Elvis Presley was a hugely influential performer with one of the most distinctive singing voices of anybody. He embarked on a film career consisting of 33 films from 1956 to 1969, films that did well at the box-office but mostly panned critically (especially his later films) and while he was a highly charismatic performer he was never considered a great actor.
This said, a good deal of his earlier efforts (late 50s-early 60s) were actually pretty good and more, his best being 'King Creole', 'Flaming Star', 'Jailhouse Rock', 'Viva Las Vegas' and 'Loving You'. Those films looked good, had great soundtracks, great supporting casts and showed that Elvis could be a very capable actor when his material allowed it, even when the dialogue and stories were in a few of them were not strong suits ('King Creole' was a notable exception though). Am of the opinion that Elvis' film career was an uneven film, while there were good films and performances there were also bad films where he looked bored, where the films had not so good soundtracks and looked cheap, a notable example being his previous film 'Harum Scarum' (widely considered one of his worst for good reason).
'Frankie & Johnny' is towards the lesser half of his filmography while not quite among his very worst. It is better than 'Harum Scarum' (then again a lot of things are), but still contains a lot of things that make some of Elvis' mid-60s onwards films not so good.
Starting with its good things, most of the songs fare well, especially the title song, "Hard Luck", "Shout it Out" (the most energetically performed of the songs) and "Please Don't Stop Loving Me". Didn't think much of the performances this time around, but a couple of actors come off with flying colours. Best of the bunch is Harry Morgan, who really brings a smile to one's face. Audrey Christie is also a lot of fun, and Donna Douglas is a competent leading lady.
The riverboat setting has moments where it's attractive enough, and some of the first half is brightly and breezily paced.
However, Elvis spends the whole time looking as if he didn't want to be there despite singing beautifully as always, while the chemistry between him and Douglas lacks spark or passion. Nancy Kovack and Anthony Einsley are on autopilot in very colourlessly written roles, and in general much of the acting is barely half-hearted. Although the soundtrack is mostly good, several of Elvis' 60s films had at least one song that was disposable. In 'Frankie & Johnny's' case, there are two that in no way pass muster as good songs and don't feel necessary, those being "Chesay" and "Petunia the Gardener's Daughter".
Dubbing is also an issue, Elvis' lip synchronisation is sloppy, and it was far too obvious that it wasn't Douglas and Morgan singing their own music, the difference between speaking and singing is blatant and distracting and Douglas doesn't look at ease. The way the numbers are staged varies, "Hard Luck", "Please Don't Stop Loving Me" and "Shout It Out" are fine but most of the rest are fairly static and seriously repeating footage of the title number in the reprise of the finale was not clever and just screamed of trying and failing to hide running out of time and budget.
Apart from the attractive riverboat setting, 'Frankie & Johnny' is another Elvis film that looks like it was made on the cheap and in haste, with a lot of garish and lurid colours, cheap-looking and anachronistic costumes and a flat made for TV-like look to the photography. The direction is at best lifeless, especially in the very limply paced second half. It is in the second half too where the story becomes increasingly far-fetched and less easy to follow and the dialogue increasingly groan-worthy (even for those expecting that in the first place).
Overall, semi-watchable and okay at best time filler but Elvis was worthy of so much more than this. 4/10 Bethany Cox