Thursday, May 1, 2014

Ten Statements About....THE FASTEST GUITAR ALIVE (1967)

Roy Orbison is sporting a guitar with
a gun inside.  Your still
very valid.
"Just so you know, I can kill you with this thing, and play your funeral march with it at the same time."

1) I am still trying to wrap my mind, after viewing this film twice, around the fact that this is a comedy musical where the heroes are Confederate spies during the waning days of the Civil War.  The moment where Roy Orbison boasts that Jefferson Davis is going to give him a medal sounds so damn weird.

2) And speaking of Roy Orbison’s Johnny, he spends the entirety of the film’s eighty seven minutes without his sunglasses, wearing a succession of brightly colored western shirts.  As such, he is shorn of the proto-Goth image that everyone associates with him.  And without his black clothing and sunglasses, Orbison’s just another average looking hayseed with jug ears who’s playing at being a love lothario and failing.

3) This being a film made during the 60‘s spy craze featuring a spy ring, there is a gadget involved.  And boy, is that guitar with a hidden gun a goofy gadget.  It doesn’t help that each time that facacta gun barrel slides out of the guitar body, it’s accompanied by a slide whistle sound.
You think I'm joking...but it is a guitar.  With a gun.

4) And while we’re on the subject of sound effects, there’s some odd use of foley work.  In addition to the slide whistle, there’s this bizarre tinkling noise that’s added in every time Orbison or Maggie Pierce’s Flo Chesnut refers to peanuts--a call back to a nonsensical conversation between the two about love.  Every time that tinkle sounds, it pulls you out of the film, provided the entire film hasn’t kicked you out of the movie completely.

5) Go away, stupid Native American comedy relief stereotypes.  Just...go away.

6) You would think, given that this is the first film starring someone who is not an actor, that the studio would have surrounded the production with great actors to take the stress off of him.  Not so in this case, as the film is populated by television actors who, well, aren’t that great.
Just what we need....comedy Native Americans.

7) What is great is the collection of songs performed by Orbison.  The seven numbers show off his country side, and they’re uniformly good.  In one or two cases, like with ‘Pistolero,’ it’s downright amazing.

8) I think one of the fundamental problems--besides, of course, the lack of charisma of its lead and the low budget and all--is that it’s five pounds of plot rattling around in a ten pound bag.  The script by Robert E. Kant meanders something awful, and there are some passages (the theft of the union gold should have been a fast paced, exciting little sequence) that serves to drag the film down from plainly mediocre to gobstoppingly poor.

9) So, ummm....Sam The Sham, huh?  That makes two musicians whose acting career is murdered by this movie.

10) So there are some truly odd moments that reference modern subjects, like when Ben Lessy’s Indian Chief rolls around on an animal skin to produce a piece of modern art that ‘belongs in a museum’ that can be seen as a ancestor to the Sam Raimi/Robert Tappert Hercules series only, you know, really stinky.

Overall...a real oddity (it’s hard to believe that MGM signed Orbison to a five-picture deal thinking he would be an Elvis Presley level star) that might be watchable more as an artifact of its time rather than as an actual movie.  As a movie proper, this simply fails.

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