Elvis Presley performs in an Armed
Forces show in G.I. Blues.
In G.I. Blues
, his first musical comedy, Elvis Presley stars as lady-killer Tulsa
MacLean, an Army sergeant stationed in West Germany
and his buddies hope to make enough money to open a small nightclub
upon their return to civilian life. At the urging of his pals, Tulsa
accepts a bet with a group of G.I.s to win the heart of Lili, a beautiful cabaret
dancer at the Cafe Europa. Lili, played by dancer Juliet Prowse, has a
reputation for resisting soldiers, so Tulsa
’s finesse with females is required to break through her cool exterior.
Just as Tulsa
realizes that he is in love with Lili, she finds out that she has been
the target of a wager. Lili manages to overcome her anger to help Tulsa
out during a troublesome night of babysitting for a friend’s infant
son. At a rehearsal for an Armed Forces show, Lili discovers that Tulsa
has called off the bet, proving he truly loves her.
Behind the Scenes of G.I. Blues
G.I. Blues marks the debut of the new Elvis Presley. Taking advantage of the good publicity Elvis received for serving his tour of duty in the Army, the Colonel launched a new, more clean-cut image for Elvis after his discharge. Film critics and movie magazines alike noticed the differences in Elvis’ image, including changes in his personal appearance and attire. Gone were the sideburns the press had found so offensive, and gone was the flashy, hip attire. The new look was more conservative -- befitting Hollywood’s latest leading man.
As produced by Hal Wallis, G.I. Blues borrowed some details from Elvis’ personal life to flesh out his character, Tulsa MacLean. This was nothing new for Wallis and his production team. They had used a similar strategy in Elvis’ pre-Army features, particularly Loving You but also in King Creole. The intent was to attract Elvis’ legion of fans who were already familiar with Elvis’ life. In G.I. Blues, Tulsa MacLean is an entertainer soon to be released from the Army. Tulsa is stationed in West Germany and is a member of a tank division, just as Elvis had been.
The character of Tulsa MacLean is a
member of a tank division, just as
Presley himself was.
tidbits from Elvis’ own life, the film differed a great deal from the
singer’s previous efforts. The major change was in terms of genre: His
pre-Army films had been musical dramas; G.I. Blues
was a musical comedy. His pre-Army films were based on previously published novels or stories; G.I. Blues
was specifically written for the screen and followed a simpler, more
formulaic story structure.
Elvis’ management team and the film’s
production team also attempted to soften the singer’s screen image. His
character is older and more mature, and in one sequence he sings "Wooden Heart" to a group of children at a puppet show; in another he
baby-sits an infant.
Other notable differences included toning down
Elvis’ controversial performing style in hopes of capturing a family
audience, not just teenage fans. In G.I. Blues
, Elvis no
longer swung his hips when he sang, long-legged costar Juliet Prowse
did it for him. Even though some of the songs in G.I. Blues
fast-paced, they lack the hard-driving sound, emotional delivery, and
sexual connotations of his pre-Army recordings. "Mean Woman Blues" had
given way to "Pocketful of Rainbows."
A great deal of publicity was generated during the production of G.I. Blues, much of it designed to showcase the new Elvis. Visiting dignitaries from other countries were paraded through the set at a rapid rate. Elvis met the King and Queen of Nepal as well as Princess Margrethe of Denmark, Princess Astrid of Norway, and Princess Margaretha of Sweden. Elvis met so many foreign notables during the film’s production that he had difficulty getting the protocol straight. He once asked, "Is this another of those highness deals?"
The changes in terms of image and film genre do not mean that G.I. Blues was an inferior film, which many Presley biographers have implied. It remains a well-crafted musical comedy with a number of solid songs and a strong female costar. The only negative result of the film was that Elvis would be discouraged from making other types of movies. G.I. Blues is considered the prototype for the other Presley musicals, which, unfortunately, declined in quality as the decade progressed.
|Cast of G.I. Blues|
|Tulsa MacLean||Elvis Presley|
|Sergeant McGraw||Arch Johnson|
|Captain Hobart||John Hudson|
|Papa Mueller||Fred Essler|
|Puppet Show Owner||Ludwig Stossel|
|Musicians||Scotty Moore and DJ. Fontana|
Songs Featured in G.I. Blues
- What’s She Really Like
- G.I. Blues
- Doin’ the Best I Can
- Frankfort Special
- Shoppin’ Around
- Tonight Is So Right for Love
- Wooden Heart
- Pocketful of Rainbows
- Big Boots
- Didja Ever
Credits for G.I. Blues
- Paramount Pictures
- Produced by Hal B. Wallis
- Directed by Norman Taurog
- Screenplay by Edmund Beloin and Henry Garson
- Photographed in Technicolor by Loyal Griggs
- Music by Joseph J. Lilley
- Vocal accompaniment by The Jordanaires
- Choreography by Charles O’Curran
- Released November 23, 1960
To learn more about Elvis Presley, see: