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Stay Away, Joe

Stay Away, Joe(1968)

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teaser Stay Away, Joe (1968)

Elvis Presley goes West in Stay Away, Joe (1968), playing bronco-riding, half-Navajo Joe Lightcloud who has returned home to raise cattle - and eyebrows. As one of the advertisements brandished, "Elvis goes West ... and the West goes wild!" If his cowherd is a success, the government will help Lightcloud's family and the rest of the Indian reservation. In between beer chugging, brawling and singing to the prize bull, Lightcloud manages to rustle some cattle and save the day in one of the King's more unlikely film ventures.

This was not the first time Presley had played a character who is part Indian. In a more traditional Hollywood Western, Flaming Star (1960), Elvis had played a man struggling with his mixed heritage in 19th century Texas. And a year after Stay Away, Joe, he would return again to the Western genre in the drama Charro!, playing a reformed bandit wrongly accused of a crime.

Presley had high hopes for his 26th movie, Stay Away, Joe, seeing it as an opportunity to play a more sophisticated comedy role and hone his acting skills. Although the critics panned the whole film, Presley said he learned a lot on the set. "I guess I'd like to prove myself as an actor, and to do that I'll have to take more chances," he said in a Cosmopolitan interview at the time of filming. "You can learn an awful lot just by hanging out with real good professionals, and there isn't a day that goes by that I don't pickup on something from the other actors." Unfortunately, he didn't get much help from the scriptwriters who gave him come-on lines like "She can chew on my moccasins anytime she wants to!"

Shot on location in Sedona, Arizona, the supporting cast of Stay Away, Joe includes Burgess Meredith as Joe Lightcloud's full-blooded Navajo father -- a drastic change from the character of the Penguin he was playing at the time in the television series Batman. As the tavern owner whose daughter is the object of Elvis' affection, Joan Blondell turns in another fine performance in a career that stretched over decades, from The Public Enemy (1931) to Grease in 1978. Katy Jurado, cast in the role of Lightcloud's step-mother, was a veteran of such iconic Westerns as High Noon (1952) and One-Eyed Jacks (1961). A few days prior to shooting, she broke several bones in her foot, causing her to limp but exploited it as a physical trait for her character. The director, Peter Tewksbury, had helmed such popular sitcoms as Father Knows Best and My Three Sons.

Unlike most of his previous films, Stay Away, Joe didn't prominently feature Presley's singing although he did croon "Stay Away" over the opening credits and serenade a bull with "Dominick." The latter was a performance he begged not to have to do and half-jokingly said that if he ever died, he wished that the song wouldn't be released. In 1993, 16 years after his death at the age of 42, the song was released by RCA on a compilation CD of soundtracks from Clambake (1967), Kissin' Cousins (1964) and Stay Away, Joe.

Stay Away, Joe earned some additional notoriety when it was nominated for a Golden Turkey Award by writers Harry and Michael Medved in their best-selling book. Under the category of "The Most Ludicrous Racial Impersonation in Hollywood History," Elvis ran against such worthy contenders as Robby Benson as a Chicano in Walk Proud (1979), Charles Mack and George Moran as Black Americans in Hypnotized (1932) and Marlon Brando as an Okinawan in The Teahouse of the August Moon (1956); he lost to the latter.

Producer: Douglas Laurence
Director: Peter Tewksbury
Screenplay: Michael A. Hoey, Burt Kennedy, Dan Cushman (novel)
Cinematography: Fred J. Koenekamp
Film Editing: George W. Brooks
Art Direction: Carl Anderson, George W. Davis
Music: Jack Marshall
Cast: Elvis Presley (Joe Lightcloud), Burgess Meredith (Charlie Lightcloud), Joan Blondell (Glenda Callahan), Katy Jurado (Annie Lightcloud), Thomas Gomez (Grandpa), L.Q. Jones (Bronc Hoverty).
C-102m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.

by Amy Cox

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