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The Trouble with Girls

(And How to Get Into It.)

a/k/a The Chautauqua

a/k/a Elvis '69

       "Chautauqua isn't baloney! Chautauqua is a way of life!"

-- Walter Hale     




Gonzoid Cinema




Lets see here... P... R... A... Y... HOLY CRAP! Those shirts spell out "YARP!"


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Sights &
The Trouble
with Girls

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Familiar Voices /

Unfamiliar Faces:

Nicole Jaffe

a/k/a Velma Dinkley

Frank Welker

a/k/a Fred Jones

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

Love Me Tender

Loving You

Jailhouse Rock

Blue Hawaii

Fun in Acapulco

Kissin' Cousins


The Trouble with Girls

Change of Habit

Elvis: That's the Way it Is

This is Elvis

Our film opens up at the Bradford Center, Iowa train station, where a throng of people have gathered to greet the latest arrival. Then, a narrator chimes in and gets us up to speed by letting us know that Lindbergh just crossed the Atlantic, and while Babe Ruth was threatening to hit sixty home-runs folks were openly wondering if Calvin Coolidge would run for a second term, which makes this, I believe, 1927 or thereabouts. Regardless, those are concerns for another time, because today, the Chautauqua is rolling into town.

What's a Chautauqua? Glad you asked. A Chautauqua is kind of like a circus -- only without the clowns, trapeze artists or animal acts. Okay, that's not really fair -- it's more of a revival meeting meets a renaissance festival with forums, symposiums and speakers on all matters of subjects, topped off with several musical revues. End of lecture, pilgrims, now back to the review!

This particular Chautauqua has been around before but it's now under new management, namely Walter Hale (Elvis Presley), the son of the former owner, who is under the watchful tutelage of Johnny (Edward Andrews), his late father's right-hand man, and there's trouble brewing already. Seems the City Fathers are already haggling over the attraction's guaranteed payment, with the main point of contention being the Mayor, who wants a solemn pledge that his daughter will get the lead in the Chautauqua's annual children's pageant to help grease the wheels. After assuring his Honor that all will be well an impromptu parade erupts, and Hale, playing the Pied Piper, leads the march from the train station to the fairgrounds. Along the way, Hale spots a couple of loitering youngsters, Carol and Willy (Annisa Jones and Pepe Brown), and gives them each a silver dollar and a couple of free passes to the fair, much to the delight of Carol's mother, Nita (Sheree North). Then, the music swells and the credits roll, where we suddenly realize that our leading man isn't singing. Strange. 

As the Chautauqua gets into full swing with a lecture on cannibalism in one tent and a serenading madrigal in another, in the kid's tent, Charlene (Marlyn Mason) auditions a bunch of young rowdies for that all important pageant. After several kids take their turn -- including quick glimpses of Danny Bonaduce hamming it up as a one man band, and Susan Olson a/k/a Cindy Brady singing her guts out -- Carol and Willy perform a duet that wins Carol the lead. When all hell breaks loose with this announcement, Charlene seeks out the boss and catches Hale arguing with his barker, Clarence (Anthony Teague), about riling up the locals with his unsanctioned gambling. Interjecting, and demanding more help to keep all those bratty kids in line or she'll quit on the spot, Hale sends the equivalent of the Dover Boys to assist Charlene, who leaves in a snitty, thanks-for-nothing huff. But once that fire is seemingly out, Johnny says they've got more trouble brewing, and to avoid it, Hale has got to convince the hot-headed Charlene to give young Carol the boot to make way for the Mayor's daughter or they'll lose the guaranteed money. So, with our internal conflict set, Hale promises to start negotiations right away with the fiery flapper, who, if he were drowning, might offer the boss a glass of water...

By the time Elvis Presley made The Trouble With Girls, his second to last feature, he was pretty much disillusioned with Hollywood and was pretty resigned to the fact that his film career was a beached whale sucking in its last, dying gasp; evidenced by the "Let's just get this done and over with" performance found here. Once a genre all by himself, producer Hal Wallis, who helmed nine of the Big E's features, once proclaimed "An Elvis Presley picture is the only sure thing in Hollywood" but by 1968 that notion was fading fast, and his last few features weren't even stand alones, but sent out as the top bill on a double-feature. And even as his career crashed and burned around him with each insipid song sung, the films were still making money and Presley was growing tired of the studios and his producers, especially Wallis, for using the money from all the crap he was making and investing it into what he thought were real movies at his expense.

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     "In order to do the artistic pictures, it is necessary to make the commercially successful Presley pictures. But that doesn't mean a Presley picture can't have quality, too."

                        -- Hal Wallis, blowing smoke on the financing of Becket from the set of Roustabout.

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In the build up to filming The Trouble with Girls in 1968, Elvis had a lot of other things on his mind. On the personal front, he and Priscilla welcomed their daughter, Lisa Marie; on the music front, it had been almost six years since he had a number one hit, almost twice that long since he last went on tour, and he was starting to get the itch to get out on the road and back to his musical roots; and on the business side, his film contract with MGM was almost up, and with his last four pictures having gone tits up almost immediately at the box office there was no hope for a renewal, which suited Presley just fine as he was more concerned about a television special he'd just finished shooting for NBC that was due to air on the 3rd of December, and the all out holy war between Colonel Parker and the show's producer, Steve Binder, over its length and content as it was edited together.

Also around the same time, Arthur Penn's Bonnie and Clyde was showing no sign of slowing down at the box office, and hoping to cash in, the Colonel felt his prized client's next venture should be a comedic period piece set in the same Roaring 1920's. What he got was a retread musical vehicle originally intended for Dick Van Dyke and the usual second tier talent behind the cameras. And after five different writers tried to hammer some life out of the moldy script, filming commenced on another, inevitable disaster.

So, getting back to the disaster already in progress, then, we next meet the external villain of our piece, when Wilby (Dabney Coleman) finishes a *ahem* session with Nita in the back room of his drug store. Apparently, he didn't fear discovery or miss any customers because the whole town is currently ensconced at the fairgrounds. With his store empty, and his pocketbook the same, Wilby's hate for The Chautauqua has turned malignant. And if we didn't dislike him enough already, when Carol and Willy wander into the drugstore, anxious to spend those silver dollars Hale gave them, the shifty Wilby fleeces them by selling a box of leftover fireworks from last year's Fourth of July celebration. As the kids excitedly take possession of their unstable booty, the seller reminds them if they're caught not to tell anyone where they got them because, technically, it's illegal to sell fireworks this time of year. Not wanting to get Wilby into trouble, when the children naively effort to sneak their contraband out of town, they run right into Mr. Morality (Vincent Price!), one of the Chautauqua's featured speakers, who starts babbling, quoting, and blustering at such a deafening level the kids duck away. Once realizing he's lost his audience, Senior Morality moves on to the local hotel but has to get by Betty (Nicole Jaffe), the dingy desk clerk, before he can retire to his room.

Meanwhile, Carol and Willy wind up back at the fairgrounds, and when they hear someone coming, stash the box of fireworks under a handy tent flap and then vacate. Turns out it was just Johnny, who is busy telling Hale that they have yet another crisis to resolve. Apparently, the lead singer of the gospel quartet has come down with laryngitis ... Hmmm? I wonder who they can get to sub in ... No sweat, says Hale, who takes the stage and leads the quartet in a rousing rendition of "Swing Down Lo, Sweet Chariot."

And as we glance at the clock, here, finally, at almost thirty-seven minutes in, Elvis sings his first song. That has got to be some kind of record!

Once the quartet finishes, Mr. Morality takes the stage, who starts preaching to the forlorn and downtrodden that they can shake their rotten pasts and start over. In the audience, Nita is so enthralled by his impassioned speech that she rebuffs Wilby's offer to go back to the drug store for another quickie. But, he won't take no for an answer and keeps on trying until she threatens to tell his wife about their fling. With that, Wilby slinks out of the tent alone, where he gets suckered into Clarence's back alley blackjack game, only to strike out there, too. Asked for a chance to win his money back, Clarence says as soon as Wilby has more money to lose, he knows where to find him.

After the Chautauqua closes down for the night, Hale finally starts those negotiations with Charlene -- and it's not going very well. Seems Charlene is upset that Hale hired Dingy Betty as a pianist for no pay. Hale swears he'd never do a thing like that -- but Johnny might [... which he did]. Then, when she asks him to put out his smelly cigar, and he happily obliges by tossing it away, the discarded butt promptly lands on the abandoned box of fireworks. And as the negotiations start to heat up, with Hale putting the romantic moves on Charlene, who actually starts to cave in to his advances, the fireworks start to smolder and burn just when they start to kiss. But, right before their lips meet, Hale pauses and orders her to replace Carol in the pageant. Rightfully thinking this whole romantic interlude was a just ruse, Charlene is now good and pissed off. Swearing his feeling were sincere, before Hale can explain the fireworks finally ignite and explode. And as all hell breaks loose, Charlene storms off, leaving Hale to join the bucket brigade with the Dover Boys to put the fire out.

The next morning, Charlene heads to Wilby's store for some breakfast. Finding it empty, she takes a seat at the counter and notices some heated voices coming from the backroom, where Wilby is threatening Nita that if she continues to refuse to sleep with him he'll tell little Carol what dear old mom does to pay the rent. But when Nita counters that she will kill him if he tries, Wilby quickly backs down. Overhearing all of this, Charlene tries to sneak out but accidentally slams into the door. Quickly calling out, she pretends to have just entered. Wilby appears and takes her order, and a few minutes later, when a distraught Nita comes out and starts taking inventory, Charlene compliments her on her daughter's musical talents, finishes her food, and then leaves ... Later that night, while still getting an earful from Johnny on how Charlene must switch the leads for the pageant, Hale heads to the children's tent and catches Carol rehearsing. Hale thinks she's fantastic, and over Johnny's protests, decides the girl will keep the lead. Meanwhile, behind the main tent, Clarence and Wilby have another hot card game that comes to an even hotter conclusion. When Clarence wins all of his money again, Wilby accuses him of cheating. Then, after more words are exchanged, it comes down to fists; but after two punches, a few other men break it up and keep Wilby from going after Clarence. Still, Wilby promises he'll get even.

The next morning Wilby conspires with the disgruntled Mayor and several other businessmen at the hotel, and after Dingy Betty escorts the latest speaker, Professor Drewold (John Carradine!), to his room, the hotel owner glumly informs her they'll be no Chautauqua next year. Apparently, Wilby has convinced the other City Fathers not to put up any guarantee money. And no money = no show. That also means no business at the hotel, which means no job for Dingy Betty. Making a beeline for Hale's room, Dingy Betty puts her motor-mouth to work and begs him for a job with his traveling show. Quickly caving in to this blitzkrieg, Hale says he's got the perfect job for her: the special assistant to his Channel Swimmer. So, Dingy Betty is put in a *heh* dinghy, and rows behind the swimmer as she reenacts her epic swim across the English Channel in the local pond. Things go ... well, swimmingly until she bumps into a dead body floating in the water.

When that body turns out to be Wilby, after the big dust-up they had over the gambling losses, Clarence is the prime suspect. And as the local Constable (Med Flory) tosses him in the clink Clarence swears he's innocent, but the cop says to save his plea for the judge. When Hale check in on him, Clarence admits to cheating at cards but insists he'd never kill anybody. His boss believes him, but is afraid no one else will. And with a member of his troupe accused of murder, the Chautauqua suffers a massive drop in attendance. Word of the murder travels fast, too, and the next two stops have already cancelled their engagements. In the midst of all of this, Charlene seeks out Hale. Moved by his decision to leave Carol in the lead, despite the obviously huge financial hit it would cause, she's decided that her boss is a man of great character, and so confides in him the incriminating conversation she overheard between Nita and Wilby. Looking to sort it all out, when Hale arranges to meet with Nita, she thanks him for all he's done with Carol: we've gotten the impression that Nita is the town tramp, and this is the first real break her kid ever got. As Hale assures her that the girl is very talented and could really go places and do great things, he then switches gears and asks if Wilby's drug store will stay open. Caught off guard, Nita breaks down, sobbing How would she know? But Hale continues to turn the screws, saying Clarence hasn't got much of a chance with that murder rap. However, if someone else did it, and did it in self-defense, he could probably get them off -- and make a bundle of money in the process. With that, a stunned Nita quiets down and listens to Hale's plan. 

The following morning, Bradford Center is all abuzz as the town is littered with posters promising that Wilby's killer will be revealed in the Chautauqua's main tent that very evening -- and for the price of one ticket, a person can hear an actual murderer's full confession! Obviously, the show sells out rather quickly. And when showtime arrives, with the Constable particularly interested, taking up a spot in the back row, Charlene finds Hale in his tent, where she retracts every positive thing she said about him having character. Seems that harboring a fugitive and exploiting some poor woman for a quick buck has gotten her miffed at him again. But Hale says not to worry because they'll have to return the money anyway because "the killer" hasn't shown up liked she promised to! But, while the crowd grows more anxious, Nita finally stumbles into Hale's tent, soused to the gills. Putting Johnny in charge of sobering her up, Hale rounds up the Dover Boys to go and stall the audience. And here, Hale finally sings again [almost an hour after his last song!], and then leaves the Dover Boys to stall some more while he ducks out to see how Nita's doing. Well, she can barely stand up, let alone speak, meaning they need more time. And since the Dover Boys are dying, he sends for Charlene, with Carol and Willy in tow, and puts the children on stage, much to the audience's delight. After they're done, Hale then forces Charlene into an impromptu duet about the signs of the Zodiac -- or something. Then, leaving Charlene to fend for herself on stage, since nothing else is working, Hale reforms the bucket brigade and starts dousing Nita, again and again, until she comes to her senses. Fairly coherent, she's escorted to the main stage, just as the Constable was about to break up the whole menagerie. And as the audience stares at Nita, she fidgets for a few moments, then, composing herself, calmly states "I killed Wilby."

Slam. Bam. Thank you, ma'am!

With that statement, Clarence is exonerated and the Chautauqua's future bookings cancel their cancellations -- and they even get their guaranteed money and a promise of more when they return to Bradford Center next year. But as the tents start to come down, and people scurry all over to pack up so they can move on to the next gig, Hale has one more problem to deal with: Charlene, who was so furious with him over the run up to Nita's confession that she quit the show. In the aftermath, he tried to talk her into staying, saying his way was Nita's only chance to confess without getting lynched; and Hale almost succeeded when he revealed he gave Nita all of the gate money [... so she could hire a good lawyer and use what's left to move her and Carol somewhere else and get a fresh start.] Almost succeeded. When she says goodbye, Hale gives her $300 to get back to Chicago. But later, as the train prepares to leave without her, Hale tells the Constable that Charlene stole some money from him, around $300, and that Bradford Center is no place for a girl like that. The Constable agrees, and as the train pulls out of the station, he and his deputies round-up Charlene and run her out of town by throwing her onto the train. When Hale catches her, after briefly trying to get away, the girl eventually gives in to his embrace.

The End

Originally titled Chautauqua, it was at Colonel Parker's insistence, which should come as a surprise to no one, that the name be changed to the nonsensical The Trouble with Girls, and it was Parker who also had the brilliant notion to add the tagline: And How to Get into It. MGM, fearing that a big word like Chautauqua might scare off or confuse the audience, agreed to this asinine title switch, which should also come as a surprise to no one.

To the film's credit, director Pete Tewksbury and cinematographer Jack Marquette [...who produced the likes of Attack of the 50ft Woman and The Brain from the Planet Arous before settling behind the camera] do a fairly credible job of capturing the era and essence of these small town tent shows and the waning years of the flapper and straw hat era, right before the Great Depression hit. Their film oozes a warm and hearty atmosphere, and the music is charming and really quite good; but the plot gluing all of that together is a hackneyed mess and, more often than not, completely incoherent due to some gaping black holes in the narrative, which makes one wonder if the film was cut down for time considerations or cut around an indifferent star, who is noticeably absent from the majority of the film. Whichever the case may be, the editor, George Brooks, didn't help matters any by taking the Glasgow Farragut approach with his Moviola. And with these damned editing torpedoes lies my biggest beef with the film ... From the get go it hits the ground running, and then moves so fast you're never allowed to get your bearings as oncoming characters and plot tangents bounce off of you like a swarm of June bugs smacking into a car's windshield going about 75mph, leaving you to try to see and comprehend the road/plot through the resulting mess of insect entrails. With no real focus, and with no one else stepping up to take the audience's hand and navigate them through this lunacy, the film never jives, and therefore, never stood a chance.

Which is why the most fun to be had with The Trouble with Girls is playing spot the cameo, or identifying some of those numerous bit players. And not only do we get Vincent Price and John Carradine (-- both sorely lacking screen time), but sharp eyes will also spot baseball great Duke Snider, and yes, that's John Rubenstein as the Dover Boy with the 'P' on his sweater. Upon closer inspection, Elvis fans will probably spot Memphis Mafiasos Joe Esposito and Jerry Schilling during one of the barker's crooked card games. Meantime, sharp B-Movie veterans will also spot Kevin O'Neill, the 'R' sweater Dover Boy, from Village of the Giants, and Robert Nichols as the hotel clerk, who helped fight off The Thing From Another World. Also, aside from having both a kid from The Partridge Family and The Brady Bunch, sharp ears will also clue you in that we've got half the Scooby-Doo gang here as well; though it took me almost half the movie before I finally placed Nicole Jaffe's familiar nasally voice, and then "Jinkies!" realized that's Velma Dinkley! To top that off, I also realized that the third Dover Boy with the 'Y' on his sweater was none other than Frank Welker -- better known as Freddie Jones and hundreds upon hundred of other cartoon voices. Alas, I didn't recognize the Dover Boy with the 'A' on his sweater. Waitasecond ... P? R? A? Y? Holy frijoles, if you put all those Dover Boy sweaters together they spell out YARP! It's a miracle.

On a sadder note: Things didn't turn out so well for Annisa Jones, the little girl who played Carol, and who also played Buffy on Family Affair, as she was destined to die of an overdose just seven years later in 1976 at the ripe old age of 18 after ingesting a lethal concoction of cocaine, Angel Dust, Quaaludes and Seconal.

As for the Big E, he does his thing. Barely. But to his defense, the role calls for a lot of pratfalls that were meant for Van Dyke, a very gifted physical comedian, so it was up to his supporting cast and gonzo bit-players to keeps things moving -- and we've already addressed how well they did at that. Most of the gags didn't work but some managed to eke out a few laughs, like the bit with the local band that keeps popping up out of nowhere to get an audition only to be constantly foiled, but then finally get their big chance during the big stall. Also watch for several transition scenes with the Dover Boys as they argue the social and political ramifications of the Sunday Funnies.

Once The Trouble with Girls was in the can, there it sat for almost a year before it was released in September of 1969 on a double-bill with The Green Slime. In between that time, there was a brief flash of hope that Presley might actually have been getting his shit together. Thanks to Steve Binder's stubborn refusal to kowtow to the Colonel, the '68 Comeback Special stayed true to his vision and was a smash hit; and the jam-session it contained, where Elvis reunited with Scotty Moore and DJ Fontana, rekindled the former rockin' Hillbilly Cat's desire to get back on the road and in front of a live audience. And on the music front, there was another act of rebellion against his management when he turned to Memphis Soul producer Chips Moman for his next album, who helped him redefine his sound that finally resulted in another Top Ten hit, "In the Ghetto," and his last #1 Billboard recording, "Suspicious Minds." Alas, this spurt of brilliance was all too brief, and soon enough, it was back to business as usual. And after one more chapter, Change of Habit, the book on Presley's misguided film career officially closed, leaving one to wonder what might have been if other folks had been in charge.

The Trouble with Girls (1969) Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) / P: Lester Welch / AP: Wilson McCarthy / D: Peter Tewksbury / W: Arnold Peyser, Lois Peyser, Day Keene (novel), Dwight V. Babcock (novel) / C: Jacques Marquette / E: George W. Brooks / M: Billy Strange / S: Elvis Presley, Marlyn Mason, Sheree North, Edward Andrews, Dabney Coleman, Nicole Jaffe, Frank Welker

Bonus Elvis Trivia:

Wanting to further cash in with the soundtracks, Colonel Tom Parker insisted that Elvis had to sing in every movie, which he did save for one. And the one that got away was the western, Charro! -- unless you count the crooning over the closing credits. But aside from that one notable exception, Elvis, one average, would spontaneously combust into song, no matter where he was or what the situation might be, approximately once every 7.8 minutes per feature.

Originally Posted: 01/10/02 :: Rehashed: 01/25/10

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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