Saturday, April 26, 2008

Hey, Rube! :: A Beer-Gut Reaction to John Rich's Roustabout (1964)

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"Let's get one thing straight.
This is not a circus.
This is a carnival."

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When his latest gig goes bad after losing his temper and brawling with Norm Grabowski, singer Charlie Rogers (the Big E) gets canned, dons his leathers, and hops on his rice-grinder motorcycle and hits the open road, where, of course, he spontaneously bursts into the song "Wheels on my Heels." After the song peters out, Charlie spots a pretty girl in a jeep (Freeman) and makes a pass at her -- all at about 40mph. But the girl's father, Joe (Ericson), doesn't like this greaser making the goo-goo on his little girl, Cathy, and promptly runs Charlie off the road, much to the consternation of his daughter, and his boss, Maggie Morgan (Stanwyck). By way of an apology, Maggie offers Charlie a job as a roustabout for her carnival. He accepts, but only until his bike is repaired.

As Charlie settles in, he learns the difference between a circus and carnival and the Secret Code of Carnies (-- which is very similar to Ape Law from Planet of the Apes when you really get right down to it.) He also works hard to romance Cathy, but her boozing father and her dedication to the life always seems to get in the way. And on top of all that, the Carnival itself is in some serious trouble. Under the financial pressure of a personal injury lawsuit settlement, Maggie's show is a one-lung operation and on it's last leg. Luckily for her, in his effort to win Cathy's heart, Charlie bursts into song and draws quite a crowd. He's a hit and the Carnival starts making money again.

Alas, things come to a head when Joe is wrongly arrested for allegedly stealing a customer's money, and after he's hauled off to jail, Charlie manages to find the lost wallet. But, due to some odd circumstances, never quite gets around to turning it in. Seems with Joe out of the way, he finally has a real shot at Cathy and takes it. But this is in clear violation of the Carny Code, and when the truth is realized, Charlie has a close encounter with Joe's fist, then jumps shows and signs on with a rival promoter. With Charlie gone, Morgan's creditors come a'calling and all hope seems lost.

Of course, this being an Elvis movie, our hero and heroine soon find out it was all just a big misunderstanding, that they truly love each other, and Charlie pokes his new boss in the eye and takes the money earned at the rival show and infuses it into Maggie's, making him part owner and a Carny for life.

Okay, so I'm a month to the day late in celebration of m'man's birthday. Better late than never I say ... Roustabout was the third film producer Hal Wallis managed to flog out of Elvis in 1964, making a sandwich out of it, Viva Las Vegas and Kissing Cousins. The odd thing about this film is it's fairly solid story wise, but, hands down, this has got to be the worst soundtrack to grace an Elvis Feature in my opinion. But, oddly enough, this was one of the best selling soundtracks when the film debuted. Go figure.

During the opening fight, Elvis, who insisted on doing his own stunts, managed to get dinged in the head, causing a quick rewrite, calling for him to get run off the road to explain the damage, Beyond that, a solid cast (-- rumor has it the role of Maggie was originally offered to Mae West, who turned it down), a solid story, and solid direction from John Rich (-- who apparently had a hand in directing at least one episode of every television show ever made), and a star who hadn't quite given up on his craft yet, results in an entertaining romp.

Roustabout (1964) Hal Wallis Productions :: Paramount Pictures / EP: Joseph H. Hazen / P: Hal Wallis / AP: Paul Nathan / D: John Rich / W: Anthony Lawrence, Allan Weiss / C: Lucien Ballard / E: Warren Low / M: Joseph J. Lilley / S: Elvis Presley, Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Freeman, Leif Erickson, Pat Butrum, Norman Grabowski

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