Friday, February 2, 2018

The Fastest Guitar Alive

You know those really shitty late Elvis movies? Well, if you ever wondered what a worse one would be like, it might be The Fastest Guitar Alive, Roy Orbison's feeble attempt at movie stardom.

This movie was made in 1967. On American movie screens you could see The Graduate, Bonnie and ClydeBelle de Jour or this cheap-ass musical/western starring Roy Orbison, a prime example of the kind of crap other films were reacting against. Hell, even Valley of the Dolls is more artful and profound...

Yeah. It's nothing like this poster would lead you to believe.
This movie is a complete product of The Man.

The Fastest Guitar Alive starts out promisingly enough, with the sound of Roy Orbison warbling a tune. We get our first inkling of disaster when we see Sam the Sham listed in the credits and it's not as a musical guest. But here's ol' Roy, pompadour slicked down and flying high, strumming away on his guitar while perched on a medicine show wagon... towing a wagon of maidens behind. By a line that's hanging out the washing, because basically all the women do in this movie is laundry, dancing and a combination move of pouting and stomping their pretty little feet..

Roy Orbison and his wagon and his wimmin are attacked by a bunch of Indians. I can't really say Native Americans, as the "tribe" is quite clearly a bunch of paunchy middle-aged white guys with Jewish vaudeville accents. They also make jokes about Neo-Impressionist warpaint (made even worse by the fact that what they're pointing to as an example is clearly Abstract Expressionism). They "attack," so Orbison presses a button and a rifle barrel emerges from his guitar, he takes a few shots, the Indians flee in terror. The action in The Fastest Guitar Alive will remain at a strictly Wile E. Coyote level.


So, anyway, they take the medicine show to San Francisco, where the ladies do a tepid saloon-girl routine about "doing the snuggle-huggle with you" and the boys make a half-assed attempt at peddling snake oil. It turns out that the whole gang aren't whores and con men at all--good thing too, because they all seem to suck at whoring at conning--they're Confederate spies! And we're supposed to think that's a good thing! In the same year the Supreme Court finally struck down laws forbidding interracial marriage and riots happened in over 150 American cities! And you thought women doing laundry and "the snuggle huggle" in the era of Janis Joplin was some passe wack shit...

Anyway, apparently Roy and his crew are out to steal a shipment of Union gold, in some plan that involves Roy Orbison first giving some local general's daughter "guitar lessons" and then putting on a fake beard. This is as good a time as any, and perhaps I should have said it sooner, to point out that Roy Orbison can't act for shit. Put a guitar in his hands, he's a lord. Put a script in his hands, he's a schmuck. He is not helped by the bad story, the lousy writing, the cheap production values, the lame supporting actors...

At the exact same moment, just a few miles up the California coast,
Hunter S. Thompson was doing acid with the Hells Angels.

So, anyway, Roy Orbison and the nitwits manage to steal the gold, squeezing in a few musical numbers before they go--the one where Roy bets a big "war drum," while the girls wander aimlessly--sorry, dance--around in buckskin bikinis belongs in Las Vegas Hillbillys. Then they head for El Paso to turn over their gold to their commander or whatever, with a few rounds of shenanigans along the way. Some bad dudes from San Francisco follow them, trying to get their ornery mitts on the gold. They run across the Nebbish Americans again. Another bad dude shows up when the girls are showerin' and Roy has to run him off.

But they pull into town only to find folks drinking and cheering and carousing in the street. It seems that the war has ended. The men's response: "The war is over. There's nothing left." The women's response: "We're left." One would like to think this is the sensible response to the end of hostility: Women, with their natural practicality and respect for life, are relived that life will continue. However, given the stance of the rest of The Fastest Guitar Alive, it's more likely that they just mean that they can all get hitched now. Elsewhere in America, it was the height of the protests opposing the Vietnam War...

So, what about the gold blah blah? They boys debate whether to keep it, then they decide to turn it in. In the meantime, various folks try to get the gold, leading to more fourth-rate Wile E. Coyote nonsense along with a few more musical numbers. I'd say the one thing the screenwriters for The Fastest Guitar Alive did right was keep the damn thing to 87 minutes.

Anyway, The Fastest Guitar Alive is an attempt to make 50s entertainment in the 60s  and, well, simply not good. Hell, even Elvis himself was leaving Clambake behind for the 68 Comeback Special by now (lawdy). The only redeeming quality is you get to hear some Roy Orbison songs and, frankly, you could do that better with a stereo.


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