Roustabout Charlie Rogers (Elvis Presley) is a leather-jacketed biker who’s fired from a singing engagement after getting into a fight with a group of college toughs. While riding his cycle to the next gig, an irate dad runs him off the road when he flirts with his daughter. He’s forced to hook up with a travelling carnival until his bike can be fixed. The carnival is run by a tough old broad, a broken-down drunk, and his nubile daughter. Along the way, Charlie (who’s got a chip on his shoulder about being an orphan) somehow learns about family values from this vaguely dysfunctional one. A scheming rival carny shows up, based on the legend of Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis Presley’s real-life manager.
Roustabout (1964) ***
Most people don’t think too much of this Elvis romp compared to any other, but for me it stands out as one of the better “formula” movies the man made in the ’60s. As club singer Charlie Rogers, Elvis is a little different from his usual stock characters from this period because the young man has a chip on his shoulder. He’s a reckless person who never had a family and is prone to being self-centered and dismissive. After getting fired from a gig one day, he and his motorcycle are smacked up by a threesome of small-time carnival owners driving in their car, so they invite him to stick around their modest fairgrounds and work as a “roustabout” for a little cash while waiting for his bike to get back from the repair shop. Rogers is able to boost business with his singing to lure customers to the Fair.
Barbara Stanwyck plays the strong-willed carnival chief who breathes the carny lifestyle, but she’s saddled with a crotchety and hard-headed partner (Leif Erickson) who once caused a tragedy to a customer by not safely securing one of the rides at the fair, and who tries to keep Charlie away from his daughter Cathy (Joan Freeman). It’s refreshing to see a leading girl who can hold her own and not easily succumb to Elvis’ whims. There are a few decent songs here and there, if no great ones. Raquel Welch can be spotted in the beginning of the film as one of a group of young folks going to see Charlie Rogers perform at the club.