STAY AWAY, JOE was another attempt by Elvis Presley to do something a little different, maybe stretch his acting out of the usual walk-through groove. Backed by some pros—Burgess Meredith, Katy Jurado, Joan Blondell, Thomas Gomez and Henry Jones, with some skin darkening makeup he plays a part-Indian (apparently Navajo), something he did to good effect in his best-acted effort, 1960s serious western Flaming Star. This manic 1968 comedy, set on an Arizona reservation, tries for rambunctiousness in the vein of McLintock!, with a modern setting and a little more naughtiness among the supporting damsels. It’s astonishingly bad. *
‘Joe Lightcloud’ (Elvis) comes home to help his folks (Meredith, Jurado) raise cows as part of a government program. He makes time with every gal within reach, roughhouses with buddies, throws some wild parties, sings (just four times).
Actually, he’s okay: it’s the daft conception,insipid writing & feeble direction that sink him and the film. Jurado and Blondell do what they can to add spice and cameraman Fred J. Koenekamp captures the desert landscapes around Sedona, Arizona in bright color. Otherwise…
…it’s atrocious. People with PC issues (you’ll have them after this) will choke on the Native American stereotypes. Jokes revolving around boozing, rattletrap cars and dilapidated housing hit too close to serious issues to be funny. They’re offensive enough (even if not intended as such, but you’d be hard-pressed to defend any of it), but, as directed by Peter Tewksbury, the entire half-witted set-up is so ridiculous, loud and slipshod that the 102 minutes quickly becomes something close to death on an anthill. Feminists wont be happy, either, as the sexism is amped. Burgess Meredith’s horrid makeup and grotesque prancing about is truly something to behold—by a mile the lowest point in his career.
Others hamming like they have fever include L.Q. Jones, Quentin Dean, Anne Seymour, Douglas Henderson, Mike Lane, Angus Duncan, Susan Trustman, Buck Kartalian, Maurishka and Marya Thomas (reportedly The King fluffed a number of takes so they could keep on making out: understandable). Earning $4,290,000 to go with the scathing reviews, it limped into 66th place for the year. Based on a satirical 1953 novel by Dan Cushman.
* This may be the second worst Elvis flick, after the dreary Charro! I have yet to see Live A Little Love A Little or The Trouble With Girls, but it’s hard to think they could be lousier. After 1964’s fun Viva Las Vegas and Kissin’ Cousins and acceptable Roustabout, it was downhill all the way, with various sub-levels of lame stacking up—Girl Happy, Tickle Me, Harum Scarum, Frankie And Johnny, Paradise Hawaiian Style, Spinout, Easy Come Easy Go, Double Trouble, Clambake, Speedway. Too bad. Poor management, lousy directors, crummy properties. See this and cringe.