Written by: Jason Wheeler, Film Frenzy Senior Writer & Editor.
In 1964, Gene Nelson released Kissin’ Cousins, which starred Elvis Presley, Arthur O’Connell, Glenda Farrell, Jack Albertson, Pamela Austin, Cynthia Pepper, Yvonne Craig, Donald Woods, Tommy Farrell, Beverly Powers, Hortense Petra, Bobby Stone, Maureen Reagan, Joe Esposito, Teri Garrr, Kent McCord, and Joan Staley. The film grossed $3 million at the box office and screenwriters Nelson and Gerald Drayson Adams were nominated by the Writers Guild of America for Best Written Musical. It reached #11 on the Variety National Box Office Chart and finished at #26 for the year.
US Air Force Second Lieutenant Josh Morgan is sent to the Great Smokey Mountains in the hills of Tennessee along with Captain Robert Jason Salbo to persuade his distant relatives, the Tatums, to sell their land to the United States Government so it can serve as a missile base. However, when Morgan gets there, he not only encounters a look-alike double, but his two country cousins, Azalea and Selena who compete to win his affections.
Though an odd film, Kissin’ Cousins is one of the more interesting and better Presley films to come out of his long stretch in the mid-1960s, though it’s still one that the most diehard of Presley fans would appreciate. The plot itself is quite interesting, even if it veers into the absurd many times. While there’s something to be said for the normality of the early story when he’s assigned to get his family to agree in letting the government take and use the land for their purposes, the plot gets a little weird when he does get there and meets his family, which not only includes a guy that looks exactly like him (and that’s played by Presley too), but two ladies that want to be romantically involved with him, not caring if he’s family. It may be legal in many states and they may be very distantly related, but it’s still a weird concept that only the dedicated fans of Presley will really want to sit through.
As for the characters, they’re quite the mixed bag of nuts and it’s part of what makes the film fun even with the strange story. In regards to the two characters Presley plays, they’re polar opposites. On one hand, there’s Josh Morgan. He’s the straight laced military man who exudes responsibility and really only wants to do his duty. But on the other hand, there’s his cousin Jodie Tatum, a mountain man who’s content to chase girls and shoot all day. Azalea and Selena are also quite the characters, even if they’re only goal in life is to get Josh to choose one of them, namely because they’re so smitten with someone they don’t care if he’s family. Then there’s Pappy Tatum, a mountain man entrepreneur who doesn’t want government interference. However, all that means is that the man doesn’t care if the government takes one side of the mountain for their missile silos, but he just wants the other side so he can continue his moonshine operation without being hassled.
Notably, the acting is actually pretty well done in this film and it’s clear from the start that Presley is having fun with both of his roles and enjoying how he gets to portray two different people with to very distinct personalities. The good time he’s having is seen in the beginning when Josh Morgan talks about how he’s not going in uniform because of how the people in the mountains will shoot at anything government. Presley’s tone and delivery in this scene aren’t bad and display that the rest of the film is going to be enjoyable. It’s also easy to tell he’s getting a kick out of the other side of his role as Jodie. It’s not just Presley though as Austin and Craig as Selena and Azalea are also having fun with their roles in trying to persuade Josh to choose one of them.
As for the songs, they’re done well her too and only furthers the notion that Presley was having fun with this role. The opening song is interesting especially due to the absurdity that the plot is going to find itself in, but what really speaks to how Presley is enjoying himself is the first onscreen song he sings, “Smokey Mountain Boy.” It’s easy to hear the joy and energy in the song.
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