Based on the Novel “Pioneer Go Home”
Any Elvis fan worth his or her salt can and probably will tell you that his birthday falls on January 8th and that he was born in 1935. If he were still with us, Elvis would be all of 79 years young. I’ve heard many fans often say that they couldn’t imagine what an elder Elvis collecting Social Security and rallying with the Association for the Advancement of Retired People would be like. But all one has to do is look at all of the rock bands and performers who have been on one endless farewell tour after another to have a clue. I mean, look at Cher. She certainly looks none the worse for wear and she’s still out there chugging along in Vegas at the ripe young age of 67. Mick Jagger is 70 and may remind you of the crypt keeper, but he keeps on chugging along.
Old Rock Stars may eventually pass on, they just never fade away or go gently into that good night. There’s always that farewell tour.
I’m sure that there are some snobbish film connoisseurs out there who will try to convince you that the words “good movie” and “Elvis” have no place being in the same sentence, and that Elvis on celluloid has no real business in the current space time continuum.
Now I will agree that there are Elvis films, especially from the latter part of his career, that stand as a monument to the endless abyss of movies that never should have seen the light of day. I think that if Presley were alive he would probably tell you the same thing.
On a special that ran on TV Land, Priscilla Presley related as to how disgusted Elvis was with the fact that by the end of his acting career, every movie was the same script while the only thing that changed was his occupation, the abysmal songs they made him sing, and his co-star. I for one couldn’t tell you the difference between Speedway, Girl Happy and Spinout. To this day I still think they are all the same movie.
For those who only want to acknowledge only the bad though, shame on you. There are in fact very good, if not exactly Oscar eligible type films starring Presley that are entertaining, a joy to watch, and often are an indication of what an Elvis Film career might have become had it been in the hands of someone other than Colonel Tom Parker. You know, like a real honest to goodness movie agent.
I won’t get into the endless Colonel Parker debate here as to whether or not Elvis would have made it big without him, although it became quite obvious later in his career that Parker was willing to sell the Presley reputation for the sake of a few quick studio bucks that probably benefitted Parker more than it did Elvis.
So if I had to recommend a film as the beginning of an Elvis Movie Starter Kit, the delightfully lighthearted comedy, Follow That Dream would be the one. Elvis plays Toby Kwimper with character actor Arthur O’Connell (Pocketful of Miracles, Operation Petticoat, The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao) playing his father whom is referred to throughout the film and in the IMDB credits simply as “Pop”.
Pop (O’Connell) and Toby Kwimper (Elvis), along with their adopted family Holly Jones (Anne Helm), the twins Eddy and Teddy ( Gavin and Robin Koon), and Adriane Pennington (Pam Ogles), are cruising along the Florida coast in their jalopy taking in the scenery. (Think of the Beverly Hillbillies Clampettmobile only in better condition and no rocking chair tied down in the backseat holding Granny).
Right in the middle of their leisurely travels they come across a brand spanking new road that has yet to open to the public. We know this to be true because there is a large sign stating: Positively closed to the public. I am one for the obvioius.
But little things like that have never stopped Pop Kwimper because he’s not really part of the public. He is in fact, part of the government, and he adamantly reminds us of that fact throughout the film.
Pop’s reasoning is that since he and Toby receive government checks including one for ADC, one for relief, and a $63.86 a month check for Toby who was disabled by Army doctors (despite Toby’s protests) because they decided he had a bad back when it got twisted up during a judo lesson. (It twisted right back during his next judo lesson but that didn’t matter to the army doctors), They are every bit as much of the government as any congressman, governor, president. As pop puts it:
“We ain’t the public. We’re part of the government. They send me checks. I keep them busy and happy. We’re dependent on each other. We ain’t the public Toby.”
But one thing the Kwimpers hadn’t counted on was their car running out of gas on the road to Nowhere, Florida USA, zip code unknown.
Although Toby volunteers to jog down the highway to get some fuel, Pop squashes that notion rather quickly under the logic that “there will be a patrol car any minute.”
“Now pop,” Holly tells him, “Why would there be a patrol car if this road doesn’t go anywhere.”
“Why wouldn’t this road want to go anywhere?” Pop replies to her quite logically.
“Maybe the government run out of money before they could finish it,” explains Toby.
To which Pop quickly gives us a shining example of Kwimper Logic 101: “How many times do I have to tell you, the government don’t run out of money. Only people run out of money. The government’s loaded.”
While pop takes a nap, Toby and Holly set about making the twins and Adriane as comfortable as possible by building a shade roof and digging for water courtesy of Pop’s fender. Toby views Holly as a kid sister (although he is well aware of her considerable adult like assets), but Holly doesn’t exactly see Toby as being an older sibling either. However, Toby is a tough nut for any female to crack open.
Anytime a woman begins coming onto him, he begins reciting the multiplication tables until they go away. No, he isn’t gay. Toby just doesn’t want to be nesticized and he sees Holly and most women as natural nesters. This was 1962 and as far as I know, maybe women of that decade wanted only to pop out a few babies as often as they could. My own mother had eight so she nesticized quite a few times. Of course, Richie Cunningham’s mother only nesticized twice, but then that was the fifties. Oh wait, it was three times. I almost forgot about disappearing Chuck.
Eventually, just as Pop had predicted a State Highway department truck does happen by, carrying H. Arthur King (Alan Hewitt). He is in fact the State Supervisor of Highways, making a last minute inspection just before the governor is to roll on in for a dedication ceremony. While in the midst of giving an elegant soliloquy on the unblemished and untainted scenery along the new highway, King comes across the Kwimpers who have pretty much set themselves up a temporary home on the beach. And to King‘s dismay, the Kwimpers are the worst possible kind of blemish on his pristine Florida coastline.
In order to hasten the Kwimpers departure before the governor (Harry Holcombe), who has nothing better to do on this particular day then to inspect highways headed to nowhere, King gives them some gasoline with the provision that they will be billed for it. What a skinflint!
But before the first drop of gasoline can even drip into the tank, the governor arrives ahead of King’s schedule but right on time for our own scheduling which is taught in Predictable Plot Advancement 101, University of Clyde.
As King hastily tries to explain to the governor what the Kwimper clan is doing cluttering up the highway, Pop Kwimper wastes no time in asking the Governor to order King and the highway patrol officers off of what is now officially Kwimper property.
It seems there’s a little known law that states if someone puts up a roof on public land, and then lives on it for about ninety days, they own it outright. And since the Kwimpers have more or less fulfilled the first part of the law by putting up a shade roof, that makes King a trespasser. And unlike Governor Schwarzenegger of California, the Florida Governor is an educated fellow who knows all about these types of little known state ordinances (with the help of an aide reminding him of course), leaving him no choice but to order King off of the property.
But like most villains who have been made to look like a total ass, King does not plan to just ease on down the road, and before driving off warns the Kwimper that because they are now homesteading, their government checks will be cut off, and that he (King) will do everything in his power to get rid of them and to get even.
Then there’s that other famous rule of film making which states that when a villain tries to push the good guys around, the good guys are going to do the exact opposite of whatever it is that the bad guys would want them to do. In this case, Pop Kwimper had simply planned on proving a point that he wouldn’t be pushed around and then being on about his business of finding more roads leading to nowhere. But nothing gives a man more incentive to stick around than a government bureaucrat by the name of King.
And that pretty much sets up the rest of the film nicely. King sends child welfare worker, Alisha Claypool (Joanna Moore) to psycho-analyze Toby and prove that the Kwimpers are unfit to raise children. Much to the chagrin of Holly, Claypool seems to have more on her mind than administering word association tests.
A trailer full of gangsters headed by Nick (Simon Oakland) and Carmine (Jack Kruschen) move their vehicle into the homesteading camp to make their illegal gambling operation legal.
Toby and Holly try to secure a loan from the bank after befriending the now extinct species known as a friendly banker in order to upgrade their property and make a living renting fishing boats and equipment. And Pop Kwimper spends a lot of his time not only building a john, but trying to get the water pressure adjusted properly as well.
What makes Follow That Dream work so well is that Elvis is given a real character to play rather than just being Elvis as so often was the case in way too many films. He portrays Toby Kwimper effortlessly as if he were born to play the part, and not once does he fall out of character. Better yet, Elvis shows that with a good script, he has a wonderful flair for comedic timing, and this film has several laugh out loud moments.
It certainly helps that old pro Arthur O’Connell is here to help keep things on a steady even handed course. He too is funny, but funny without being made to look ridiculous which is important in a film like this.
We like the Kwimpers, not because they are Ma and Pa Kettle in Florida, or Jed Clampett in Beverly Hills. We like them because at no time does Charles Lederer’s script let them become the object of some poorly thought out punch line. One need only to compare this film with the perfectly dreadful Kissin’ Cousins that Elvis would land in just two years later to understand the difference. In fact, the best punch lines often come at the expense of those they meet in their little homesteading adventure.
In the wrong hands, the casting of Holly played by Anne Helm could have been a disaster but Helms brings a nice mix of brains, beauty, and innocence to the screen. She manages to be attracted to Toby without fawning all over him like a crazed school girl. Helm would guest star in many television series, often in the same show two or three different times playing different characters. She also co-starred with Michael Callan in The Interns, and played Princess Helene in Bert I Gordon’s The Magic Sword. I’m not sure that being in a Bert Gordon film did much for her career though.
The crazed school girl is left to the dastardly Alicia Claypool played by Joanna Moore, who disdains the simple nature of the Kwimpers, but yet finds herself lusting after Toby like a bitch in heat meeting up with a Great Dane at the park for the first time.
Joanna makes the perfect villain. She’s that sneaky, sultry, ultra sexy, stacked like a brick shithouse woman that you just know is up to no damn good. Like Helm, Moore would have a career filled with television guest star roles. She would later marry Ryan O’Neal and have two children, actress and Oscar Winner Tatum, and son Griffin. Unfortunately, after she and O’Neal divorced her life spiraled downward until she succumbed to cancer with daughter Tatum by her side.
And let’s not forget the kids. Ariadne is rarely seen, heard less, and mostly stays out of the way. The twins are used only when necessary and actually have two pretty funny bits in this movie. One is a continuing gag with a candy bar, and the other has to do with some bloodletting on the dock. They’re on screen just enough to be cute and not too much to wear out their welcome. And no, I do not hate kids.
Oh yeah, and most importantly there are the songs. There aren’t many, and that may be a good thing as you do get quality instead of quantity which works to the film’s advantage. The songs seem to have been selected with a purpose in mind, and not just haphazardly thrown in so they could splatter the words “Hear Elvis Sing Ten New Hits!” or sell the soundtrack album as was often the case.
From the title song Follow That Dream (which is actually sung at a key moment later in the film), to the song they did use over the opening credits (What A Wonderful Life) to Elvis explaining why he’s not interested in nesting with “I’m Not the Marrying Kind” to the catchy “Sound Advice” and finally to the beautifully sung ballad “Angel” to wrap things up, you’ll actually find yourself listening and paying attention unlike his later films where one song pretty much sounded the same as another. They are good on the ears, go down easy, and fit in well with the story. Although I do have to admit that Elvis’s old portable radio has damn good audio. Anyway, here they are all as I’ve rounded them up again until the next time one or two of them come up missing on the IMDB as they do quite often.
But all of this may have been for naught if it didn’t lead to a satisfying conclusion. In fact we get an ending that I can’t (or won’t) tell you about, but for this film it is about as perfect as it could possibly be. It’s true to the movie, the characters, the plot and everything else that comes before the final denouement. And just like the Kwimpers, is purely wonderful in its total simplicity.
There are of other Elvis films that are worth watching in spite of what you may or may not have heard. And every Elvis fan or even many non fans have their favorites just as I do. But if I were to recommend a good place to start, the seldom mentioned Follow That Dream would be the best place to begin. And while it may be formulaic and predictable it is still damn entertaining and if I find a movie that entertaining, why I just have to give it, Toby, and the Kwimpers an A-.
Update: 8/14/2014. And it’s a good one if you aren’t aware of it. Twilight Time has released Follow That Dream on blu-ray and if you’re a big Elvis Collector or fan you may want to take the opportunity or you may not get another chance. Be aware that when those 3000 copies sell out, 3rd party sellers on Amazon will be asking for a share in Fort Knox for you to get a copy. I’ve had good experience with my Twilight discs so far (except like you I probably can’t afford to get all the ones I would really like too), so you may want to get this while you can. Click on the picture to get you there.
No, I do not get a commission from Screen Archives or Twilight Time. If I did I could probably afford more of their discs. Because this is a limited run on blu-ray, the price is $29.99. But don’t make the mistake I did with a couple and think they’ll be around a long time. That’s how I missed out on Rollerball.