Zestig jaar geleden ging de vijfde film met Elvis Presley in de hoofdrol in première. “G.I.Blues” was een vrije terugblik op zijn voorbije legerdienst in Duitsland, maar na de redelijk goede ontvangst van “King Creole”, vonden de critici er maar weinig aan. De Nederlandse Wikipedia besteedt er dan ook uiterst weinig aandacht aan, vandaar dat ik naar de Engelstalige versie teruggrijp.

Elvis Presley’s Army career began in 1958, and by 1960 it had been two years since Presley had made his last film, King Creole. Despite his previous three films being mostly slammed by the critics, they warmed to King Creole and its star. Presley felt confident that he had a future in acting after this praise and he was looking forward to returning to Hollywood after his time in the army.

The script was written by Edmund Beloin and Henry Garson, who had done the final revisions for Hal Wallis on Don’t Give Up the Ship. In 1958 they came up with an original treatment for an Elvis Presley movie called Christmas in Berlin. It was later known as Cafe Europa before becoming G.I. Blues.

Eight months prior to Presley being discharged, in August 1959, producer Hal Wallis visited with him in Germany to go over the script for G.I. Blues and film some on-location scenes. Although some scenes were used in the final film, Presley did not film at any time during his time there. Elvis’ double, Private First Class Tom Creel, was used for some shots.

The U.S. Army supplied tanks and vehicles on manoeuvres to be used in the filming, and appointed public information officer John J. Mawn (1915–2007) as technical advisor for the film. Mawn had presided over Presley’s military press conferences.

Presley returned to the U.S. in March 1960 and began work on the film in late April. Hal Wallis originally wanted Michael Curtiz to direct but eventually selected Norman Taurog. Dolores HartJoan Blackman and Ursula Andress were all tested to play the female lead before deciding on Juliet Prowse.

The film received mixed reviews from critics. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times was noncommittal, mostly remarking on Presley’s new clean-cut image: “Gone is that rock ‘n’ roll wriggle, that ludicrously lecherous leer, that precocious country-bumpkin image, that unruly mop of oily hair … Elvis is now a fellow you can almost stand.” Variety remarked that the film “restores Elvis Presley to the screen in a picture that seems to have been left over from the frivolous filmusicals of World War II” and called it “rather juvenile.” Harrison’s Reports graded the film as “fair-to-good … The cast performs well and direction and production values are good. A prime attraction, aside from Juliet Prowse is the beautiful scenery of Europe in wondrous Technicolor.” John L. Scott of the Los Angeles Times wrote in a generally positive review: “I wouldn’t actually call Elvis sophisticated in the picture, but he has grown up, for which we give thanks. And he’s learning how to act, too, particularly in the lighter sequences. I’m certain most mature theatergoers will welcome the change in Presley. Now as for his squealing teenage fans—it is hoped they also will go along with the metamorphosis.” Richard L. Coe of The Washington Post wrote that the film “probably will satisfy the audiences for which it has been so awarely, if depressingly, created.” (*) The Monthly Film Bulletin dismissed the picture as “a series of numbers loosely strung around a trite and thin and terribly insubstantial plot. Juliet Prowse manoeuvres her superbly engineered torso through two meagre dances with infectious exuberance, but she deserves a better rôle and a more mature leading man; certainly one with more genuine fire than Presley.”

The film opened at the Victoria Theater in New York City on November 4, 1960 grossing $31,000 in its first week. After opening in more cities in Thanksgiving week, it reached number 2 on Varietys weekly national box office chart. It finished the year as the fourteenth biggest box office grossing film of the year generating $4.3 million.

Despite critics being dismissive of the overall plot, the film was nominated for three awards in 1961: Best Soundtrack album Grammy, Grammy for Best Vocal Performance, Album, Male, and WGA Best Written Musical. Presley’s return to the screen led to a riot in a Mexico City theater showing G.I. Blues, prompting the Mexican government to ban Presley’s movies.

The success of G.I. Blues may have been the catalyst for the formulaic films that Presley was to make for much of the 1960s. His next two films, Flaming Star and Wild in the Country, were more straight acting vehicles, with fewer songs and a more serious approach to the plot lines. However, despite Presley relishing a meatier role and enjoying the chance to act dramatically, both films were less successful at the box office than G.I. Blues had been, resulting in a return to the musical-comedy genre with Blue Hawaii as his next film role. Blue Hawaii proved to be even more profitable than G.I. Blues. (Wikipedia)

(*) Als voorbeeld wordt dan meestal “Wooden heart” gegeven dat zozeer afweek van de rocker Elvis Presley, zoals men hem tot nu toe kende, dat het enkel in Europa op single werd uitgebracht. Ik moet het toegeven: ikzelf hoorde het graag, maar ik kan als verontschuldiging dan ook aanvoeren dat ik nog maar pas negen jaar geworden was…

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