Sunday, November 13, 2016


The At the Circus Blogathon is an event devoted to movies set at circuses, carnivals and freak shows, hosted by Critica Retro and Serendipitous Anachronisms. For a complete list of participating bloggers, visit the links at either site.

Netflix rental

Carnivals! Everyone loves them, right? I was no stranger to them as a kid. One came to the Shea Stadium parking lot every summer when the Mets were on a long road trip. I'd get my father to take me when I was little, and when I was older, I went by myself or with friends.

My favorite ride has many names, but it's basically a centrifuge: you get strapped into a great wheel that spins round and round. The pressure builds up and flattens you against the wall. I never had much of an interest in midway games unless they came with a joystick.

In New York, street fairs abound all over the five boroughs in the warm months. They tend to sell the same things no matter where you go: cheap jewelry and handbags, plus zeppoles and corn dogs to eat. I always look for used CDs and books.

Perhaps the most notable street fairs in New York are the San Genaro Festival in Manhattan and the Atlantic Antic in Brooklyn. The former is more like a real carnival, with midway-style games and the occasional ride or two, like a small ferris wheel or a motion simulator ride. Remind me to tell you one day about my San Genaro stories: one about my unfortunate encounter with two racist girls, the other about my attempt to win a pair of rollerblades.

In Columbus, I attended the State Fair. Being the city slicker I am, I had expected to see things like pie-eating contests and pig pageants (like in Charlotte's Web!). Truth was, it was much more like the carnivals I knew growing up, only much larger. I believe they offered helicopter rides! I was gobsmacked, however, at the array of things people are willing to fry, and sell, and eat. Fried Oreos? Fried Twinkies?! I'm here to tell you they exist.

It so happened that Melissa Etheridge was in town for a concert that night, and there was a contest for free tickets at a stage. I've been a fan since high school. Of course I had to enter. All I had to do was get up on the stage and, um, sing... for a minute or two. The audience judged the winner. I didn't decide just like that; I was alone and sober and didn't have anyone egging me on or talking me out of it, as it were. In the end, it came down to me wanting those tickets really bad.

I sang one of her songs; I forget which. I remember trying not to look at the audience too much. I basically closed my eyes and thought of England. I gave it everything I had, which wasn't much to begin with - my sister's the singer in the family, not me - and I lost. What the hell. YOLO, amirite?

Anyway. Wikipedia defines the word "roustabout" as "a traditional term used to describe a fairground or circus worker." These days, the word defines laborers on oil fields and rigs. The almighty Google oracle also tells me there's such a thing as a Roustabout Circus, in Alaska, but it doesn't look like it's a place for roustabouts to perform.

Further web exploration reveals within the context of a circus or carnival, a roustabout is usually a temp, unskilled or semi-skilled, that sets up and breaks down the tents and booths and rides, cleans, performs maintenance, stuff like that. It's not unlike being a roadie for a concert.

Okay... I've put it off long enough. Time to talk about Roustabout the movie. As a thespian, Elvis doesn't embarrass himself here, but the script doesn't exactly challenge him, either. He basically cashes in on his bad boy image once again which, by 1964, was beginning to grow a bit stale (he was 29 when he made this one). Still, the movie soundtrack went to number one in the year of Beatlemania, so 50 million Elvis fans... you know the rest.

He doesn't do much actual roustabout work (though we do see him help assemble a ferris wheel); he's too busy macking on the ladies, riding his motorcycle in an outfit he stole from Marlon Brando, and of course, singing songs. I am pleased to report he gets slapped no less than three times in the film. But enough about him...

...let's talk about the real reason I chose to watch this movie: BARBARA STANWYCK! Missy made this a year before The Big Valley debuted on TV. They originally wanted Mae West, if you can believe it, but allegedly, she wanted to be one of Elvis' love interests. That might not have been a bad idea... if she wasn't close to seventy years old at the time. (Then again, this is Mae West...!) The filmmakers said no.

No one watching Roustabout will forget Double Indemnity or The Lady Eve or Stella Dallas. Stany probably did this to pay the bills. That's okay. We love her anyway. Elvis holds his own in his scenes with her, though again, it's not a challenging role. It's more than a little surreal to watch the two of them share a screen. It's like, say, Helen Mirren acting a scene with Kanye West. Sadly, there's not a whole lot of Stany in this flick, either... but hey, the songs are decent. (Also, Richard "Jaws" Kiel as a strongman at the very end.)

John, Sue and I watched this on Netflix and we all got a kick out of it. There's one song with the lyric "popcorn, peanuts" and John thought Elvis said "penis" instead. He kept goofing on that for the rest of the movie.

5 movies set at World's Fairs

Other circus, carnival or freakshow movies:
Nightmare Alley
He Who Gets Slapped
Laugh Clown Laugh


  1. This was a fun article to read.

    Elvis movies all tend to run together in my memory, even the titles. They get boiled down to the one with Stanwyck, the one with Angela Lansbury, the two with Will Hutchins (crush time). I do think he had more chops than he was given a chance to use which is a shame.

  2. Angela Lansbury? Hmm... Maybe I'll look that one up one day...

  3. Unlike you, carnivals were not a common sight as I grew up - and I always expected to see a pig pageant when I ran into a carnival!
    I want to see this movie because of Barbara, primarily, but Elvis is a good addition. I hope they can have a good rapport.
    Thanks for joining us, Rich, it was great to have you among our guests!

  4. Maybe pigs are more beautiful than most people realize.

  5. I grew up in period when we were all prejudiced against Elvis movies, so I have never seen this one. I was thinking that besides wanting the money, perhaps Barbara Stanwyck wanted to make a movie that her grandson would enjoy. I enjoyed your thoughts on the movie. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Connecting with the younger generation... Yeah, I can see that as a legitimate reason too.

  7. "I had expected to see things like pie-eating contests and pig pageants" OMG thank god I am not alone here. Seriously, you had me on the floor laughing, thanks for sharing your fantastic post, and hunky Elvis Pictures! I really dig your style keep up the great work!


  8. You're welcome! Drop by anytime.


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