Today the Whitney Humanities Center at Yale is hosting a film conference dedicated to the year 1962. Films shown include Joseph Losey’s Eva, with Jeanne Moreau, Agnès Varda’s Cleo from 5 to 7, Ingmar Bergman’s Through a Glass Darkly, and Andrei Tarkovsky’s Ivan’s Childhood. What they don’t include is the film Girls! Girls! Girls! starring Elvis Presley, and with good reason. However, since The King's birthday was earlier this month (the 8th, to be exact) I’m going to take this opportunity to present a “tie-in” with the film festival.
Today's song from the film—which was one of the biggest U.S. box office successes of 1962—is “Return to Sender,” which happens to be an Elvis song I remember liking as a kid, mainly because of how catchy that chorus was and how cutting the squelch of “Return to sender / Address unknown / No such person / No such zone.”
When Elvis performs the song in the movie, he looks like a geek, if you ask me. My older sister would sometimes turn on the mindless fodder of these Elvis films while were growing up and I never bought into it. The pompadour, the little smirking, shit-eating grin, the ersatz moves—for the studio camera as opposed to actual live performance. It was all robbed by Hollywood of any real interest. “Insipid” is a word that comes readily to mind. The songs may not have been, but given this kind of presentation, how could they connect? The cutaway to Robert Strauss—best-known perhaps for his insufferable zaniness as “Animal” Kasava in Stalag 13—beaming at a table only heightens how laughable this is.
In Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, one scene of dialogue cut from the commercial version featured Uma Thurman’s character asking John Travolta’s character if he’s “an Elvis man or a Beatles man.” Vince Vega (Travolta) claims he’s an Elvis man, no surprise there, if only because of Vince’s moves on the dancefloor. Me, I’m a Beatles man, and that’s all there is to it. Watching this little clip of Elvis vamping only underlines again why A Hard Day’s Night—both the film and the song—blew this shit out of the water in 1964. Still, respect where respect is due. The Beatles themselves were Elvis men to some degree, so.
OK, while I try to forget my mock “Elvis-ing” around the house to this song as a kid, you can make what you can of it. There’s something charming about the idea of The King getting squelched by some babe who’s done with him. “No such person” is rather good, and the idea that the authority of postal workers should do away with these unwanted attentions. Like, the person you’re writing to doesn’t want to receive the message, read the message, and denies that the person you’re writing to even exists. “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore,” sure, but Alice ain’t even Alice any more, in a manner of speaking. Too true.
1962 featured some great movies, but Elvis wasn’t in one, though I guess he made a bundle. 1962 also featured lots of hit songs, and some were by Elvis, others were about things like The Twist and the Mashed Potato. Bryl Creem sales, no doubt, were through the roof. Meanwhile, over in Merry Olde, two young guys named Paul McCartney and John Lennon wrote then recorded a song called “Love Me Do” with their band The Beatles, with distinctive harmonica, and a nod to the Everly Brothers with that long sustained “plee-eee-eeease,” and Paul, the Cute One, giving it to you straight with the line “love me do.” The song only got into the Top Twenty in the UK and wasn’t released in the States til two years later.
So, for 1962, in the U.S., herrrrrrre’s Elvis….