Battling a cold on the first day of my vacation, I decided I could do worse than lying down on the sofa watching an Elvis movie on DVD. Why I picked Stay Away, Joe, I really don't know. Maybe it had something to do with the photo of Elvis from that particular film that my wife discovered a couple of weeks ago in one of the windows in a nursery school. Or maybe it was because it's been ages since I last saw it. Whatever the reason I had a pretty good time in front of the TV.
Shot on location in Arizona in 1967, Stay Away, Joe is a western comedy based on a bestselling book from 1953 dealing in a satirical way with the relationship between the government and the Native Americans. Elvis plays Joe Lightcloud, a half-breed Indian rodeo rider returning to his family's reservation home with a herd of cows and a bull, thanks to a deal with an aspiring congressman.
Although the plot is a bit thin at times, there's a lot of comical moments. My favorite one is when Elvis sister comes to visit, bringing along both her fiancé and mother in law. The visit becomes a disaster, the fiancé falling through a hole in the floor of the flimsy house, then through the paper thin walls. Well, if you've seen the scene, you know what I'm talking about.
There's also a lot of womanizing, done in a far more adult way by Elvis than in his earlier movies. Also, there's plenty of fight scenes. In fact the movie ends with a fist fight that leads to the destruction of the whole house. "Man, that's what I call one hell of a fight," exclaims Elvis as he rises from the remains.
Doing a little research after watching the movie, I learned that Stay Away, Joe received criticism for the film's "quaint and patronizing view of American Indians as brawling, balling, boozing children," as The Hollywood Reporter put it. On the other hand, The Film Daily thought that "It doesn't matter that credibility is stretched. What matters is that that the picture evokes a mood of mirth and happy frenzy that is catching."
So, maybe the truth lies somewhere in between. What's for sure is that Stay Away, Joe offered a major change for Elvis regarding his screen roles and broke the established formula of his movies. But unlike his singing career, which also received a boost that year with the recordings of "Guitar Man" and "Big Boss Man" among others, it was too late. (And I guess that the terrible song "Dominic" didn't help much, either.)
But today, 44 years after it was made, Stay Away, Joe helped me forget my cold. I enjoyed the movie and Elvis seemed to have a good time as well.