Fri 12 Dec 2014
ROUSTABOUT. Paramount, 1964. Elvis Presley, Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Freeman, Leif Erickson, Sue Ane Langdon, Pat Buttram, Joan Staley, Dabbs Greer. Director: John Rich.
Elvis Presley made a lot of movies, some better than others. While Roustabout may not immediately come to mind as one of his best cinematic achievements, it’s nevertheless an exceptionally well-paced and enjoyable 1960s film that makes great use of bright colors and Elvis’s musical abilities. The soundtrack apparently did well on the Billboard charts. That’s no surprise, as a few of the numbers, such as “Little Egypt” and “Poison Ivy League,” are just great, if lesser known, Elvis songs.
Directed by John Rich, with cinematography by Lucien Ballard, Roustabout was produced by Hal Wallis and stars Elvis as Charlie Rogers, an itinerant, motorcycle-driving, young man without much faith in the goodness of everyday people. He is rough around the edges, scornful of those born into privilege, and drifts from place to play, playing his guitar, hoping to get to Phoenix or to Los Angeles.
When a vehicular mishap damages Rogers’ motorcycle, he ends up staying at a carnival run by Maggie Morgan (Barbara Stanwyck). Morgan’s got her hands full. A bank agent is on her tail, pursuing claims stemming from a lawsuit. One of her top employees, Joe (Leif Erickson) has a drinking problem and a temper. And then there’s Joe’s lovely young daughter, Cathy (Joan Freeman), who develops a love-hate relationship with our boy, Charlie, who doesn’t have much experience on how to conduct himself professionally with the world weary Maggie.
In general, Roustabout plays it light. But there are genuine dramatic, even tragic moments. The majority of the film takes place within the confines of the traveling carnival. There’s nothing necessarily surreal or spooky about the carnies. They’re just, to be honest, quite a sad bunch, societal misfits forced together by circumstance. It takes Charlie Rogers nearly the whole movie to realize that he’s a bit of a misfit of himself and maybe, just maybe, he needs something more stable in his life than the open road and a yearning to hit the big time.
Director John Rich and cinematographer Lucien Ballard would work together again on Boeing Boeing, also a Hal Wallis Production that, like Roustabout, has that unmistakable mid-1960s feel and which also makes extensive, and impressive, use of bright colors.
BOEING BOEING. Paramount, 1965. Tony Curtis, Jerry Lewis, Dany Saval, Christiane Schmidtmer, Suzanna Leigh, Thelma Ritter. Director: John Rich.
A comedic farce based on a play by Marc Camoletti and starring Jerry Lewis and Tony Curtis, Boeing Boeing’s theatrical roots are quite evident throughout the course of the movie. This, of course, has its pluses and minuses. On the one hand, the theatrical nature of the film allows both Lewis and Curtis to showcase their penchant for physical comedy, manic energy, and quick timing.
Unfortunately, however, the movie at times feels too much like a play on screen, and some of the immediacy and magic that a live audience would experience seeing a stage production of Boeing Boeing just seems to be missing here.
The premise is simple enough. Curtis portrays Bernard Lawrence, an American newspaperman based in Paris. His hobby, as it were, is stewardesses. Much to the chagrin of his housekeeper, Bertha (Thelma Ritter), he dates more than one at a time. Lawrence has to keep constant track of their flight schedules so as to prevent them all landing at once, as it were.
When his friendly rival, Robert Reed (Jerry Lewis), shows up in Paris, all bets are off. Reed soon learns what Lawrence is up to and he wants in on the action.
And by action, I mean a British stewardess (Suzanna Leigh). That still allows Lawrence time enough with his other two gals, a Lufthansa girl (Christianne Schmidtmer) and a somewhat local French girl (Dany Saval).
It’s a fast-paced, thoroughly frantic, race to the finish, as the two bachelors attempt to prevent each of the three gals from knowing about, let alone, meeting one another. And as you might very well guess, it doesn’t work out for the two scheming men.
Although I didn’t enjoy Boeing Boeing quite as much as I had expected, the film does have a simply great performance by Jerry Lewis in what was to be his last motion picture with Paramount. If you like him as a comedic actor, it’s worth seeking out. At times, his facial expressions and body language are just comedic gold.