Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
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.
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 maneuvering 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 p ... 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. Somewhere in Deutschland is a Freida with your name on her. 1
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 local 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. 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 the Presley name on the marquee. In his 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 with great color that
makes the ample travelog footage stand out. Audio tracks are offered in both the original mono and remixed
for 5.1 as well. There are no other 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.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
G.I. Blues rates:
Movie: Good --
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: December 20, 2004
1. I've never heard a contrary
word about this basic setup, and I presume that G.I. Blues was as popular in Germany as it was
here. But it is pretty ugly; I think the only way to understand the problem would be to imagine a movie
made about America if Germany had won WW2, with a German pop sensation in the lead role. He could be assigned
to a jaunty Panzer division based in St. Louis or San Francisco. Lots of Dieters and Gunthers and Rolfs
could be shown on the town with American girls in bobby sox or whatever, all eager to date the boys
from Berlin in their snappy uniforms. There'd be plenty of jokes about 'quaint' American customs and
how tranquil the country has become; the new German order would have eliminated troublesome social parasites
and intellectuals and restored family values to our decadent Democracy.
It's the smug quality of
G.I. Blues that offends, the idea that WW2 seems to have been fought to give the male youth of
America a cheap playground & bedroom. When one is the victor, one never has to look at things from the
A less sugarcoated portrait of the American Army in Germany came in the next year's Town Without Pity,
in which three bored, insolent G.I.s rape a young German girl played by Christine Kauffman. It's an isolated
situation and not typical of Army behavior, but the contrast between the demoralized men in the one movie
and the cheerful Romeos in the other is acute.
Republished by permission of Turner Classic Movies.
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson