Follow That Dream

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FOLLOW THAT DREAM is breezy, good-natured 1962 nonsense from Elvis Presley that fans recall with affection as one of his most enjoyable comedies. A run at an actual layered plot and Presley’s playing fair & engaged with characterization distinguish it from the fluid formula that would shortly congeal into sap. It helped to have a hard-working supporting cast and a decent yeoman director in Gordon Douglas to keep it moving painlessly for 109 minutes.

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Vagabonding through rural Florida on an unopened section of highway, the free-living ‘Kwimper’ tribe runs out of gas by a deserted beach. Officialdom-averse ‘Pop’ (Arthur O’Connell) and genial son ‘Toby’ (Elvis) are convinced by adopted daughter ‘Holly’ (Anne Helm) to wham together a fishing resort and outfox snooty government officials, including devious social worker/vixen ‘Alisha’ (the striking Joanna Moore).  Hoods move in with a slapped-together casino and Toby has to settle their hash. The fate of their pioneered homestead and their three other adopted kids ends up in a court battle. Will the guileless Toby pick the right gal? *

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Lifted from “Pioneer, Go Home!”, a satirical 1959 novel by Richard Powell, the goofy wash & wear script came from veteran wit Charles Lederer (His Girl Friday, Kiss Of Death, The Thing, Mutiny On The Bounty).  I can’t speak to the novel, but Lederer’s screenplay makes for broad but harmless half-baked shenanigans brushing the folksiness of ‘Lil Abner’, the ‘Kettles’ and the ‘Clampetts’ (The Beverly Hillbillies began their 9-year run in September of ’62), having fun with earthy rural stereotypes triumphing over guv’mint know-it-alls and assorted city slickers. **

Presley is confident enough at this point to not worry about looking silly (his Toby ain’t the brightest turnip in the bowl) and carries off the jokin’ in a relaxed and winning manner. Helm and O’Connell are adept and Moore is sharp as a tack (with eyes that could steam a coconut). It makes sense only within the confines of its pretend universe, but that’s part of the charm. Audiences trolled the drive-ins with $5,940,000, #33 in ’62.

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With Alan Hewitt, Simon Oakland, Jack Kruschen, Roland Winters, Herbert Rudley, Howard McNear, Frank DeKova, twins Gavin & Robin Coon, Robert Carricart and Barry Russo. Five tunes include the get-in-the-car-and-go title tune and a nice love ballad, “Angel”.

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* The head of the Florida Development Commission was pleased to have the film shot in his state, declaring, “This movie will sell Florida around the world”.  The locations in what was the then un-trampled Sunshine State include Ocala, Yankeetown and Crystal River. An artificial beach was created and numerous locals were employed in what was a big deal for their sleepy backwaters. Good memories of a happy shoot had the rumpus memorialized ala the “Follow That Dream Parkway”.  Co-star Anne Helm, 23 at the time, had a fling with the King, and an 11-year old boy present recalled “I caught the fever that day, and I never got rid of it”…”That’s what kicked off my love of music. And I’d never thought much about rock ‘n’ roll until that moment”.  The Elvis-struck youngster? Tom Petty.

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** Richard Powell based his best-selling book on a true story he’d found when he moved to Ft. Myers, Florida after WW2. It pulled rave reviews, including no less than The New York Times: “One of the most affable tales of liberty without license that has appeared since You Can’t Take It With You. … a fine, knockabout extravaganza. … Mr. Powell achieves the impossible on occasion. The impossible, that is, in stimulating our willing sense of disbelief. … An awesome feat.”  Powell wrote 19 novels and dozens of episodes for various TV series.

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In Powell’s book, the Kwimper ‘hicks’ were from New Jersey. In the movie, their accents point South, (the South bein’ north and west of Florida, as it wuz) and Elvis down-homes his dialogue to drawl with his Mississippi roots more than he’d done in his eight previous movies. ‘Sophisticates’ sneer at countrified humor, their presupposed wisdom overlooking that the ‘fokes’ smiling and hooting over Daisy Mae/Ma Kettle/Granny Clampett and the like are in on the joke, and have the relaxed dignity and ‘breeding’ to be able to laugh at themselves. If you can’t shuck the corn, get off the dang porch (before it collapses…)

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