Roustabout (1964)


(director: John Rich; screenwriters: Paul Nathan/Anthony Lawrence/Allan Weiss/story by Allan Weiss; cinematographer: Lucien Ballard; editor: Warren Low; music: Joseph Lilley; cast: Elvis Presley (Charlie Rogers), Barbara Stanwyck (Maggie Morgan), Leif Erickson (Joe Lean), Joan Freeman (Cathy Lean), Sue Ane Langdon (Madame Mijanou, Fortune Teller), Pat Buttram (Harry Carver), Joel Fluellen (Cody, roustabout), Jack Albertson (Lou, tea house manager), Dabbs Greer (Arthur Nielsen, banker); Runtime: 101; MPAA Rating: PG; producer: Hal B. Wallia; Paramount; 1964)

“The 16th Elvis movie looks good thanks to cinematographer Lucien Ballard.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The 16th Elvis movie looks good thanks to cinematographer Lucien Ballard. But its story stinks like do all his others, though his Jailhouse Rock and Viva Las Vegas received some love. The eleven songs suck big time except for the title song and “Little Egypt.” The 60-year-old Barbara Stanwyck appears in a supporting role, in one of her last appearances onscreen, and provides the film’s only real acting, so to speak. This silly, grating and dreary musical romance is directed by longtime TV director John Rich (“Boeing (707) Boeing (707)”/”Wives and Lovers”), who keeps it sitcom TV dumb. It’s based on a story by Allan Weiss, Elvis’ usual formulaic writer.

Charlie Rogers (Elvis Presley) is an orphan, a toughie, a hot-head, a karate expert, a loudmouth, a wandering troubadour who sports a black letter jacket and rides a Japanese motorcycle, and someone who is instantly unlikable because of the chip on his shoulder. Canned from a singing gig in a college hangout joint called Mother’s Tea House for fighting with three thuggish college frat boy patrons (the unknown Raquel Welsh is one of the coeds in that scene, who blurts out a line of dialogue), Charlie hits the road somewhere in the southwest and on the way tries to pickup a pretty young girl, Cathy Lean (Joan Freeman), sitting in the back seat of a Jeep. Upset that Charlie won’t stop trying to bother his girl, sourpuss madman dad Joe Lean (Leif Erickson), also with a chip on his shoulder, knocks the obnoxious kid off the road and damages his motorcycle. Maggie Morgan (Barbara Stanwyck), Joe’s lady friend, is the kind-hearted owner of the financially troubled carnival where Joe’s the manager and Cathy’s a carny. The carnival owner offers to pay for the repairs and invites Charlie to be a roustabout in her carnival while he waits for repairs. Nice girl Cathy is hot for the wise guy Charlie, but won’t put out for him. So Charlie settles for the loose woman fortune teller (Sue Ane Langdon), who is willing to let the rascal fool around with her.

The laughable melodrama has Charlie finding the carnival a learning lesson in life, as he settles in after waiting a week for his motorcycle. Charlie learns carny slang, to care more about others and become less self-centered and loutish, to work hard singing for a living, to be more mature and restrained, and falls in love for real with Cathy instead of just being a womanizer. After returning to Maggie’s traveling carnival that he left in spite to join the carnival of her unscrupulous rival, Harry Carver (Pat Buttram), due to fights with the family, Charlie now uses his singing to save the struggling carnival for the honest and sincere Maggie.