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G.I. Blues

     "Tonight was just reconnaissance. Tomorrow is the Battle of the Bulge."

-- Tulsa "Euphemisms Ahoy" MacLean     




Gonzoid Cinema




"Oh, momma! Just what in the hell has the Colonel done gotten me into this time?"


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Hear it!

Sights &
G.I. Blues
 Hal Wallis
 Productions /

Long Live
'da King:
The Fine
Films of 
Elvis Presley.

G.I. Blues

Kissin' Cousins

Change of Habit

Elvis: That's the Way it Is

This is Elvis


We open somewhere near an army base in West Germany, where our focus centers on the crew of an armored tank out on maneuvers, especially the very familiar looking gentleman manning the gun. Receiving his orders, Cpl. Tulsa MacLean (Elvis Presley) locks on the objective, fires, and then watches as the target is obliterated. With another direct hit to notch on his belt, as Tulsa's bestest bud, Cookie (Robert Ivers), brags up our boy's shooting skills while jamming another shell into the breach, Rick (James Douglas), the tank's driver, agrees with this assessment but thinks Tulsa has even better hand-eye coordination when dealing with the opposite sex. With that established the tank commander, Sgt. "Dynamite" Bixby (Edson Stroll), tries to get his men refocused on the task at hand, but it's kinda hard to stay alert with the constant cross-chatter on the radio about the companies' impending transfer to Frankfurt -- and all the frauleins found therein. Das ist gut, ja? Ja! And since he'll be too busy saying goodbye to several local ladies, Tulsa breaks the bad news to Cookie and Rick that he won't be able to play with them at the club later. But since their combo, The Three Blazers, worked so hard to get that gig, meaning they can't back out now, with a little cajoling, Cookie gets him to reconsider as the exercise ends. With that, the armored patrol rumbles back to base, but along the way, their tank breaks a track, thanks to the easily distracted Rick and his subplot about some girl named Marla, drawing the wrath of First Sgt. McGraw (Arch Johnson). After berating these goldbricks for goofing off and wrecking Uncle Sam's property, McGraw also demands the $300 dollars Tulsa owes him. Well, apparently, Tulsa's prowess at the con isn't half bad either as he easily gets McGraw onto a different subject -- namely women. (Okay it wasn't all that hard.) And when Dynamite offers to fix his superior up with date later, McGraw eagerly excuses him from the exercise, leaving the other three behind to fix the tread. Seems that compared to Dynamite, when it comes to women, our boy Tulsa is a lowly private.

Later, the Blazers get some bad news at the club, where apparently, the owner has changed his mind until they offer to play for free, which magically changes his mind again in the trio's favor. Taking up their instruments, the Blazers crank up the cadence for "G.I. Blues" --  a hideously infectious song that will be stuck in your head for about a year and half. (And sharp eyes will notice that the back-up band, decked out in frills and lederhosen, consists of Scotty Moore, Bill Black and DJ Fontana.) When the audience goes berserk for them -- I guess they can't get the song out of their heads either, the owner is so pleased he decides to pay the trio anyway. But as Tulsa takes the money, McGraw is back on subject and wants his $300, the sum total of the Blazer's pay. Working his magic again, Tulsa tries to get the money back by offering the Sarge a partnership in The Three Blazer's Nightclub, that'll open back in Oklahoma once they're discharged. (What? His name is Tulsa? Did you think it was gonna be in Ohio?) McGraw finally agrees to terms when Tulsa promises he can be in charge of the dancing girls, and as their set continues, I'm amazed that we're only about thirteen minutes into the feature and we're on our fourth song already, a slow ballad, that a few other G.I.s in the audience don't like. Wanting something more up tempo, one of them puts a nickel in the jukebox, and then punches up Elvis Presley's "Blue Suede Shoes." And as the Jukebox drowns out the band, who take umbrage with this development, I think we all know where this is headed ... After Tulsa decks the Joe by the Juke, triggering a brawl, the fight continues until they hear the MP's coming. Gathering up their instruments, the Blazers safely skedaddle out the back way.

The following morning, while the company waits for the train to Frankfurt, Tulsa tries to fleece the other $300 they need to get the lease for their Nightclub, but McGraw isn't biting today. As he breaks the bad news to Cookie and Rick, Rick is too preoccupied with his Marla subplot to be bothered with that now. When the company they're replacing arrives, Dynamite is drawn into a testosterone-fueled pissing contest with Turk (Jeremy Slate). Seems these dueling lotharios are legendary in the 10th Armored, and word has gotten around that Turk struck out in Frankfurt with a certain dancer at the Cafe Europa named Lilly. When Turk claims she's an ice queen that no one can thaw, Dynamite counters, and bets $50 that he can defrost her and spend the night at Lilly's pad. Taking that bet, Turk even gives him a week to get it done. This wager, of course, brings plenty of side bets, and Tulsa sees a quick way to double their $300 to the $600 they need; for with Dynamite on the prowl, the trio can't lose. But just as the bet is placed, their Captain assembles the men before boarding and lectures them on proper conduct during their tour of duty in Frankfurt. Singling out Dynamite as as example of how NOT to conduct yourself, and since his kind of womanizing will no longer be tolerated, he's being transferred, immediately, to Alaska, where he can work his magic on the polar bears.

With that development, seeing their club going up in smoke, the Blazers try to talk Turk into letting them out of the bet, but it's a no go. However, Turk is altruistic enough to allow them to substitute someone in for Dynamite. And there's only one man suited for that job, right?

It's that time of year again, folks, the first week of January, and you all know what that means, right? E'yup, that's right. Hail to the King, baby! as we continue our tradition of celebrating m'man Elvis Presley's birthday by skewering another one of his fine fractured feature films. And this year, we're gonna take a look at the first one he made after he got out of the army: G.I. Blues -- oddly appropriate, but it also proved to be a turning point in his film career. Unfortunately, for the Big E, it was the wrong turn.

As Presley's hitch in the army came down to its final few weeks, producer Hal Wallis visited him in Germany to hash out the details of their next film and to get some needed footage of the tank maneuvers. Frankly, Presley wasn't really thrilled about the subject matter of his comeback feature, complaining that he was about to get out of uniform, and now, Wallis and Colonel Parker, wanting to cash in on the built in publicity of his impending discharge, were going to put him right back into one for the scheduled eleven-week shoot. On top of all that, Presley was seriously distracted by something else occupying his mind at the time, namely winning his way into the good graces of Air Force Captain Paul Beaulieu and gain permission to date his daughter, Priscilla.

Wallis, meanwhile, turned his attention to scriptwriter Edward Beloin, who had written most of Bob Hope's spy comedies during the '40s, and seasoned director Norman Taurog, who would go on to ramrod nine more Elvis productions, to helm G.I. Blues. When this collaboration resulted in a huge box-office smash, Wallis and Parker, unfortunately, saw no need to rock the boat and would go on to use it as a template set in concrete, meaning almost all of Presley's films that followed were nothing more than a carbon-copy of G.I. Blues, a formula that broke down thusly:

  • Elvis would play a race-car driver, a cliff diver, a roustabout, a chopper pilot etc. 

  • Elvis was usually either the offspring of wealth who was trying to strike out on his own, or the polar opposite: someone who came from nothing who tries to escape the trappings of fame and fortune after hitting it big.

  • The film would take place in an exotic locale like Hawaii, Acapulco, Hawaii or, um, Hawaii.

  • Elvis had to use his kung-fu skills on somebody at least once before the first reel ended -- usually on Red West.

  • Elvis always had to have a comedic foil or odious comedy relief to play off of.

  • Elvis would have to spontaneously combust into song, no matter where he was or what the situation might be, approximately once every 7.8 minutes during the film.

  • Elvis had to find a girl, and then lose the girl due to some simple or trivial misunderstanding, usually involving an older woman wanting to get her hooks into our boy, until the grand finale when the truth is revealed, bringing them back together again. 

The rest, as they say, is cinematic history as this formula constantly came up sevens for Wallis, Parker, and Presley, who all made a ton of money, since people kept buying tickets to see the same damned thing over and over again, and any hope of a more substantial film career went up in smoke. As for who was truly at fault for this impending train wreck come to pass, the "blame net" needs to be cast far and wide. In Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley, volume one of Peter Guralnick's exceptional biography of the late icon, when the author talks about why he wanted to write the book, the author makes this very poignant observation:

"I wrote about [Elvis Presley] a number of times over the years, seeking in one way or another to rescue him from both his detractors and his admirers." 

Wanting to ignore the fame and the infamy, Guralnick gets down to the essence of Elvis -- his music. The author also rightfully points out that those who were closest to him and the fans who loved him -- no matter what he did or how bad he got, even when he became a grotesque caricature of himself -- did more damage as enablers than those who openly criticized him, pimped him out, or fed him pills. To this, I should plead guilty, too, albeit posthumously, as I really didn't get into Elvis until after he was dead. And yes, he is dead. For this I blame my mother, mostly, and that damned "Moody Blue" 8-track that played constantly at our house when I was a younger brat back in the '70s. It wasn't until later that I truly began to appreciate the guy for what he was and what he did. I don't think I belong to the lunatic fringe of Elvis fanatics. Honest. Heck, I admitted he was dead didn't I? The only time I get a little crazy is when I have to defend him to some cretin who only knew him from the end times, when he was drugged, bloated, and destined to die on the toilet, trying to pinch one off. But, we aren't at that point yet. And though the ultimate end may be an inevitable disaster, at the time of its production, G.I. Blues marked the Big E's return to the big screen. So, for now, let's just enjoy the ride while we can...

On the long train ride to Frankfurt, Tulsa worries he hasn't got the right stuff to *ahem* deflower Lily, but with Cookie's reassurance, our boy is soon ready to rock and roll. And since they're on a train bound for Frankfurt, and this is and Elvis movie, Tulsa sings a song about a train going to Frankfurt. Upon arrival, Rick peels off to take care of his Marla subplot while the others head to the Cafe Europa to catch Lily's act. After completing her lengthy number, when Lily (Juliet Prowse) tries to return to her dressing room, so she can un-spool herself out of that kinky Barbarella costume, a lecherous audience member latches on to her. And after all attempts to politely extricate herself go for naught, Lily takes up a pitcher of beer and dumps it over Mr. Grab-Fanny's head to cool him off. 

And I could be wrong, but I think this letch might be Colonel Tom Parker -- and if it was, she should have busted the thing over his head, or at least transfer him to Alaska where, hopefully, a polar bear will eat him.

Watching all of this, Tulsa realizes his work is more than cut out for him as he moseys up to Lily at the bar, where things start out earnestly enough until the always helpful Cookie fouls things up by volunteering Tulsa to sing a song just as the ice was starting to break. For while he sings, Lily tries to sneak off until the club owner steps in, wanting her to apologize and make nice to the customer she drenched. Thinking fast, Lily gets out of it, saying she promised to spend the evening with two American G.I.s, which is why Tulsa and Cookie, figuring they'd struck out already, are so surprised when Lily tracks them down. After Tulsa encourages Cookie to get lost -- before he tries to help again, Lily asks to be taken somewhere else before the manager changes his mind. They wind up at another cafe, where Tulsa winds up singing yet another song, this time accompanied by several accordions (-- 'cuz nothing says romance like a Stomach Steinway). Finding the American very charming, Lily decides to stick with him, and as they move on, Tulsa begs to go somewhere he won't have to sing again. When she suggests they go back to her place, where she can make him a sandwich of liederkranz und pumpernickel, Tulsa thinks that's a swell idea ... When they reach her apartment, Tulsa can hardly believe that he's going to win the bet on the first night as they head inside -- only to find Cookie already there, putting the moves on Tina (Leticia Roman), a waitress he fell for back at the Europa. Apparently, Lily and Tina are roommates, and since the bet explicitly says Tulsa has to be alone with Lily, the evening's golden opportunity is blown to smithereens. With that, the men quickly bow out, saying they have to report back to the base, but promise to meet up again once they score another pass.

Back at the base, Tulsa manages to get out off guard duty and finagles a trio of three-day passes for himself, Cookie and Rick from the gullible McGraw. Rick, of course, quickly disappears into his mysterious Marla subplot again, leaving Tulsa and Cookie to conspire on how to get Tina out of the apartment so our boy can hook up with his mark again. But its Tulsa and Lily who leave the apartment as the film is padded out with some scenic travelogue footage of beautiful Frankfurt -- sister city of Copenhagen, perhaps? Ooo-ooo, maybe Reptilicus will attack here, too, and Elvis can work his kung-fu on him! No? Ah, well. A guy can dream ... After a lengthy boat ride, Tulsa commandeers a puppet show to profess his growing affection for Lily. (He has to use puppets for this? The man definitely has communication issues. Me? I think hand-puppets are just creepy.) And when their afternoon adventure ends on a sky-tram, the couple's affection for each other is mutually confirmed. On the way back to the apartment, Tulsa is uncharacteristically silent. Seems he's starting to feel guilty about the wager. This endeavor may have started over money, but he's really falling in love with Lily. When the girl mistakes his sullenness for being tuckered out after a long day and promises a quiet night at her place after she performs at the club, this is the last thing the guilt-stricken Tulsa needed to hear.

That night, while she prepares to go on stage, Tulsa enters Lily's dressing room and breaks it off cold. Using the excuse that with his situation, always moving around in the army and all, it's better to end it now before things gets too complicated. The bottom line is, he doesn't want to see Lily get hurt -- but I think it's a little too late for that concern ... After leaving the shell-shocked Lily, Tulsa finds Cookie waiting for him. Unaware of his friend's change of heart, he offers that he got rid of Tina for the night, but is soon shell-shocked, too, when his friend admits the bet is off. Before he can explain, Tulsa gets a message that Rick's been looking for him. [...Rick? Rick who? Oh, yeah. That guy.] And after tracking Rick down, the Marla subplot finally springs upon us. It seems lovelorn Rick has been looking for his beloved Marla (Sigrid Maier) ever since she disappeared after finding out she was pregnant. Well, the [nine-month long] search has finally ended and now they need Tulsa to baby-sit Rick Jr. while the parents go off and get hitched. And even though there's nothing in the G.I. Manual about taking care of infants -- but it can't be that much different than field-stripping an M-1 Carbine, right? -- Tulsa agrees. Assured that Junior will probably sleep the whole time they're gone, however, as comedy often dictates, as soon as they leave, the baby immediately starts crying. And when the G.I. Manual fails on all fronts, and since he can't use judo on the infant, Tulsa calls Lily at the club for reinforcements. Hearing the baby crying in the background, she tells him to come over to her place. Now, I would question why Lily doesn't go to them, but it's plot-essential that they go to her pad. Why? Hang on, we're getting there.

Overhearing all of this, Cookie, who doesn't know about the baby, and thinking the bet is back on, runs interference with Tina while sending the rest of the squad back to the apartment to see if Tulsa can pull it off. Taking up a position across the street, the men watch as a cab pulls up and Tulsa gets out, carrying a basket. They can't see it's a baby, either, and assume it must be food. Inside the apartment, Lily talks Tulsa into singing Junior a lullaby while she warms up some milk, bringing our song count up to a whopping total of ten. Soon, the baby is sound asleep, and Tulsa thinks it would be best to take him home while he's still out. Lily agrees, but neither one of them really wants to part company. So, when she goes to round up Junior's things, Tulsa quickly nudges the basket until the baby wakes up. In the other room, hearing the baby start to cry, Lily gets excited, and they both happily agree that they should all just stay put ... When the sun comes up the next morning, the weary G.I.s across the street watch as Tulsa leaves the apartment, who promises to meet Lily later that afternoon at the rehearsal for the big Armed Forces show. The other G.I.s still don't know about the baby and figure Tulsa *ahem* deflowered the lily, meaning they won the bet. One of the crew, however, bet against Tulsa, and while he pays up, Lily overhears all this with growing concern. And later, at the rehearsal, McGraw gets Tulsa into even more hot-water by talking about the bet with Turk in front of Lily. As Tulsa tries to make her believe that he honestly called the bet off, Lily doesn't want to hear it, thinking this smarmy cad would stoop to using someone's baby to win a seedy bet. Worse yet, the Captain has gotten wind of this and plans to take disciplinary action against Tulsa for fraternizing with the locals. And while the MPs round up Tulsa, Lily hears a baby crying and finds Marla with baby Junior. When the mother confirms that Tulsa was telling the truth, together, the women explain to the Captain that there was no hanky-panky that night, and they were really and honestly just baby-sitting. The Captain is swayed, and asks if they'd be free to watch his twins the following weekend.

So all is well -- except Tulsa really wants to ask Lilly something, but when he can't quite put it into words, she helps him out by agreeing to marry him. A gob-smacked Tulsa can hardly believe it, and then Lily also promises, that tonight, after the show, he will most definitely be winning that bet with Turk.

Hail to the King, baby.

The End

Before filming commenced on G.I. Blues, Frank Sinatra hosted The Frank Sinatra-Timex Welcome Home Elvis Special, held at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami. Sinatra, a former Elvis basher, welcomed his rival crooner back, and they even sang a duet together. This détente quickly ended, though. At the time, Sinatra was engaged to Elvis' co-star and resented all the steamy and unseemly tabloid attention these two were getting, and the engagement was soon called off over irreconcilable differences. Prowse would later admit to an affair with Presley during shooting, but just like with Sinatra, it wasn't destined to last for very long. It should also be noted that Wallis sent a second unit crew over to West Germany to film some inserts, and all those long shots of Tulsa and Lilly running around Frankfurt are just two anonymous stand-ins.

Now, G.I. Blues isn't a terrible film and I like it quite a bit. The songs are catchy enough, and the story is okay -- except for a few, clumsy, plot-specific hiccups, but there is plenty of fun to be had. It's part of Elvis's Silver Age of Movies that includes Flaming Star and Wild in the Country. This, of course, followed the Golden Age of Loving You and King Creole. But after the Gold and Silver Ages, we plummet straight to the Stone Age with the likes of Follow that Dream, Harum Scarum and Kissin' Cousins, where even a few flashes of brilliance like Viva Las Vegas couldn't right the floundering ship.

If this write up comes off as a tad bit bitter to you, you're absolutely correct. This is a subject of which I am very passionate. Sometimes, blindly. The reason I like Elvis Presley so much is very simple: the man could sing. And he sung with a lot of heart and soul and resonance -- no matter what he was singing about. He could be singing gospel, about loves lost, his shoes, or even to clams, and it would strike a chord with me. You can throw out all the other crap -- the lifestyle, the Cadillacs, the Memphis Mafia, the countless B-Movies, the '68 Comeback Special, his downward spiral and tragic death, and his eventual resurrection as pop icon right out the door. The man had true passion, and you can hear it in his voice, and it's something to be reckoned with if we'd all just shut-up and listen.

G.I. Blues (1960) Hal Wallis Productions :: Paramount Pictures / P: Hal B. Wallis / AP: Paul Nathan / D: Norman Taurog / W: Edmund Beloin, Henry Garson / C: Loyal Griggs / E: Warren Low / M: Joseph J. Lilley / S: Elvis Presley, Juliet Prowse, Robert Ivers, Arch Johnson, Letícia Román, Sigrid Maier, Jeremy Slate

Bonus Elvis Trivia:

When Elvis joined the army, he took a monthly pay cut of around $99922. In 1958, Elvis was bringing in about $100000 month while Uncle Sam was paying $78 month to an enlisted man. While in the army, Elvis served as a member of Company-D, 1st Medium Tank Battalion, 32nd Armor, 3rd Army Division, where his primary task was a scout jeep driver, and reached the rank of Sergeant before his honorable discharge in 1960. 32nd Armor’s motto was "Hell on Wheels." Oddly appropriate, don’t you think?

Originally Posted: 01/08/04 :: Rehashed: 01/08/10

Knuckled-out by Chad Plambeck: misspeller of words, butcher of all things grammatical, and king of the run on sentence. Copy and paste at your own legal risk. Questions? Comments? Shoot us an e-mail.
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