On August 16th, 2017, people lined up to have their bags probed and prodded by security officers to get inside the barrier near the mansion for the annual vigil honoring the King, who died of a heart attack Aug. 16, 1977. Elvis Presley is still one of the most revered entertainers even 40 years after his death. Putting aside how he died, as a young man he had a remarkable career and only when the temptations often put in front of celebrities got the better of him did we lose one of the finest performers of all time.
Roustabout was Elvis’s 16th movie made in 1964 by Paramount pictures. The film’s soundtrack was one of the King’s most successful reaching number one on the Billboard Album Chart. Despite the soundtrack’s success, this film remains one of his lesser known productions. Co-starring in the film is the legendary Barbara Stanwyck, who needs no introduction. Stanwck’s long career spanned over 90 films and in 1944 the government listed her as the nation’s highest-paid woman, earning $400,000. She received four Academy Award nominations and in 1982 was awarded an Honorary Academy Award for her contributions to the acting industry. She was nominated five times for Emmy Awards, winning three of them, and she received four Golden Globe nominations, winning one. She received Life Achievement Awards from the American Film Institute, the Screen Actors Guild and the Los Angles Film Critics Association.
Legend has it Elvis made this movie so he could work with Stanwyck and, as is typical of many of his films, other cast members appeared in subsequent roles of the King’s future films including “Paradise, Hawaiian Style,” “Blue Hawaii,” “Girls! Girls! Girls!,” “It Happened At The World’s Fair,” “Viva Las Vegas,” (previously reviewed), “Kissin’ Cousins” and “Girl Happy.” So, the film has a sort of a duality to it, its musical score reaching number one on the Billboard charts yet reviled by the critics as clichéd and formulaic– which is true. But enough of that, let’s take a look at the movie.
As with many of the King’s movies the plot is relatively simple: Musician Charlie Rogers (Elvis Presley) is fired from a gig at a teahouse after brawling with several college. After a night in jail, Charlie hits the road on his Honda 305 Superhawk motorcycle. He spots Cathy Lean (Joan Freeman) driving with her father Joe (Leif Erickson) and their employer, Maggie Morgan (Barbara Stanwyck). When Charlie tries to become friendly with Cathy, Joe forces him off the road and the bike is wrecked after crashing into a wooden fence.
Maggie offers him a place to stay and a job with her struggling traveling carnival while the bike is being repaired. Charlie becomes a “carnie,” a “roustabout.” Maggie recognizes his musical talents and promotes him to feature attraction. His act soon draws large crowds. Off stage, Charlie romances Cathy, which creates animosity with Joe. After the two men repeatedly clash and Charlie is accused of holding back a customer’s lost wallet that Joe was accused of stealing, Charlie leaves to star in the much better financed show of rival carnival producer Harry Carver (Pat Buttram).
Once again, he is a great success. However, when Charlie learns that Maggie is facing bankruptcy, he returns to her carnival. In the musical finale, he is happily reunited with Cathy. In the carnival saved from bankruptcy.
When members of the JPFmovies crew visited Graceland, we went to the Elvis DVD gift shop and asked to purchase a copy of the DVD version of Roustabout. Incredibly, the store did not carry the film. We couldn’t believe our ears, here we are at the King’s headquarters and we couldn’t by a copy of his 16th movie, you’re killing me! We made fun of that store manager for at least 20 minutes and asked if there were any other Elvis movies they didn’t have in stock. He offered to order it for us and pay the shipping costs; however, we turn down this “generous” the offer of the Presley Empire knowing we could acquire the DVD from other sources probably at a much lower price. What kind of operation focused on one performer does not carry all of his movies for sale? Graceland is geared to making money, but when asked to purchase one of his films they didn’t have it? Are you kidding?
Leaving all that aside, Roustabout remains one of the JPFmovie team’s best liked films, because it involves such a strange plot, a bad boy going good while working as a carnival worker? Obviously, this film was not written by a brain trust, yet it is worthy of watching. So, if you want to honor the King’s memory, Roustabout is a good choice to watch.
We still miss you Elvis and you are still the King.