all the girls a-running, abandoning all the other instructors, to listen in and join him in a little dancing and hip-shaking. When Brad, Pam and several others complain to Vera, demanding she do something to rein Lonnie in, the owner promises to talk to him ... Later, when Lonnie tries to ingratiate himself with Pam again, she rebuffs this "sagebrush lothario", thinking he's really after Vera, the ranch, and her money. Lonnie denies this, saying he's only working here until the rodeo season starts; but she still doesn't believe him ... That night, when Pam returns to her room, she finds a masked burglar waiting for her! He demands her grandfather's letter -- Why? I don't know, we haven't gotten that far yet -- but her screams bring Lonnie to the rescue. As he attempts to whip out his kung-fu, Pam tries to help but only gets in the way. And instead of hitting the burglar, she winds up conking Lonnie on the head, knocking him silly, allowing the bad guy to get away.

Deputy Sturtevant is called in to investigate the break in, and after asking to talk to Pam alone, he warns the girl that she brought the attack on herself, and that she's been asking too many questions about her loony grandfather's secret gold-stash -- hidden somewhere in the old ghost town nearby. No one knows for sure where the gold is, and this cryptic letter the burglar was after holds the only clues. And we also can't help but notice that Sturtevant's warning sounds an awful lot like a threat (-- causing us, the viewer, to ponder his true motivations...). The next morning, Lonnie and Brad finally come to blows. And despite his opponent's quick drying shirt (-- a horrible botch in continuity where he got soaked, but is miraculously dry in seconds), Lonnie decks him cold. Harrumphing at this display of testosterone, Pam takes a jeep out to the old ghost town that is rumored to be [...wait for it] HAUNTED! When she arrives and starts poking around the old saloon, Pam pulls out the letter and tries to decipher it. Suddenly, hearing some strange noises, Pam gets really scared, but luckily, it's only Lonnie, who was worried about her coming out here alone and followed. Touched by his sincerity, Pam let's her guard down and starts to fall for the lug as they both fantasize about the old saloon, which triggers a Dramamine-induced flashback -- back to the days when the barroom was really jumping. As it plays out like one of those old fantasy sequences on Gilligan's Island, all the characters we've already met are there: Brad is a dishonest card shark, while Lonnie is gunslinger, Pam is a saloon girl, and Stanley is the bartender. When Brad and Lonnie fight over Pam, Lonnie wins. And when this fantasy interlude ends with a kiss, he's this close to winning over the real Pam as well. 

When they return to the Circle-Z, preparations are being made for the evening Luau, where Estelle is still trying to get more food, but her attempts are thwarted again and again and again. We also find out Stanley learned how to be a waiter by watching some old Jerry Lewis movies -- and if you listen closely, you can hear several audience member's heads detonating while you read that. Lonnie, meanwhile, has to sing again, and Pam goes into a jealous snit when he gets a little too fresh with some of the other girls. When she storms off Brad follows her, and after they have a nasty argument about something, Pam heads back to the bunkhouse alone. Upon entering, she's jumped by two assailants who try to kidnap her. But she thwarts their attempt to toss her into a sedan, managing a scream, which brings Lonnie and, for the lesser part, Stanley to the rescue. They brawl until Pam tries to help again, with the expected disastrous results -- only this time Lonnie and Stanley are both knocked out, so the bad guys getaway again. 

Elsewhere, Sturtevant hears an APB to be on the lookout for the black sedan, spots it, and pulls the bad guys over. Then, our foreshadow-o-meter is vindicated when all he does is yell at them for not completing their mission. Having failed twice, they're running out of time before the Sheriff comes back, and they've got to get that letter and find the gold first -- and fast! Speaking of that letter, when Pam shows it to Lonnie and tells him about her grandfather's gold -- $100000 dollars in rare double-eagles -- he promises to help her find it, but neither can decipher the letter, even thought it isn't purposefully cryptic; it's just that granddaddy's grammar and spelling were so atrocious they can't exactly judge where the X marks the spot. (I'm sure my readers can relate to this.) The next morning, after singing a song while pitching some hay into a wagon for the evening hayride, word comes that Vera wants to see Lonnie. Seems she wants to make Lonnie's employment permanent. PERMANENT permanent. So permanent she wants him to move into the big-house with her. Sticking with his rodeo plan, Lonnie declines, and when Vera turns up the vamping, Lonnie caves a little, and she kisses him just as Pam walks in and catches them. (Aw, poopie.) 

Totally busted, Lonnie tries to serenade Pam, to win her back, but as he wanders around her cabin, she keeps pulling down the shades on him until he eventually runs out of windows. They're at an impasse, and when they both lose their tempers and have a nasty fight, Lonnie quits the Circle-Z.

Hitting several big competitions on the rodeo circuit, Lonnie doesn't do worth a poop because his mind is always on Pam. He tries to call her, but she won't talk to him. However, when Stanley finally manages to track him down, and begs him to come back to the Circle-Z, he reveals that Pam is miserable without him, too. If that were true, Lonnie counters, she has a funny way of showing it. Ah, but the wise and crafty Stanley knows these two are really in love, and offers that Lonnie should at least come back and tell her off for good. That does the trick, and they get back just in time to follow Pam out to the old ghost town, where the two reunite and proceed to bicker and snipe at each other until a nasty thunderstorm blows in. Taking refuge in the old hotel, and wanting to keep Pam trapped there until he wins her back, Lonnie says they're stuck until the rain stops or risk getting caught in a flashflood. Pam buys the ruse, but locks herself in a upstairs bedroom -- alone. Through the door, Lonnie offers her to scream if she needs anything. With that, Lonnie and Stanley explore the old hotel that's being restored by a historical society. Creeped out by all the wax dummies of masked bandits and gunslingers, Stanley is assured there's nothing to fear. But turns out there is something to fear: they're not alone in the hotel.

Time passes, and when Lonnie goes to check on Pam, Stanley is assaulted by someone through a secret panel; but every time he calls Lonnie back, all evidence of his attacker is gone. And when Pam tries to close her window, she screams when a werewolf appears outside! Bolting for the door, she runs smack into another ghoul -- the one that was pestering Stanley, who accosts her, looking for the letter. Luckily, the screams bring Lonnie, who decks the ghoul, and when they pull his mask off, reveals it's one of the cooks from the Circle-Z. Now convinced that Brad must be the ring leader, with more bad guys running loose, Lonnie tells them to tie the cook up while he rousts the others out -- starting with the wax dummy that winks at him, who then produces a large knife and chases Lonnie down the hallway; a hallway that dead ends at a door that says: Don't Enter. As the villain charges, Lonnie risks opening the door that leads directly outside -- but I should probably remind everybody that we're on the second floor, and it appears the historical society hasn't installed the back stairs yet. Grabbing the hook holding the sign, matador Lonnie sidesteps the charging villain, who plummets two stories into the thick mud below. 

At least I think that's mud. At least he'd better hope that's mud.

Lonnie swings back inside safely, but comes face to face with the werewolf. Pulling another quick olé, he sends him through the false door, too, and the werewolf does a swan dive into the muck below.

Man, that's some awfully funny looking mud. I'm reminded of the days of working in a feedlot, where Rule Number One stated: If you ever fall down in one of the holding pens, make sure you keep your mouth closed -- if you catch my drift.

With all the bad guys taken care of, our hero says their worries are over, and since the storm has ended, they'd better go and get the authorities. Stanley agrees, and promptly walks right out the false door and plummets to the ground. But, he misses the muck and crashes through the cellar door, down into the hotel's basement. As he calls for help, the other two follow his voice and are amazed to find him still in one piece. Among the debris, Pam spies a large chest with her grandfather's initials on it. Figuring that must be where the treasure is hidden, Lonnie tells Stanley to find something to pry the padlock off. He finds a crowbar stuck in the wall, but after he wrestles it loose, the goof doesn't notice the hole it left is now peeing out gold coins. Giving Lonnie the crowbar, they try to bust open the trunk until the sound of the falling money finally makes them stop. Eureka! Pam's rich. But as they start to count the money, Sturtevant shows up and shows his true colors by demanding all the loot. Moving fast, Lonnie manages to kick the gun out of his hand. And as they fight, despite Lonnie's protests, Pam tries to help again, but this time she manages to conk the right guy. Suddenly, Brad shows up, dragging the two masked crooks who were stuck in the mud behind him. The foreman says Vera was worried when they didn't come back and sent him out to find them. Still thinking he's the real mastermind, Brad admits to being a heel but swears he's no crook, and then pulls the masks off, revealing two other ranch hands from the Circle-Z. (Zoinks!)

So, Lonnie and Pam are back together, are filthy rich, and decide to get married. When the ceremony at the Circle-Z finishes up, we spy that Brad and Vera are back together, too. And while Stanley finishes tying all kinds of junk to the back of the wedding jeep, Pam throws her bouquet and the two pile in. But when Lonnie hits the gas, Stanley is caught up in the tangled mess he made, and as the happy couple drives off into the sunset, we see Stanley "water-skiing" in a tin-washtub behind them. 

The End

The abrupt, absurd, and completely laughable 180-degree turn from the wild-west dude-ranch to a haunted house spook-show is one of the main reasons why Tickle Me is one of my most favorite Elvis movies of all time. Others agreed, and the film was such a big hit that it saved Allied Artists from potential bankruptcy. Parker had also managed to leverage in a share of the ticket sales, but, greedy as ever, the Colonel still wasn't done fleecing Tickle Me for everything he could get.

As his film career stagnated, the Big E's music career was stalled out as well. Remember, the vast majority of albums released during this period were strictly soundtracks, which usually matched the movies in terms of quality. It's a well known fact that Dolores Fuller, ex-girlfriend of B-Movie legend, Ed Wood, penned several of these tunes; a true testament to Parker's unwillingness to pay for more suitable material (-- and speaking truthfully, Ms. Fuller's songs aren't all that bad). However, for Tickle Me, Parker took it one step further and negotiated a deal to only use material that had already been released for the film's soundtrack, meaning no new tracks had to be recorded, which, of course, meant less money spent on writers, arrangers and studio time. The songs chosen for Tickle Me are pretty forgettable, and there's nothing here that can top his duet, "Yoga is as Yoga Does", with Elsa "Bride of Frankenstein" Lancaster in Easy Come, Easy Go. Elvis belts out no less than nine tunes in this movie, and that roughly figures out to about one song every 7.5 minutes. His penchant for spontaneously combusting into song -- no matter where he is, or what he's doing -- in his films is legendary. And I don't even want to fathom where the music and back-up singers are coming from.

Tickle Me definitely falls into the endearingly wonky category on the Elvis movie scale. It's a total goof, and kind of silly, but won't cause ya any brain-seizures either. Later. Rinse. Repeat, three times a year, until Change of Habit brought this depressing cycle to end.

Tickle Me (1965) Allied Artists / P: Ben Schwalb, Emanuel L. Wolf / D: Norman Taurog / W: Elwood Ullman, Edward Bernds / C: Loyal Griggs / E: Archie Marshek / M: Walter Scharf / S: Elvis Presley, Julie Adams, Jocelyn Lane, Jack Mullaney, Merry Anders, Allison Hayes

Bonus Elvis Trivia:

Much like his character in Tickle Me, Elvis was good with horses and had several stabled at Graceland. However, his more infamous pets were a mynah bird that often told him to "Go to hell" and a 40lbs. chimpanzee called Scatter that had a thing for bourbon and scotch, and looking up ladies dresses, that eventually died of cirrhosis of the liver.

Originally Posted: 08/17/02 :: Rehashed: 01/08/10

Knuckled-out by Chad Plambeck: misspeller of words, butcher of all things grammatical, and king of the run on sentence. Copy and paste at your own legal risk. Questions? Comments? Shoot us an e-mail.
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