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September 12, 2014

Movie Review: Follow That Dream (1962, Blu-ray)

Directed by Gordon Douglas

Movie Review by Greg Goodsell

Pop Kwimper (Arthur O’Connell), his son Toby Elvis Presley), his sort-of adopted children, 19-year-old Holly (Anne Helm) two twin boys and a little girl are motoring down on Florida interstate when they happen upon a pleasant seaside beach. They pitch camp, and decide to claim the area as their own under an obscure “homesteader” law. Within a matter of days, the family throws together a rather ritzy ranch home from castaway junk and begins to charge big bucks to the locals for the privilege of fishing on their land. Soon enough, there’s trouble in paradise: gangsters, led by Nick (Simon Oakland) take advantage of the area’s laissez-faire atmosphere to bring their gambling casino on to the premises. It falls on the King’s shoulder to drive away the gangster, rebuff a lecherous lady psychologist’s advances (Joanna Moore) and defend his patchwork family in court against all those pesky custody laws. Will he succeed? This is an Elvis Presley movie, what do you think?

Indeed, it is an Elvis Presley, albeit with a lot on its plate. An atypical Presley vehicle, Follow That Dream has only five songs, and a decent budget – in contrast to his later films that squeezed in 14 songs that were shot on blue suede shoestrings. It’s the familiar poor-but-honest rural folk against the sophisticated city slickers story, but Follow That Dream seriously examines American society. In its running time, Follow That Dream addresses property rights, self-determination, law, child custody, psychologists (director Gordon Douglas must have had a thing against lady psychologists – remember the hopelessly ineffectual one just before the little girl survivor cowers in the corner screaming “Them! Them! THEM!” in his 1954 giant ant extravaganza of the same name?) organized crime and the U.S. judicial system. The story itself is ridiculous – Presley waltzes through the whole affair with naïve aplomb, unaware of the dangers that face him, only to be acquitted time and again by his simple, honest heart. The gangsters in this film wouldn’t last very long in real life. Presley effortlessly grabs their guns out of their hands without sweat beading on his pompadour. Presley is also amazingly chaste in this film. A running gag  has Elvis reciting multiplication tables whenever he’s aroused by women.

Underneath it all, Follow That Dream has a seriously libertarian message that is especially radical for 1962. All of the authority figures in the film, such as government officials, psychiatrists, judges are every bit as evil as the gangsters. Everyone who gets in the way of Presley’s clan pursuit of happiness is thwarted. Seven short years later, Hollywood would have made the Kwimper family a gang of misunderstood hippies in a bid to draw in the youth market.

This limited edition Twilight Time Blu-Ray release, limited to 3,000 copies, is in beautiful shape. There’s always something about 1960’s Technicolor widescreen comedies that makes the viewer want to stop the film and climb into its colorful universe. The Blu-Ray offers an isolated music track and the film’s theatrical trailer, and yes, those wonderful liner notes from the incomparable Julie Kirgo. Film critic Judith Crist in her tenure with TV Guide magazine always took her life in her hands when she would give lesser Elvis Presley films a bad review, angering his female country folk fan base. This humble critic assures you that in terms of movies featuring the King that Follow That Dream is absolutely painless, cheerful entertainment.

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