Elvis struggles as a Roustabout
Charlie Rogers (Elvis Presley) is a talented singer but also a leather clad rebel who goes from town to town on his motorbike doing his own thing. After having been booted out of his job singing in a club for fighting with the customers he heads out on the road only to come a cropper when he is run off the road by a jeep carrying some Carnie folk. With a busted bike Charlie ends up becoming a Roustabout for Maggie Morgan (Barbara Stanwyck) and the Carnies whilst it is being fixed. A hit with the crowds, as he entertains them with his singing, he also has feelings for pretty Cathy (Joan Freeman), one of the Carnies. But his rebellious, loner side won't allow him to really show his feelings.
"Roustabout" was Elvis Presley's 16th movie and the third Elvis movie to be released in 1964. Maybe that has something to do with why "Roustabout" is one of Elvis's least memorable movies with The King seeming to be there in body rather than mind. It's also probably down to "Roustabout" being no different to numerous other Elvis movies with The King finding love in a slim storyline whilst it's all pepped up by various musical scenes. But "Roustabout" is unmemorable, so unmemorable in fact that it wasn't until a scene came up about 15 minutes from the end where Elvis rides a motorbike around the wall of death that I remembered having watched it before many years earlier.
So the storyline to "Roustabout" is slim it is also for the most part what you expect, Elvis once again playing a handsome lead, a bit of a rebel who finds love and peace amongst the Carnie folk. He fights his emotional feelings as he tries to hold on to his rebellious side but the kid comes good in the end. That's it, a nice little story set in the world of Carnivals with a romantic element. There is no complexity, nothing which hasn't been seen before as musical scenes crop up to liven things up but it is also seriously unmemorable as other than Elvis's wall of death scene there is nothing stand out about it.
What is surprising is that for an Elvis movie "Roustabout" feels short on musical numbers with Elvis occasionally singing the same song more than once. But where in other Elvis movies there have been those really memorable musical numbers there are absolutely none in "Roustabout". In fact the most memorable song happens to be the title track playing over the opening credits. It feels as if Elvis's heart wasn't in it when he made "Roustabout" and as such his performance of various songs often feels lifeless, lacking the gusto he was more than capable of delivering.
Talking of Elvis it has to be said that he looks ill throughout "Roustabout" with a pasty, puffy face and looking seriously sweaty. Whether it was down to over work or some other medical issue I don't know but he just didn't look right and it showed up in his performance. There is no enthusiasm to any of the dramatic moments and although Elvis delivers a touch of that motorbike riding rebel it doesn't always come off. All of which is not helped by the clothing department dressing him in either black leather or pail jackets which highlight his sickly looking disposition.
Aside from Elvis the other stars fail to really do anything that great either with Barbara Stanwyck as Carnival owner Maggie Morgan coming across as looking more concerned about Elvis than actually acting and Joan Freeman as love interest Cathy Lean never really hitting it off with Elvis.
What this all boils down to is that "Roustabout" is one of Elvis's poorer movies and he looks unwell throughout. The storyline is not really the issue, it's a typical Elvis storyline, but there is nothing memorable about it not even the various musical scenes which often go by unnoticed.