Elvis Presley’s “Roustabout” Reviewed
Sometimes, for no reason any of us can quite understand, something can go right with an Elvis movie and album. I don’t mean the templates “G.I. Blues” and “Blue Hawaii”. I mean the deep in the 60s movies. Two are upcoming, “Viva Las Vegas” and “Follow That Dream”, and the first is his 21st album “Roustabout”, both the music and movie are much better than I remembered. While it doesn’t peak as high as some, “Big Love, Big Heartache” is a great song and nothing here is an “Earth Boy” type major embarrassment.
As for the movie, sure there are caveats in the story of a wandering minstrel karate chopping three Ivy League kids who try to beat him up. Run out of town the hot headed Elvis heads off with his leather jacket and motorbike, has a run in with a Carny and falls in love with the girl and the life of a Roustabout. It doesn’t quite come together right, the romance in the middle seems to be lacking a couple of scenes. But with the brilliant Barbara Stanwyck (boy was she one of the greats, watch “The Lady Eve”) as the owner of the Carnival about to go bankrupt and another terrific actor Leif Erickson as the Carnival manager trying to keep Elvis away from his daughter, the acting is excellent. Presley holds his own with both these actors, he smoulders angrily, but also grins effusively as a man with no family, who finds one. The penultimate scene is like something out of Shakespeare, Presley gets the girl by opening his heart to the Carnival he saves.
As a whole, the songs are better than we are used to. No genre exercises, no Latin American pop, no Hawaiian folk, but plenty of fun. “Poison Ivy League” is a class war track, “those sons of the rich” he nearly curses, and accuses them of cheating on their exams and getting a job only because their fathers own the company. A pretty great slice and dice.
But there are other great songs, “Little Egypt” is an early version of the McCartney story on “Ob-La-Di Ob-La Da” -by Leiber Stoller no less, I guess the Colonel was in a forgiving mood. “Big Love Big Heartache” is a gorgeous ballad co-written by Dolores Fuller -Mrs. Ed Woods to you, punk. “It’s Carnival Time” should be a standard at every Carnival in the country, and “There’s A Brand New Day On The Horizon” is like the ending of Grease, an explosion of joy at the overwhelming happy conclusion.
Really, almost incredibly, every thing here is fab and gear, with Elvis in the midst of 1964 (sending a telegram to the Beatles, congratulating them on their success on Sullivan, something he’d know a lot about) coming up with a great movie and a great album.
Why? How? What happened? No idea.