GI BLUES – SEE THE NEW ELVIS (Part 11, last)

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-Come see the new Elvis! –

(Part 11, last)

By Mariusz Ogieglo

GI Blues

Filmed in the spring of 1960, Presley’s fifth film was first shown in Dallas at the Majestic Theater there. The preview took place on Thursday, August 18, 1960, and just a few days later, Raymond Willie of Interstate Circuit Theaters sent a telegram to George Waltner of Paramount Pictures, writing that he had “never witnessed such a wonderful response to any another movie .

On August 24, the entire above correspondence was reprinted in the weekly Variety.

John Rosenfield of the Dallas Morning News was slightly more reserved in his assessment, calling “GIBlues” a ” well-seasoned Thanksgiving turkey dish ” (thus signaling the film’s official release date). Assessing Presley’s own performance, he noted that ” for the first time I didn’t feel like killing Elvis, but I felt like doing it with three or four of his uniformed buddies .” He added: “ However, I still like Miss Prowse, a dancer from Bombay with a feisty character and her sensational, sensual dancing. Leticia Roman from Italy and Sigred Maier from Germany are other lovely people. But Arch Johnson’s sergeant major is just plain stupid .

Before “GIBlues” finally hit theaters across the United States, several special screenings were organized in America.

The first of them, with the participation of the main actors, i.e. Elvis and his partner Juliet Prowse, took place on September 12, 1960 at the Paramount Theater in Los Angeles. The event was also honored by the presence of choreographer Charles O’Curran and his wife – singer Patti Page.

From the entrance, guests were greeted by colorful banners and posters promoting the film, with the slogan written in large letters: ” See and listen to a completely new Elvis!” “.

The presence of famous names from the world of showbiz at the show immediately aroused great interest among both cinema lovers and the most important media. Both domestic and foreign ones. “ I never met Elvis, but I still thought he was just fantastic. And so is his film ,” said popular columnist Hedda Hopper, writing for The Los Angeles Times*. In turn, Hal Wallis’ assistant, Paul Nathan, described the entire event (as well as the film itself) as ” a huge success .”

Exactly one month before the official premiere date of the film, Paramount agreed to show Hal Wallis’ latest production in selected American military cinemas. In this way, the film studio wanted to repay the army for their involvement and help in the creation of the film.

Around the same time, on September 23, 1960**, the soundtrack album from Presley’s fifth film appeared in stores. The album “GIBlues”, produced in both mono and stereo versions, like the film itself, caused a lot of extreme emotions from the very beginning. From the delight of Presley’s fans eager for new material to the very subdued opinions of critics.

One of its first and most optimistic reviews was published by the industry magazine Billboard. ” The album presents ten brand new songs sung by still one of the hottest singers, each of them showcasing different facets of this boy’s talent ,” wrote the October 3, 1960 issue.

Many years later, the author of the book “Elvis In The Movies”, Timothy Knight, continued the admiration of Billboard reviewers, writing that ” regardless of the musical shortcomings, the songs from the film are charming and pleasing to the ear, especially the title track and the energetic ‘Frankfort Special’ .” Knight added that the songs from ‘GIBlues’ ” are not among Presley’s greatest achievements ” and that none of them became his timeless hits. Except maybe “Wooden Heart”, more on that later.

Unfortunately, many later reviewers also pointed out that “GIBlues” began a new phase in Elvis’s career and initiated a whole series of discs with film material. Unfortunately, not always of the highest quality… ” ‘GIBlues’ received the dubious distinction of being openly called Elvis’ first bad album – not as banal and tasteless as things that were yet to come, but the first album that was in danger of being eaten by the old-fashioned commercial machine “, noted Only Solitare Herald.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine of also commented in a similar vein, noting in his review that ” ‘GIBlues’ isn’t as cheesy as some of the soundtracks that came later, but it nonetheless made it clear that Colonel Tom Parker wanted take Presley out of rock ‘n’ roll and into the heart of showbiz .”

However, the soundtrack was most clearly summarized by the website Elvis The Music, whose authors stated: ” The film itself was a huge success, and the soundtrack album sold a staggering seven hundred and fifty thousand copies, at the same time setting the direction for a bright financial future, although aesthetically predictable ” were a bit more diverse .”

At that time, however, at the beginning of the 1960s, no one was thinking in such terms, and “GIBlues”, apart from being a box office success, also achieved spectacular success on the charts and was nominated for two Grammy Awards – in the best performer and best soundtrack categories.

The longplay spent a record one hundred and eleven weeks in the Top Pop Albums ranking (which in Presley’s discography was and still remains an absolute record for the length of time it stayed on the list), ten of which in the first place! (starting December 5, 1960)***

The album (its monophonic edition) also placed equally high in the Cashbox Pop Albums ranking (also prepared by Billboard magazine). The music from the film “GIBlues” spent as many as thirteen weeks at the top!

The official American premiere of Presley’s fifth film took place on Friday, November 4, 1960 at the Victoria Theater in New York. The next day, The New York Times published a review titled “Elvis – A Reformed Wriggle” by Bosley Crowther, in which the author spoke very favorably about Presley. ” Whatever the Army did to Elvis, they certainly took his dirty hip move and turned him into a good, trustworthy and honest young American man ,” Crowther began. He added: ” Honestly, you would hardly recognize Elvis – the pre-military Elvis, that is – in this sweet, simple-minded young soldier who can now be seen on Victoria’s screen. Gone was all his rock’n’roll swagger, his ridiculous lecherous gaze, his youthful cockiness, and his lock of greasy hair. His droopy eyelids and strange way of speaking have also virtually disappeared. Elvis became much more sophisticated. He is now a man of the world. Almost “.

According to the author, the only thing that remained of the old Elvis was the type of music he performed, which may still have seemed unacceptable to many adult viewers.

Crowther concluded his review by saying, ” Well, it’s not a matter of how you like it – that is, you, older, quieter people, who will naturally like the pretty colors and sometimes pleasant setting of this film. The question is, how will these squealing young people, former Elvis fans, accept a rock singer with honey in his veins instead of blood? “.

Variety also expressed similar concerns in its review of October 19, 1960. ” ‘GIBlues’ brings Presley back to the screen in an image that seems like a holdover from all those frivolous World War II movies ,” they wrote. ” However, taking into account the logical assumption that the teenage audience that brought Presley to the top of the box office charts has matured, become wiser and more demanding in their tastes, and that Hal Wallis’ ‘comeback’ is addressed to the teenage audience, only from them will he receive he answer. However, if this Paramount product is to be considered at the box office, it will also need the support of Presley’s die-hard fans .”

Although the opinions of critics about Elvis’s first film after leaving his military service were divided (the industry magazine Monthly Film Bulletin called “GIBlues” ” a series of songs loosely connected to a banal, trite and completely irrelevant plot “), the majority of positive opinions prevailed. Journalists noticed the clear changes that had occurred in the popular singer and emphasized his clear progress in acting. ” I wouldn’t call Elvis refined in this picture yet, but he has clearly matured, for which we are grateful ,” wrote John L. Scott of The Los Angeles Times. ” He’s also learning to play. Especially in the lighter sequences. I’m sure most adult viewers will welcome this change in Presley. And as for his squealing teenage fans, let’s hope they will accept his transformation too .

Within its first week of opening at the Victoria Theater, GIBlues grossed thirty-one thousand dollars.

Less than a month later, on Thanksgiving Day (November 23), the first comedy starring Elvis Presley hit the posters of almost all American cinemas.

It is worth adding here, however, that the nationwide premiere was preceded by one more special screening. Organized on November 15 at the Fox Wilshire Theater in Los Angeles by the Foundation for the Fight against Hemophilia. The event was attended by, among others, the main female actor, Juliet Prowse, the future president of the United States, Ronald Regan, and the American actor and singer Cesar Romero.

At the end of the year, “GIBlues” was ranked high, the fourteenth highest-grossing film according to. Variety magazine and grossed nearly four and a half million dollars ($4.3 million). Thus, it became the sixth highest-grossing American film of the entire 1960s.

Presley’s new film was also welcomed by his English fans as warmly as in the USA. ” ‘GIBlues’ was light and allowed Elvis to showcase his acting talents ,” wrote the president of the singer’s British fan club, Todd Slaughter, in his book “The Elvis Archives. “ The adventures of American soldiers in West Germany, however, bore no similarities to Elvis’s real military service. Most of the comedy focuses on child care, which must be managed by Elvis’ character in the film, Tulsa McClean […] Juliet and Elvis made a good screen duo and Robert Ivers as Tulsa’s friend, Cooky, was really good. The German background added authenticity and the film, shot in the pre-Christmas period, turned out to be very popular among viewers .

European fans rated the soundtrack album equally highly. In the official British chart, the LP with songs from the film spent as many as fifty-five weeks, twenty-two of which at the top! ” The soundtrack contained some good material, such as ‘Frankfort Special’ and the nice ‘Pocketful Of Rainbows,’ ” wrote Todd Slaughter.

In European countries, however, the single with the song “Wooden Heart” was even more popular than the album itself. The bilingual composition reached the top not only of the charts in Great Britain (a total of twenty-seven weeks on the chart and as many as six weeks at number one), but also in Germany, Denmark, Austria, the Netherlands and even Australia and South Africa. In 1961, “Wooden Heart” became the best-selling single of the year and gained the status of Single of the Year.

In light of the above results, it is still hard to believe that RCA did not decide to release a similar single in the American market when “GIBlues” was released and delayed the release of “Wooden Heart” until 1964****. Especially since already in 1961, another singer – Joe Dowell took first place on the American charts with his own version of this song…

Almost a decade later, in the 1970s, when Elvis was traveling all over the United States with concerts, he often performed songs requested by his fans. One of the titles that was very often requested was “Wooden Heart”.

It was even estimated that between 1971 and 1977 Elvis performed this hit ‘live’ as many as six times! The first time was on September 3, 1971 during an evening show at the International Hotel in Las Vegas and the last time was during a performance in Hollywood on February 12, 1977.

One of the numerous reviews of Presley’s fifth film wrote that ” the screenwriters dusted off the weakest line from the annals of comedy to give Elvis Presley the opportunity to sing ten bad songs .” Despite such a caustic opinion, however, in 1961 the Writers Guild of America nominated “GIBlues” in the category of “Best Written American Musical”.

The premiere of “GIBlues” both in the USA and around the world was accompanied by long waiting, great hopes and sometimes… too much emotion. In Mexico, where the film was first shown only in October 1962, there were even serious riots. Seats were torn out and windows were smashed in cinemas. As a result of these acts of vandalism, the local authorities banned the screening of further films featuring Presley for the next four and a half years!

However, the film was treated much more leniently in India, where the local censorship only cut out the scenes of Juliet Prowse dancing in the Cafe Europa club, considering them too vulgar. Interestingly, in Greece, “GIBlues” was displayed as… “Erotic Expedition”.

The comedy “GIBlues” brought Elvis an income of one hundred and seventy-five thousand dollars, and its extraordinary popularity determined the direction his film career would follow from then on.

  • Hedda Hopper had a column in The Los Angeles Times called “Hedda Hopper’s Hollywood”
  • This date is indicated by the official website dedicated to Presley’s work. Other sources indicate October 1, 1960 as the release date of the album.
  • The booklet included with the 1997 reissue of the “GIBlues” LP only mentions five weeks
  • In the 1960s, RCA released “Wooden Heart” as a single twice. The first time was in November 1964 with the holiday song “Blue Christmas”, and then a year later, in October 1965, alongside the ballad from the movie “Girl Happy”, “Puppet On A String”. At that time, however, the 1960 film hit went unnoticed.

Article written and provided by Mariusz Ogieglo, EP Promised Land (Poland)

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