Elvis did it all in the movies! He was a race car driver – who sings (a couple of times, in fact), he was sailor – who sings, and he was even a convict – who sings. This time around Elvis is a bronco-busting rodeo rider – who sings. However, he ends up spending more time wrangling the ladies than he does the horses in the 1965 musical comedy Tickle Me.
Elvis is Lonnie Beale, a rodeo rider in need of some work during the off season. He comes to Arizona where a friend has promised him a job on his ranch. Problem is his friend has skipped town, so Lonnie takes a gig singing in a local saloon. On his first night on the job, though, he ends up at the center of a bar room brawl which gets him unemployed once again. Luckily, he has caught the eye of Vera Radford (the Gillman’s main squeeze Julie Adams), owner of the Circle-Z ranch. She offers him a job managing the horses. It turns out, though, that the Circle-Z is no ordinary ranch. This is a resort where young actresses and models go to slim up and get camera ready.
It goes without saying that all the lovely young residents of the ranch immediately take a liking to the handsome Lonnie. This does not make him a favorite of the ranch’s swim instructor, Brad Bentley (Edward Faulkner), who had been getting all the ladies’ attention up until now. Even Miss Radford tries to put the moves on Lonnie, however, Lonnie has his sights set on the plucky young aerobics instructor, Pam (Jocelyn Lane). Lonnie isn’t the only one interested in Pam, though. It seems that Pam has a letter from her late grandfather detailing where he stashed a fortune in gold coins, and the local sheriff and his goons are out to get the loot for themselves…even if that means terrorizing and kidnapping Pam.
Of course, along the way there are several Elvis songs. Unlike The King’s other film efforts, this was his first film not to feature any original songs. Both Elvis and the studio, Allied Artists Pictures, were in need of some quick dough…so the budget just didn’t allow for new tunes. Still, we get some solid Elvis non-hits like “Slowly But Surely,” “Put the Blame on Me,” and “Dirty, Dirty Feeling.” They may not be the most memorable songs in the Elvis’ catalog, but that’s not to say he slacks off in the music department. There’s still no question as to why they called him The King.
The big surprise for me with this film is the absolutely adorable Jocelyn Lane as Pam. This film is coming just a little over a year after Viva Las Vegas, where, in my opinion, The King was upstaged by his leading lady, Ann-Margret. While Jocelyn Lane doesn’t quite have the acting chops that Miss Margret has, there is still something hypnotic about her that, once again, comes very close to outshining Elvis. There’s a part of me that would’ve loved to see Jocelyn Lane and Ann-Margret in an Elvis flick together, battling it out. Based on this film, Lane certainly had the potential to become a fairly big star. Believe it or not, she went the Grace Kelly route instead…dropping out of show business and becoming a princess by marrying Prince Alfonso of Hohenlohe-Langenburg.
The story is silly but still pretty fun. Elvis actually manages to show quite a flair for comedy in the numerous scenes where he tries to be a good boy and not give in to the advances of the female residents of the ranch. He ultimately has a moment of weakness, though, when faced with the feminine wiles of Julie Adams’ character. Who can blame him, though. Even 11 years after her visit to the Black Lagoon there’s still no doubt why the Creature fell for her. There’s also a really fun sequence where Lonnie imagines himself as a milk-drinking gunslinger in the old west. It’s a fun little send up of westerns and includes a nice musical number.
Where things get a little rough with this film is in the final act. This is where Lonnie, Pam and ranch hand Stanley (Jack Mullaney) end up stuck in an old hotel in a ghost town. At this point the film strangely turns into somewhat of a haunted house comedy. We get thunder, lightning, and even the sheriff’s goons wearing Halloween masks to try and, I guess, scare Pam into telling where the gold is. One of the most awkward aspects of this sequence is Mullaney, who is actually quite funny for most of the film, but now seems to be attempting some of Jerry Lewis’ schtick. It’s a very odd sequence that almost feels like a different movie than what we’ve been watching for the last hour.
Despite the ending, I had a lot of fun with Tickle Me. Though it did leave me thoroughly confused as to where the title came from. There is no tickling that I can remember in this film. Elvis doesn’t even sing a song called “Tickle Me.” I mean they could’ve just as well called the film Rotate My Tires, or Do My Dry Cleaning…those both have as much to do with the movie as the title we got… nothing!