The picture is based on a novel by Richard Powell, Pioneer, Go Home!; his earlier novel The Philadelphian had been turned into the successful The Young Philadelphians (1959), but Powell mostly wrote for TV shows after that, series like Hogan's Heroes and, unsurprisingly, Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.. The story concerns the Kwimper Family: young Toby (Elvis), his widower father (Arthur O'Connell), and adopted siblings, 19-year-old sister Holly (Anne Helm), and young twins Eddy and Teddy (Gavin and Robin Coon). In their beat-up Model A, they run out of gas on an undeveloped stretch of Florida land and decide to homestead there.
This becomes a great annoyance to state highway supervisor H. Arthur King (Alan Hewitt) and welfare worker Alisha Claypoole (Joanna Moore), the latter first turned on by Elvis's raw sexuality then determined to destroy him after he spurns her advances.
Follow That Dream is one of those pictures where the family's naivete about absolutely everything is the big joke. The Kwimpers are, as King describes them, "half hillbilly, half hobo...with a tincture of bowery bum." They're unaware of the realities and harshness of the real (i.e., urban/outside) world yet are insulated by their very ignorance, and their basic honesty and decency protects them. There are also a lot gags concerning the Kwimpers' outhouse.
The entire middle third of the picture is taken up by an excruciating subplot involving gangsters (Simon Oakland and Jack Kruschen) who move in next door and set up a rowdy mobile casino. When the Kwimpers get in their way, they hire assassins (from Detroit) to kill Toby / Elvis and blow up their home. Throughout all this, even when the assassins are firing their Tommy guns directly at Toby and leave a timb-bomb jug of kerosene at their front door, Toby assumes his neighbors are merely drunks getting out of hand. Therein lies the film's basic problem. We know what's going on; why is Elvis so stupid?
He never wizens up, nor does anyone in his family, and so the entire picture rests on this ignorance-is-bliss conceit, which wears thin before the end of the first reel. The episodic nature of the script only makes the movie more maddeningly dull. The last third is a dreary public hearing over the fate of the Kwimper kids, with Elvis -- natch -- acting as their attorney.
Another odd aspect of the film is its suggestion that the Kwimpers are cute because they're lazy and live off the government. Pa has been on unemployment for years while superstrong Toby (he lifts their fully-loaded Model A in the air like the $6 Million Dollar Man) is on total disability for a "bad back" he strained while in the army. The entire film has a vague air of satirizing government waste and its fussy employees, but this aspect goes over like a lead balloon.
On the plus side, the songs are better than average, especially "What a Wonderful Life" and "Follow That Dream." The staging by journeyman director Gordon Douglas is unimaginative, however. Elvis sings half his numbers flat on his back. (Must be that old army injury.) The picture was shot in Florida but, unlike most Elvis movies, the travelogue-like possibilities are utterly squandered, with most of the film shot on the same unscenic stretch of highway. They might have filmed the picture in Pomona for all the difference it makes.
Video & Audio
Filmed in Panavision, Follow That Dream looks pretty awful fullscreen, though its 4:3 letterboxed version isn't much of an improvement. Obviously an old transfer, the image is soft, lacking definition, with inconsistent color. This writer has come to MGM's defense a lot recently, but can't do so here. With a single exception (a title released by Warner Bros. in August 1997, when the format was brand-new), all of the more than 20 Elvis movies released to DVD by the various studios -- Paramount, Fox, Warner Bros., Universal, even Trimark -- have been 16:9 -- except MGM's.
The English mono is okay. A Spanish audio track is offered as well (the actor dubbing Elvis doesn't try to imitate his distinctive voice, alas), along with English, French, and Spanish subtitles.
The lone extra is a 4:3 letterboxed trailer, which promises "a new Elvis...uproariously funny!" The trailer is in decent shape, complete with text and narration, but likewise is not enhanced.
Despite conventional wisdom that Elvis made nothing but bad movies, his best films (and some of his worst) are actually a lot of fun. Movies like Jailhouse Rock (1957) and King Creole (1958) showcase a pre-army Elvis, when he was still edgy and dangerous. Flaming Star (1960) is a great Don Siegel Western that happens to star Elvis, while movies like Viva Las Vegas (1964) and Paradise, Hawaiian Style (1966) have a great '60s sensibility with cool cars, exotic locations, and Day-Glo color. Even Change of Habit has great camp value. Unfortunately, Follow That Dream is none of these things. It attempts to plunk Elvis into a type of role that ill-suits him, in a weak comedy in the Ma and Pa Kettle tradition that was outmoded by the early-'60s.
A Correction, courtesy television scholar Stephen Bowie: Just noticed an error in your amusing "Follow That Dream" review. The Richard Powell who wrote The Philadelphian is not the same Richard M. Powell who wrote TV comedies, regardless of the IMDB's usual sloppiness. Richard M. Powell (1916-1996) was a veteran comedy writer in radio who, as a former activist president of the Radio Writers Guild, was blacklisted, hence the absence of credits in the 1950s. He was the head writer on "Hogan's Heroes," so his was one of the more successful comebacks from the blacklist in TV. Usually in Hollywood he got mixed up with Dick Powell, not his novelist counterpart .... It looks like the novelist is one Richard Pitts Powell ... who after leaving Philadelphia lived in Florida for the rest of his life without ever [persuing a Hollywood career].
Stuart Galbraith IV is a Los Angeles and Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes The Emperor and the Wolf -- The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune. He is presently writing a new book on Japanese cinema for Taschen.