G.I. BLUES - Historical Analisys
“I don’t claim to know much about making movies. I leave the decisions to people who do. As for the fact that the script of Flaming Star was written with Brando in mind, I’m glad they thought I could do a part designed for such a fine actor.” – Elvis Presley on film.
With the resumption of Elvis’s career after his army service, there seemed to be a reluctance to shed the military uniform once and for all. Only weeks following his return from Germany to the United States, Elvis appeared on the Frank Sinatra/Timex-sponsored TV show, Welcome Home, Elvis. In the opening spot, an obviously nervous Elvis walked on stage in full dress uniform and sang, along with the rest of gathered guests, the appropriate It’s Nice to Go Travelling. At this point, there were several jibes about his army days (for example, Joey Bishop – “Where the heck are his sideburns?”). All harmless stuff in itself, but it was as if there was a real need to display to prime-time American viewers that “this boy” had done his bit for his country. To be fair to Elvis, this was perfectly true. Never once had he complained about being drafted, or what his lengthy absence from show business might conceivably end his career forever. He could apparently have opted for the Special Services, whereby as an entertainer, he would have had a much easier time, travelling the world, performing concerts for the forces. Elvis, however, chose not to do this – he wished to perform his duties in exactly the same way as any other draftee, and expected no preferential treatment.
Following a return to the recording studios, and the Sinatra show, Elvis went back to Hollywood in late April 1960 to film G.I. Blues.
The director was Norman Taurog, the man who was to work on more Elvis Presley films than any other director. This was his first Presley feature, and over a period of eight years, he would direct a total of nine. Hal Wallis produced, and the screenplay was written by Edmund Beloin and Henry Garson.
Elvis’s leading lady was Juliet Prowse, who proved to be a formidable partner. Her presence was very strong, and greatly overshadowed many of Elvis’s future leading ladies.
The music in the film was of exemplary standard – a wide choice of material appropriately befitting the film’s theme. The title song and another, Didja’ Ever, had an astonishingly commercial-sounding military beat. The single release from the film was Wooden Heart / Tonight is So Right For Love, and this record made the number one spot in March 1961.
A curiosity regarding the music was the fact that two completely different songs appeared in separate versions of the film. In the English-speaking version, Elvis sang Tonight Is So Right for Love, and for foreign release a song called Tonight’s All Right For Love was the replacement. The reason for this change was due to a copyright problem.
A humorous moment occurs in the film when Elvis is singing with the combo and an uninterested soldier (Ken Becker) inserts a coin in the jukebox. We then see a close-up of his choice – Blue Suede Shoes by Elvis Presley. This results in both he and Elvis having a fist fight, but not before he remarks, “I want to hear the original”. It is interesting to note that, even at this early stage, Elvis was quite willing to poke fun at his own image.
The soundtrack album, as a whole, was first-class, and won a well-deserved Gold Award.
There is not one moment in the film where Elvis is seen sans uniform (we can safely discount the shower scene). The formula worked very well. This film laid a solid foundation for the stereotypical pattern that was to continue through to 1967, with lasting, damaging consequences. That said, however, G.I. Blues was an extremely entertaining film. The music score was first-rate; the supporting cast was excellent (an especially fine performance by Arch Johnson as the harassed sergeant), and into his somewhat roguish role Elvis fitted quite nicely.
Some filming had already been done in Germany, but without Elvis’s participation, due to his military commitments. A very noticeable double was used for those European scenes, a problem which was to become even worse, and quite inexcusable in later films.
A rather amusing anecdote from the time informs us that, immediately before Elvis left Germany, Colonel Parker had fake newspapers printed, with the emblazoned headlines “ELVIS RE-ENLISTS”. These he promptly dispatched to producer Hal Wallis who almost collapsed with fright when he saw them. So much time and finance had been laid out on G.I.Blues prior to Elvis’s actual shooting in Hollywood, that it would have caused a considerable furore with Paramount Studios, had Parker’s sensational “news” had been true.
For some inexplicable reason, upon the film’s re-release in 1974, and in subsequent TV screenings, Elvis was listed in the cast as Tulsa McCauley, when in fact the character he played was called Tulsa McLean.
One point that strucks us about this film – considering that this was quite carefully designed as the first “family appeal” Elvis Presley movie, and indeed carried a U certificate – was that the central theme of the story has undeniably questionable morals. The wager in the plot, to see if Elvis could spend an entire night alone with Juliet Prowse, has to be considered realistically. In spending a night at her flat, what were they supposed to be doing? What, indeed, would a cinema audience of 1960 expect them to be doing? Playing cards? We hardly think so. This “indelicacy” was, in fact, earlier evidenced in King Creole, when Elvis, as Danny Fisher, takes the innocent Dolores Hart to a seedy hotel under the pretext that he has been invited to a party there. He even gives her a false name and calls himself “George”. Upon realizing that she wants no part of his crude seduction, and feeling rather ashamed of his attempted deception, he states, “I’m sorry but I thought you knew the score.” The character’s intentions were rather obvious and decidedly less than honourable. None of these given examples could be considered shocking or explicit in any form – far from it; but with G.I. Blues particularly, it was a strange choice of story with which to initiate a “family” image. However, the film was hugely successful and firmly re-established Elvis as a leading box-office attraction.
The true measure of an actor’s box-office appeal is seen in the Motion Picture Herald’s annual poll of Film Exhibitors – their own top ten stars of the movies. Elvis had only previously figured in their charts in 1957, at number four, after Rock Hudson, John Wayne and, curiously, Pat Boone. His protracted absence from Hollywood during army service was no doubt responsible for his non-appearance in those charts from 1958-1960, but he was placed again in each successive year from 1961-1966, peaking at number five in 1962. This was, of course, during his most prolific film-making period. Alas, after 1966, with a new dawn in Hollywood and a new breed of stars on the horizon, Elvis was never again to figure in this all-important star chart.
In G.I. Blues Elvis was very smooth and professional. His transition from rebellious individual to cheerful, extrovert was highly professional. With the success of the film, this type of characterization inevitably became the blueprint for future projects. If only Elvis had insisted on acquiring dramatic scripts as well as light-hearted properties, then perhaps the decline of his film career might never have occurred.