I’ve never considered myself to be a really big Elvis fan, yet I’ve found that I have a bit of a soft spot for his movies. They are often a very simple premise with some fun songs and a few pretty girls for the King to get sweet on. Often it seems that they just plop Elvis in an interesting locale and then let the thing write itself. We get Elvis in Hawaii, Elvis in Vegas, Elvis at the races, Elvis in prison…well this time it’s Elvis goes to hillbilly country. Here he comes in dual role in 1964’s Kissin’ Cousins.
Elvis plays Josh Morgan, a second lieutenant in the Air Force who is given a special assignment. Because of his country roots, he is assigned to accompany Captain Salbo (Jack Albertson) to the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee to convince Pappy Tatum (Arthur O’Connell) to turn over part of his mountain home to the military for a new missile silo. Upon arriving in the hills, Josh and his squad are greeted with gunfire courtesy his blonde haired double Jodie Tatum (also Elvis) and cousins Selena (Pamela Austin) and Azalea (Yvonne Craig). Josh is, in fact, a distant cousin to all of them.
Well, it’s no easy task convincing Pappy to cooperate with the military. All the while, Josh has to contend with the flirtations of both Selena and Azalea…with Batgirl winning out. Meanwhile, Jodie starts to get cozy with the lovely PVC Riley (Cynthia Pepper). Oh, and on the other side of the mountain is a bunch of man hungry mountain women known as the Kittyhawks who keep showing up to cause trouble or try on bikinis.
There’s always a certain degree of charm built into any Elvis film. After all, they didn’t call him “The King” for nothing. Even through the goofiest outings, he still has a pretty magnetic screen presence. Not to mention the fact that he managed to get some rather stellar leading ladies throughout his film career. Ann-Margaret, Shelly Fabres, Mary Tyler Moore, Nancy Sinatra…gimme a break!! Yvonne Craig certainly earns a place with those other ladies in this one. She’s absolutely delightful in this. Yet, despite having some strong things going for it, Kissin’ Cousins ends up being a bit flat.
Ultimately, there’s not a lot to move the rather thin storyline forward. The whole thing hinges on a slightly absent-minded old guy being stubborn about not letting the army put a nuclear missile in his backyard. The weird part is that Elvis’ plan for getting Pappy to change his mind is to romance his daughters and take them to Knoxville to buy bikinis. Now, no one’s complaining about Yvonne Craig in a yellow bikini, but I’m not sure about this approach to diplomacy. While we’re on the subject that things are a bit questionable… we have the blossoming romance between Josh and Azaela. They are technically related, you know!!
Acting wise, Elvis is fine, but considering that he is playing dual roles, I hoped for a bit more. There’s nothing to really set Josh and Jodie apart, other than the fact that one has black hair and the other is blonde. Otherwise, they feel like the same character. Speaking of the hair color, in the first scene featuring both Elvis’, they look a bit like the Duke boys circa 1964. The filmmakers use some pretty basic split-screen effects to put both Josh and Jodie in the same scene, not to mention several shots involving doubles whose primary direction seems to have been “be sure to turn your head away from the camera.”
Perhaps the biggest disappointment with this film, though, is on the music front. Even the sillier Elvis films tend to have at least one musical moment the stands out. Sadly, none of the songs in Kissin’ Cousins are terribly memorable. There’s no iconic numbers like you see in Jailhouse Rock or Viva Las Vegas, or even an earworm theme song like you get in, say, Clambake. I’m looking at the list of tunes featured in this flick right now and for the life of me I can’t remember how any of them go.
Kissin’ Cousins is not without a few fun moments, but most of it just kind of drags along. The presence of Yvonne Craig at least makes it slightly enjoyable. It certainly wouldn’t be toward the top of my list when it comes to Elvis films. It’s called Kissin’ Cousins, after all. Inbreeding just isn’t a good idea, folks.
Note: This post is my contribution to the Summer Under the Stars blogathon being run by my Walt Sent Me cohost, Kristen, over at her main site, Journeys in Classic Film. Be sure to check out other Summer Under the Stars posts throughout the month.