I have decided that watching every Elvis movie is a good idea. There are 31 movies in total. This project will likely drive me insane.
In 1960, Elvis Presley returned from his two-year military service. During this time, the public forgot about the singer’s existence and in no way acknowledged his return to the limelight. Elvis was a washed up, has-been. (Do you see what I did there? That is the use of a noun known as “sarcasm” that derives from the Latin word sarcasmus. Okay, I’ll stop being pedantic now and get on with this post.)
When Elvis returned from his military service in 1960, he was just as popular as ever. G.I. Blues, his first film following this absence, kicked off a ridiculously productive period for the singer. From 1960 to 1969, Elvis would star in 27 films. G.I. Blues would become one of his top-grossing films and the film’s soundtrack would spend 111 weeks on the Billboard music charts.
In G.I. Blues, Presley plays Tulsa McLean, an army specialist stationed in Germany with the 32nd Armor Regiment. This is not a coincidence; the 32nd was Elvis’ actual army regiment. One thing the Elvis movies continually do is blur the lines between fiction and reality. In almost every one of his movies, Elvis plays a version of himself. For instance, Jailhouse Rock‘s Vince Everett is a former convict or when young women throw themselves at Loving You‘s Deke Rivers. Both men are looked down upon by adults, aka respectable society.
So here is what happens to Tulsa McLean in the first 20 minutes of G.I. Blues. Tulsa is depicted as a hardworking serviceman who spends his days commanding tanks and goofing around with friends.
But Tulsa dreams of opening a nightclub when he returns to the United States. Therefore Tulsa and his buddies frequently perform in stereotypical German bars where the men wear lederhosen, the beer is flowing, and young German women throw themselves at the American servicemen. On one particular night, the band’s performance is going well until someone decides that he would rather listen to “Blue Suede Shoes” on the juke box. This guy named Elvis Presley is a real musician compared to this trio.
In less than 20 minutes, G.I. Blues recycles past plot lines and references Elvis as existing within the world of the film. Without having introduced the main romantic storyline. This is impressive because G.I. Blues is almost entirely about sex. More specifically, it is about how young military men treat young German women as objects.
To be fair, Tulsa doesn’t appear to be as much of a hound dog (pun intended) as his army buddies. He even announces at one point: “With me, romancing a girl is a hobby, not a business.” As in, he does not want to participate in a bet that his friend Dynamite can’t spend the night alone with a dancer named Lili. Things become complicated when Dynamite is transferred to Alaska because too many German fathers complained to the military about his womanizing ways. This means that Tulsa must take Dynamite’s place and woo Lili to win $300. That’s enough money to open his nightclub.
Tulsa and his friends head to Cafe Europa where we meet Lili (Juliet Prowse). She’s a sexy dancer with long limbs and a feisty attitude. (Don’t grab her waist boys. She’ll dump beer on your head.) Naturally Tulsa’s first move is to perform a completely spontaneous rendition of “Shoppin’ Around”.
Within minutes, Lili is intrigued by Tulsa and they go out on the town together. Lili shows Tulsa the great things about German culture. This means there is more lederhosen and beer. Even some strudel! Here Tulsa shows up a traditional German musician and flaunts his guitar playing skills. Because as we all know, Americans are better than Germans. Especially at playing guitar.
For whatever reason Tulsa does not seal the deal that night. (There are subplots here I can’t remember. They involve sex and an Italian dancer.) So they spend the next day together on the Rhine. They go on a romantic boat ride, ride some cable cars, and even take in a puppet show.
Just like that Tulsa has worked his magic and Lili falls for him. Realizing their love, Tulsa tries to call off the bet to no avail. This is a dilemma. Then some other things happen. I think Lili goes to work. (Maybe. Again I’m not really sure.) But this allows for my favorite comedic scene in any Elvis movie thus far to occur. (Elvis was a great comedic actor; too bad he never truly embraced this.)
As I mentioned, G.I. Blues is really all about wooing German ladies. One subplot revolves around a soldier who has lost touch with his former German girlfriend. As it turns out, the girlfriend has been hiding their baby. (Let’s ignore the fact that this baby is about eight months old so clearly the father wasn’t looking very hard.) The couple decides to get married and they ask Tulsa to babysit. The result is an amazing sequence I have deemed Elvis and a Baby. Think of it as the prequel to Three Men and a Baby.
Meet young Tiger.
Tulsa, as you can imagine, is a terrible babysitter.
Tulsa realizes the kid is hungry. But his attempt to warm a bottle is about as successful as that time Katharine Hepburn made Spencer Tracy breakfast.
Young Tiger is not amused. All he wants is… a bratwurst sandwich. Sure. This makes sense because Tiger is a German baby.
At this point, Tulsa brings the baby to Lili’s apartment. Because she is a woman and therefore, she will know how to care for a crying infant.
Young Tiger spends the rest of sequence giving Tulsa many glaring looks. Probably because he was propped up in two arm chairs at a random woman’s apartment.
The real purpose of this subplot, aside from introducing us to the cutest baby ever, is to ensure that Tulsa wins the bet without compromising his relationship with Lili. While taking care of Tiger, Tulsa spends the night with Lili.
The film then concludes at a variety show. (Duh.) Lili learns about the bet but she almost immediately forgives Tulsa. This is because they are in love and also because Tulsa doesn’t win the bet. You see, Tulsa and Lili did not spend the night alone; they were with Tiger.
In the end, everyone wins. Tulsa performs a rousing rendition of “Didja Ever“. The cute baby gets a nuclear family and he probably won’t be raised in West Germany. Tulsa gets the girl.
The only losers in this movie are Germans. If I was judging Germany solely on what I gleaned from G.I. Blues it is that Germany is a magical land filled with lederhosen, puppets, accordions, strudel, and happy babies. And there was certainly never a war there only 15 years before. It never happened.
And so, G.I. Blues kicks off nine years of Elvis movies that are mostly similar to this. Presley’s more dramatic roles would not be taken seriously and Presley would become dissatisfied (to put it lightly) with his film career. I can only hope that there are plenty of cute babies in the next 26 movies.