Mike McCoy (Elvis Presley) loves living a carefree swinging bachelor life as a rock and roll singer and part-time racecar driver, a combination only possible in the parallel universe depicted in Elvis movies. Having a fierce independent streak, Mike is unenthusiastic about being pursued by gorgeous but spoiled rich girl Cynthia Foxhugh (Shelley Fabares) who not only runs his car into a river but has her wealthy daddy try his utmost to get him to sing at her birthday party. For his part millionaire Howard Foxhugh (Carl Betz) wants to persuade Mike to drive his new Fox Five racecar in an upcoming race, but is none too keen about him romancing his daughter. Further complicating matters, man-hungry writer Diana St. Clair (Diane McBain), author of ‘The Perfect American Male’ is out to snag Mike as her ideal mate while tomboy drummer Les (Deborah Walley) also harbours a hopeless crush on her handsome bandmate. With three beautiful women set on making Mike their man, what else can he do but sing?
When Elvis Presley first appeared on the scene he was perceived as the epitome of untamed, rebellious youth. Gradually over a series of increasingly sanitized movie outings the original raucous hillbilly wildcat gave way to a safer, more conservative image somewhat more palatable to the mainstream (read: middle-aged squares), despite the odd delightful re-emergence of his old subversive self as with the ’68 Comeback Special. However, no matter how neutered onscreen or indeed inaccurate a reflection of his actual personality, this notion of rebelliousness was a big part of Elvis’ appeal. Hollywood filmmakers were wise enough to never entirely relinquish that even if they enacted a subtle shift in what he was rebelling against. Spinout sprinkled a little more sugar on the image of Elvis as non-comformist. Here he sets out to prove that rich folks can’t push people around though rather than provoke widespread social upheaval his motivation is solely to preserve his swinging bachelor lifestyle, a fantasy even staid middle-aged squares could at least understand if not condone.
An early musical number establishes the film’s faintly misogynistic perception of women as an “evil” yet irresistible force out to entrap men. So we have Elvis on the run from three would-be love interests: Diane McBain’s quasi-feminist psychoanalytical sex researcher who states her intention is to ‘tame’ Mike, Deborah Walley’s perky tomboy perpetually frustrated that Mike sees her as one of the guys, and last but certainly not least achingly lovely Shelley Fabares as the feisty heiress who initially seems the one most likely to bag him on account of their obvious chemistry. Spinout was the second of three films that paired Elvis with Fabares, prompting rumours of an off-screen affair which to be fair the publicity department tended to spread about all his leading ladies, whether true or not.
However, in this instance Elvis actually has a love rival in the incredibly unlikely form of Foxhugh’s geeky, frankly snivelling creep of an assistant Philip (Warren Berlinger) who sets about pursuing Cynthia in a geeky, frankly snivellingly creepy manner. This involves him doing things like knocking Elvis flat before the all-important race. The end result of his less than endearing behaviour is frankly flabbergasting denouement that clearly does not upset Mike all that much but proves a somewhat dispiriting twist. One imagines this break from the traditional rom-com formula was intended as a sop to Elvis’ legion of female fans and likely also gave hope to snivelling creepy guys the world over. But seriously, who wants to see Elvis lose the prettiest girl in the movie to a creepy nerd? What kind of an example does that set? Come on, people!
Co-written by Theodore J. Flicker, future director of the superbly subversive spy spoof The President’s Analyst (1967), the plot of Spinout is downright insane but skewed towards self-parody and strangely endearing save for that bizarre third act misstep. It helps that the film features one of the King’s more committed comic performances and that the songs are among the strongest in the Elvis movie cannon. Granted the infamous ‘Beach Shack’ sequence with Elvis serenading a line of bikini bombshells at a pool party is widely considered a low point but quite honestly it is far from awful while the energetic go-go numbers peppered throughout are energetic, infectious fun. Veteran Elvis flick helmer Norman Taurog creates a suitably zany tone merging eye-popping comic book colours and swift slapstick sequences that border on the surreal with engaging performances drawn from a likeable cast.