Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Barbara Runs a Carnival

Charlie Rogers (Elvis Presley) goes through life with a chip on his shoulder.  After an altercation with some college boys in the "tea room" (where Charlie works as a singer), Charlie leaves town for greener pastures.  En route, he gets into yet another brawl with Joe Lean (Leif Erickson), this time for flirting with Joe's young daughter Cathy (Joan Freeman).  An equally angry man, Joe runs Charlie's bike into a ditch, severely damaging the bike and destroying Charlie's guitar.  While waiting for his motorcycle to be repaired, carnival owner Maggie Morgan offers Charlie the chance to pick up some money, working for the carnival as a Roustabout (1964).

Let's begin by admitting that only one member of our group would identify as an Elvis fan, and she was the only one who had seen any of his other films.  I've seen pieces of many of his films, but this is the only one that I recall watching from start to finish.  By and large, Elvis was not a fan of the movies he was making around this time, referring to them as the "Presley Travelogues" (TCM article).  While this is not a great film, by any means, producer Hal Wallis invested time and capital into making it the best film possible in its genre.

There just isn't enough Barbara Stanwyck in the film. Period.  Every scene she is in is stronger because of her presence, and she makes Elvis a better actor when she is working with him.  Hal Wallis convinced her to do the film; she thought it would be fun, and that she would reach a new audience. (Barbara Stanwyck: The Miracle Woman by Dan Callahan).  As always, she got along with everyone, including Elvis.  She found that he was prompt, professional, and always knew his lines, as well as being quite pleasant.  She took second billing, under the title, just as she would take second billing in to her ex-husband in The Night Walker, released the same year as this.

Ms. Stanwyck had already started to venture into television, as the host of The Barbara Stanwyck Show (an anthology series which featured her in short plays. She won an Emmy for her work in the show, but it was not one of her favorites ), and with guest roles in shows such as Zane Grey Theater, Wagon Train, and Rawhide.  So, it's no surprise that she left film for a starring role in The Big Valley the following year. Always her own woman (take a look at this New York Times article for a glimpse into this woman who refused to hide her age, and relished her career.  Of course, Ms. Stanwyck was a woman who looked better with every year, and made a pair of jeans (made specifically for her by her friend and frequent collaborator, Edith Head) look like haute couture.
We did find her introductory scene to be a bit frustrating - it's really had to believe that Maggie would tolerate Joe's outlandish behavior (and that she would allow him to drive when he is obviously drunk).  But this was the only scene in which she allowed Joe to run roughshod over her.  After this, when she is in a scene, Ms. Stanwyck is in charge.

Sue Ane Langdon is quite amusing as the "seer" Madame Mijanou.  Her scenes with Mr. Presley display a warm give-and-take, and a later scene with Joan Freeman give us a look into the woman beneath the surface of all the sass.  Ms. Langdon made a few films, but she made her real mark in television.  In the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, she appeared in many of the major television shows, including The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Mannix, Perry Mason, Bonanza, and Happy Days.  She and her husband, Jack Emrek were married from 1959 until his death in 2010. Now retired, Ms. Langdon lives in the San Fernando Valley in California.
It's always a pleasure to see Barbara Stanwyck, and while this is really an Elvis Presley movie, Ms. Stanwyck makes her presence felt.  We'll close with a scene that features a conversation between Charlie and Maggie, and an Elvis number.

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