‘Frankie and Johnny’ – Elvis Presley’s 20th Movie Turns 50

Everybody come aboard! “Frankie and Johnny” turns 50 this month.

This colorful musical-comedy about riverboat performers, fortune-tellers and – of course – love, was released in March 1966. Elvis stars as Johnny alongside Donna Douglas (Frankie), Nancy Kovack (Nellie Bly), Harry Morgan (Cully) and Sue Ane Langdon (Mitzi).

“Frankie and Johnny” was Elvis’ 20th movie, made just after “Harum Scarum” and before “Paradise, Hawaiian Style.”

“Frankie and Johnny” grossed more than $2 million, and the soundtrack album spent 19 weeks on the chart.

Elvis signed autographs for fans between takes.

“Frankie and Johnny” is based on a folk song of the same name. Elvis’ version is just one of many versions of the traditional tune. All versions tell the tale of Frankie, who shoots Johnny when she finds out he’s romancing Nellie Bly, but in some versions, she’s also arrested and, in some, executed.

The song’s lyrics blur the line between fiction and fact, but the lyrics are based on an actual murder case from 1899 in St. Louis, Missouri. In that case, a woman named Frankie shot her boyfriend, Johnny, when she caught him on a date with another woman. It was such a famous case that Missouri artist Thomas Hart Benton recreated Frankie and Johnny’s story for one in a series of murals in 1934. The murals were placed at the state capitol, and a reproduction of this mural was on display during filming the movie.

Luckily for Elvis fans, the movie is much more lighthearted, complete with a happy ending. In the film version, Johnny is a down-on-his-luck gambler who is told by a fortune-teller that a red-head will be his good luck charm. His girlfriend Frankie isn’t happy when Johnny starts to woo the red-headed Nellie Bly.

Elvis' co-star, Donna Douglas, is a true Southern belle, hailing from Pride, Louisiana.

Elvis’ co-star, Donna Douglas, is a true Southern belle, hailing from Pride, Louisiana.

Elvis had a few famous co-stars for this film.

Donna Douglas has starred on many TV shows over the years, but audiences fell for her as Elly May on “The Beverly Hillbillies.” Harry Morgan enjoyed a long, prolific career”, with roles in TV shows like “M*A*S*H,” “Dragnet” and “Gunsmoke.” The glamorous Nancy Kovack had roles on TV shows like “Bewitched” and “Star Trek,” and in films like “Jason and the Argonauts,” “Diary of a Madman” and “Enter Laughing.”

And Elvis fans recognize Sue Ane Langdon – she also starred in Elvis’ film “Roustabout.” Robert Strauss, who starred as Blackie, played Sam in Elvis’ “Girls! Girls! Girls!”

Tunes from the “Frankie and Johnny” soundtrack include “Beginner’s Luck,” “Look Out, Broadway,” “Hard Luck” and, of course, the title track.

Frederick De Cordova directed “Frankie and Johnny,” as well as many TV shows like “Leave It To Beaver,” “My Three Sons,” “December Bride” and “Burke’s Law.” He’s perhaps best known as the producer of the “Johnny Carson Show.”

Elvis filmed “Frankie and Johnny” in the spring of 1965, from May 11 to June 24, and he recorded the soundtrack in May 1965, too.

This is one of several publicity shots for "Frankie and Johnny."

This is one of several publicity shots for “Frankie and Johnny.”

If you love Elvis’ movies, you’re in luck (and look, you didn’t even need a red-head to find it!). The 2016 VIP exhibit at Graceland is Elvis in Hollywood: From Teen Idol to Leading Man. See movie props and costumes, scripts and much more in this special exhibit.

Start planning your Graceland experience today!


3 Comments

  1. Marc-A. Comtois

    Truly enjoyed this movie. Never understood why “Everybody Come Aboard” was evert released as a single. One of my favorite ELVIS songs…one of many!!!

  2. Marc-A. Comtois

    …that should read “never” instead of “evert”.

  3. Sadia (Movie)

    Great review for a great movie frankie and johnny! The story line is awesome and it goes straight in the feels. I haven’t seen this movie but I got really interested after reading your review.

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