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G.I. Blues

G.I. Blues(1960)

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Elvis Presley's homecoming movie after two years in the U.S. Army set the standard for most of his 1960s musicals, in which he invariably played a loverboy wading through a dozen songs and as many hopeful females en route to Miss Right. Here the lucky lady is the lovely Juliet Prowse. A trifle with mostly forgettable music and a pitifully inane story, G.I. Blues will nevertheless be welcomed by the legions of Elvis fans.

Synopsis: Swingin' tank corpsman Tulsa McLean (Elvis Presley) can't wait to finish his military duty in Germany to get back to Oklahoma and his dream of starting a nightclub. The rest of his pals are more interested in pursuing fraüleins, and make a huge bet with a high-scoring wolf that Tulsa can "spend the night" with a particularly forbidding nightclub dancer, Lili (Juliet Prowse). Tulsa reluctantly agrees, but after he maneuvers into scoring position with the beautiful Lili he realizes he's in love and calls off the relationship. More complications ensue, but we know they'll eventually get together.

Elvis became a subject for sociologists early in his career. In the late 50s he got plenty of publicity with the overblown outcry against Rock 'n Roll that resulted in newsreel stunts such as the burning of phonograph records, etc. In truth, most of the country was always firmly behind the lad from Mississippi; the blunting of his career came not from conservatives but from his own handlers, who saw him as a money making phenomenon to be molded into a family-safe commodity. Elvis' peacetime drafting was exploited by the army as a recruitment tool, and G.I. Blues plays as if it were produced as a requirement of his mustering out.

The peacetime Army is pictured as being on a permanent vacation jaunt, with battalions of Yankee tank crews trashing the German countryside during the day and then partying all night. They have plenty of free time and the towns are overflowing with German girls of starlet caliber or better. Near the top of the cast list is Letícia Román of The Girl Who Knew Too Much as well as Erika Peters of Mister Sardonicus and Sally Todd of Frankenstein's Daughter. Their common purpose is to be dated by the American soldiers. Even better, there doesn't seem to be a single German male under the age of 40 or 50 around, leaving the G.I.s with a completely open field. Exactly how far these girls go is discussed mostly through baseball terminology, but it is implied that sex is there for the taking. Prowse is a dazzling beauty with a reputation for not cooperating, with Elvis a nice-guy Oklahoman too gentlemanly to take advantage. Between the frequent songs, one or two inconsequential misunderstandings stretch the show out to feature length.

To be fair, the film offers one married couple (James Douglas and Sigrid Maier) as an example of fraternization that works out the way it's supposed to. And there's the requisite scene where a nosy Captain-chaperone checks to make sure that Elvis and Juliet aren't really shacking up together. But the recruitment message is clear: No college degree? Can't find a girlfriend? The peacetime Army is where You belong, son.

G.I. Blues does have its fringe benefits. Juliet Prowse was famous for her amazing legs and snappy jazz dancing, and her moment in the spotlight is a good one. There is little feel for Germany beyond picture postcard scenery, but Prowse's nightclub act does remind somewhat of cabaret scenes from the then-popular German crime thrillers called krimi. Presley performs one rather charming song, "Wooden Heart," that received plenty of radio play. The uniformed Elvis takes the place of a broken gramophone and sings for a little puppet show in the park. The puppets in the play, of course, are an American soldier and a German girl who wants to kiss him a lot.

A few surprises are hidden in the otherwise colorless cast. Sergio Leone's English version producer Mickey Knox has a couple of lines as a soldier named Jeter, and Ronald Starr of Ride the High Country has an even smaller role. Familiar Roger Corman actor Beach Dickerson is in there too.

A higher percentage of listenable songs can be found in Blue Hawaii, and Viva Las Vegas! has the spectacle of a pneumatic, gyrating Ann-Margret, but G.I. Blues still fares better than most of what was to come for Elvis in the sixties. Empty groaners like Double Trouble and Harum Scarum had little to offer besides Presley in the leading role. In the pre-Army features, he played troubled young men and wild loners in need of taming. Starting with G.I. Blues, Elvis offered an establishment answer to juvenile delinquency, and his character was always a clean-cut guy at heart, no longer perceived as a sexual threat to American values. As the culture changed, Elvis (at least as a movie star) simply became irrelevant.

Paramount's DVD presents G.I. Blues in a beautiful sharp enhanced transfer and great color that makes the ample travelogue footage stand out. Audio tracks are offered in both the original mono and remixed for 5.1 as well. There are no extras.

The bright packaging text gives some historical context for 1960 along with an Elvis trivia question. Blue Suede Shoes is plugged as one of the film's songs even though it plays for only about ten seconds on a jukebox before a brawl starts. Two trailers are mentioned but Savant found only one.

Amazon.com doesn't have a new release date for G.I. Blues, which has been available on DVD since 2000. I believe it is being sent out as a screener now as part of a re-promotion.

For more information about G.I. Blues, visit Paramount Home Entertainment. To order G.I. Blues, go to TCM Shopping.

by Glenn Erickson