Following the absurdly amusing Follow That Dream, Presley starred in Kid Galahad, a remake of the 1937 film that starred Edward G. Robinson, Humphrey Bogart, and Bette Davis. Although it follows the same pattern of many previous Elvis films, Kid Galahad stands out as one of Presley’s better performances.
Presley plays Walter Gulick, a recently discharged Army soldier. He travels to Cream Valley in the Catskills, where he was born, hoping to find a job as a mechanic and his place in the world. (If we’re going to get sappy about this.) He winds up at Grogan’s Gaelic Gardens, an inn and boxing camp run by Willy Grogan (Gig Young) and his miserable fiancée Dolly who sulks in the corner. Walter agrees to be the sparring partner for one of Willy’s top fighters and as luck would have it, Walter is a natural boxer. Willy sees an opportunity to capitalize on Walter’s skill and along with trainer Lew (Charles Bronson), they push for Galahad to compete. Because it wouldn’t be an Elvis movie unless romance causes all hell breaks loose, trouble starts when Willy’s younger sister Rose (Joan Blackman) shows up at the camp and Walter falls for her. But in the end, everything falls into place. Walter achieves boxing glory and he gets the girl. (Duh.)
Kid Galahad is another typical Elvis movie. Presley plays a loner with a questionable past. He sings. There’s a conflict. But he still gets the girl. We’ve seen this before. Kid Galahad is also features unmemorable songs. Not only are these songs unmemorable, but their placement within the movie is tired. (This is probably one of the problems that emerges when you’re watching every Elvis film in chronological order. I’m getting bored.) There is the standard opening number played during the title credits. (“King of the Whole Wide World“.) There is the “And you can sing?” number when Elvis surprises a group of unsuspecting gents with his singing skills. (“This is Living“.) Throw in a few love songs (“A Whistling Tune“) and maybe one fun, party song and you have the soundtrack for an Elvis movie. (Maybe I just want Elvis to sing “Crawfish” again.)
There is something else that is familiar about Kid Galahad . Because it is the Elvis Presley version of Million Dollar Baby. The similarities are astounding. There is a long-shot contender with a crappy backstory, some Gaelic references, a crusty boxing manager and his loyal sidekick. If only Kid Galahad had the most depressing ending of any movie conceivable and if only Million Dollar Baby featured musical interludes featuring an overtly sexual protagonist! (Let’s face it: Maggie Fitzgerald is about as asexual as they come.)
The sexualization of the protagonists is the most basic aspect of any Elvis movie. We anticipate it. In order for these movies to appeal to their target audience in 1962 (teenagers), Presley is always wildly sexualized. This is blatantly obvious and constant in the musical numbers in Jailhouse Rock or Blue Hawaii. But in Kid Galahad, it is limited to just one number: “I Got Lucky” Walter and Rose join a group at a fair. They sing. They dance. In multiple shots, Blackman’s head is cut out of the frame and we see just her torso as she dances.
Ironically, Elvis is not sexualized during any musical numbers throughout Kid Galahad. Instead Presley’s body is on display during the extensive boxing scenes and the film’s promotional material. (This is common in his non-musial roles. See: Flaming Star.)
If this was a post about any other star, I could easily launch into a tirade about the differences between the sexualization of the female and male forms. What makes Elvis Presley’s film different is that this matters less. His body is put on display as much as, if not more, than his female co-stars. After all he is the attraction and his co-star is not.
Despite how Kid Galahad is very much a typical Elvis movie, this is still one of Presley’s better performances. As it finished, I was reminded once again that when Presley was allowed to act instead of just swivel his hips, he could actually perform.
Previous Film: Follow That Dream (1962)
Next Film: Girls, Girls, Girls (1962)