Sixties City presents a wide-ranging series of articles on all aspects of the Sixties, penned by the creator of the iconic 60s music paper Mersey Beat
Elvis's only film which had a subtitle and was also to be his final musical
movie. It was an MGM film, 97 minutes in length, released in 1969. The film,
in fact, took several years before it reached the screen. In June 1959 it
was announced that Don Mankiewicz would write a screenplay based on an unpublished
story by Mauri Grashin, Day Keene and Dwight Babcock. The film was to be
called 'Chautauqua.' In December 1960 MGM announced that the film would
star Glenn Ford. In 1961 it was announced that Glenn Ford would be joined
in the film by Elvis Presley, Hope Lange and Arthur O' Connell. In May 1961
it was said that Valentine Davies would be writing the screenplay and production
would begin later that year.
The next news was that it would now be a starring vehicle for Elvis and would be produced by Edmund Grainger, still under the title 'Chautauqua.' The next release stated that William Haines was working on a screenplay based on a novel by Day Keene and Dwight Babcock and that Dell Books would be printing one million copies of a paperback edition of the novel. Then, in August 1964, another press release stated that Dick Van Dyke would be starring in 'Chautauqua' and Blanche Hanalis would be writing the screenplay, based on the book 'Merrily We Roll Along' by Gay McLaren.
Three months later it was announced that Richard Morris was writing the screenplay. Then, in 1965, MGM sold the property to Columbia Pictures, with Dick Van Dyke still to star, but with a script by Elliott Arnold and a new title - 'Big America.' MGM recovered the rights in April 1968 and announced that it would be a vehicle for Elvis.
a chequered history one could either expect something very good or something
of a hodge-podge. It turned out to be the latter, with so many different
scriptwriters over the years the plot was chopped and changed becoming at
various times a musical, a murder mystery and a conflict between showpeople
and townspeople, changing direction throughout. As it was one which wasn't
specifically written for Elvis, unlike his other films, he is not constantly
To clear up the writing credits: it was scripted by Arnold and Lois Peyser based on a story by Mauri Grashin, which itself was based on the book 'The Chautauqua' by Day Keene and Dwight Babcock. The nine year-old screenplay concerned a travelling show in1927 called a Chautauqua. It was directed by Peter Tewksbury and Elvis portrayed Walter Hale, the manager of the troupe. Bobby Gentry was considered for the part of Charlene, the love interest in the story, but it went to Marilyn Mason in her screen debut. She plays the shop steward of the show who is also his piano accompanist and is always at odds with the manager, although she's half in love with him (a bit similar to the relationship between Doris Day and John Raitt in 'The Pajama Game.') The cast also included Sheree North as Nita Bix, Vincent Price and John Carradine.
The film begins in black and white and shifts to colour. The travelling show arrives in the small town of Radford Centre in Iowa and coincides with the murder of a local pharmacist in which a card sharp is accused. Elvis has to solve the murder mystery in order to save the show, at the same time trying to prevent the Mayor from barring the Chautauqua because they have chosen Nita Bix's daughter to lead the parade rather than the Mayor's daughter, plus there are financial problems to be overcome, in addition to dealing with Charlene over a labour dispute and a college girl who wants to join the show. Sheree North plays Nita Bix who turns out to be the killer, although she killed in self defence.
Rather than a string of rather mediocre songs, as in many of his previous musicals, Elvis has a chance to sing some gospel numbers in the film, a style of music which he was enthusiastic about. The songs included 'Swing Low Sweet Chariot', 'The Whiffenpoof Song', 'Almost', 'Violet (Flower of NYU)', 'Clean Up Your Own Backyard' and 'Sign Of The Zodiac', the latter a duet with Marilyn Mason in which she sings most of the song. The music was recorded at United Recorders in Los Angeles in October 1968 and the musicians were: Elvis Presley, vocals; Gerald McGee, Morton Marker, Joseph Gibbons, guitars; Max Bennett, bass; Frank Carlson, John Guerin, drums; Don Randi, piano, Marilyn Mason and the Mello Men, vocals. The film opened nationally in America on 3rd September 1969 on a double bill with 'The Green Slime'.
|Bill Harry attended the Liverpool College of Art with Stuart Sutcliffe and John Lennon and made the arrangements for Brian Epstein to visit The Cavern, where he saw The Beatles for the first time. Bill was a member of 'The Dissenters' and the founder and editor of 'Mersey Beat', the iconic weekly music newspaper that documented the early Sixties music scene in the Liverpool area and is possibly best known for being the first periodical to feature a local band called 'The Beatles'. He has worked as a high powered publicist, doing PR for acts such as Suzi Quatro, Free, The Arrows and Hot Chocolate and has managed press campaigns for record labels such as CBS, EMI, Polydor. Bill is the critically acclaimed author of a large number of books about The Beatles and the 60s era including 'The Beatles Who's Who', 'The Best Years of the Beatles' and the Fab Four's 'Encyclopedia' series. He has appeared on 'Good Morning America' and has received a Gold Award from the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors.|
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