heroes' mini-wagon train is spotted, and the Indians mount up -
the Chief, rather short in stature, is carried to and lifted upon
his horse (with more facial mugging), but because this is Komedy!!!,
he is mounted facing the horse's rear. After he is turned the right
way, the Indians ride off, as we hear one ask (oh-so-obviously looped
in later), "We give-um big scare, no hurt, right Chief?"
is now official. We are in the Scooby Doo version of the
Neo-Impressionist tribe attacks, and rouses the ire of Sue as an
arrow transfixes her good pair of knickers (hung out to dry between
the wagons). It is up to Johnny to save the day and justify the
title of the movie, as he presses a switch on his guitar and
a rifle barrel extends from the body of the instrument. Somehow
Johnny manages to aim the bizarre weapon and fires, snapping the
war spear of the Chief in half, and causing the whole "big
scare" to be called off.
you suspect the rest of the movie cannot possibly compare to the
surreality of this first five minutes, you are correct - but I'm
in this for the long haul, so I might as well drag you along, too.
San Francisco, the plot begins to slowly - and I do mean slowly
- unfold before us. The caravan is parked near a fancy saloon, and
Steve hawks "Dr. Ludwig Long's Magic Elixir" while the
girls dance in the saloon's floor show as "The Chestnut Sisters".
Enter the local Marshall (John Doucette), who is looking for the
daughter of the commander of the local Union garrison, Colonel Bascomb.
The Marshall, it seems, understands that she has been taking "guitar
lessons" from Johnny. Every time somebody says "guitar
lessons" in this movie, it is obviously intended to have quotation
marks around it, and mean something far more salacious.
starts a small riot in front of the medicine wagon to cover his
slinking off to the saloon, wherein he warns the girls and the owner
of the saloon, Charlie (Lyle Bettger) - yet another Confederate
operative! - that the Marshall is on the prowl for Johnny. Sue is
miffed at this news - particularly so when she finds Johnny and
the Colonel's daughter necking behind the changing screen in her
dressing room (see? Roy's the James West of this outfit!) The daughter
splits, but Johnny has already used his masculine spy wiles to find
out that the gold is arriving at 11:15 that night. His wiles, however,
turn out to be particularly useless in deflecting the wrath of Sue.
spies' somewhat complex, Mission Impossible plan goes into
effect, even after the Marshall finds Flo, Sue, Johnny, Steve and
Charlie conspiring in one of the girls' dressing room. To provide
an alibi, Johnny starts the floor show that night playing his guitar
and singing a song called "Pistolero". Then he and Steve
sneak out and drive the wagon to a nearby office building while
Johnny, in the back, dons a disguise (man, he's the Artemus Gordon
of the team, too! How the hell did the South lose?).
our southern spies have been in town for a couple of months, as
Johnny in disguise has rented an office in this building, next to
the room where the Yankee gold will be sequestered. After knocking
out the night watchman, Johnny sets a dynamite charge in a hole
that has been surreptitiously knocked in the connecting wall, and
blows the wall just after the larger portion of the gold's military
escort leaves. Steve rushes into the room and punches out the one
guy who wasn't knocked out by the blast (as it is the Scooby
Doo west, no one is even scratched by flying pieces of wall).
wait, there may be one casualty, as Johnny staggers through the
hole blown in the wall, moaning, "I'm blinded! I'm blinded!"
Steve turns him around, only to discover that Johnny's fake beard
has been displaced to up around his eyes. Steve pulls down the offending
hairpiece, as Johnny says, "Thanks. I thought things were looking
kinda hairy." Komedy!!!
back at the saloon, the Marshall is making Charlie nervous by continually
asking when that new feller is going to sing another song. Charlie
continues to ply him with free liquor, but Charlie should really
lay off the whiskey himself, 'cause it looks like he's getting an
the gold's escort safely bound and gagged, Johnny and Steve lower
the two strongboxes of gold into the wagon (through a special trapdoor
in its roof) and Johnny conceals them in a secret panel while Steve
drives back to the saloon, just in time for Johnny to sing his closing
number. To further the alibi, Johnny announces that he and Sue have
gotten married and will be leaving that night for their honeymoon.
Oh, and the other girls are coming with them, 'cause they're going
into business. This ploy, of course, enrages Sue beyond words (Ha
ha! Wimmen! they don't know what they want! Komedy!!!)
such a carefully crafted and plausible alibi does not totally fool
the Marshall, who keeps tabs on the medicine show via telegraph,
as they begin winding their way towards El Paso and the Confederate
Army (one presumes both wagonloads are whistling tunelessly so as
to appear nonchalant). They run into the Neo-Impressionist tribe
again, and this time the Chief has brought his own guitar, and is
thoroughly mystified as to why it is not shooting people. Johnny's
guitar shoots the neck off this bogus banjo and the tribe retreats
- though I should also mention that Sue gets revenge for her earlier
punctured panties by the thoroughly female (and need I add komedic)
device of a garter loaded with jars of cold cream, a deadly improvised
slingshot (any further elaborations of this character as the Macgyver
of the team was doubtless lost in script rewrites).
I guess it's time for plot threads. The Marshall figures that the
crew must be passing through Prescott, Arizona (for some reason,
Prescott is the Gateway to El Paso), and alerts the local law, Sheriff
Joe (Douglas Kennedy) and Deputy Rink (Ben Cooper) before himself
heading out for points east. In the wilderness, Sue decides that
she will actually marry Johnny, much to the man's befuddlement (to
be plain, Orbison seems befuddled through much of the movie, but
we'll get to that). Steve reflects that the South is almost bankrupt,
and it'll be years before a man could earn enough money to support
himself and a wife, but Flo says that doesn't matter, awwwww,
bill bill, coo coo.
next day, Johnny fishes (and croons to the fish, as we haven't had
a song in a while) while the wimmenfolk bathe employing
a makeshift shower. Who should come along but Rink, who leeringly
looks into the shower and then grabs Flo, saying that "I always
had a thing for clean girls" (this is a strange injection of
darkness into an otherwise cheerful, family-friendly western * ).
Johnny arrives and uses his guitar to shoot the the deputy's hat
off, and once the lecherous lawman still attempts to ventilate
Johnny, it's Steve's turn to beat the bejeezus out of the jerk (okay,
so maybe Orbison isn't the James West of this outfit) for
attempting to besmirch his gal's honor. Rinks swears vengeance and
rides away, sans gun and dignity.
Confederates edge cautiously into Prescott, only to find the town
in the midst of a celebration. Why? The South has surrendered! The
Civil War is over! Which only causes more problems for our heroes,
as they are now in possession of $150,000 in gold and no idea what
to do with it (Yes, yes, I'm sure we all have ideas as to what to
do with it, but let's save those for the discussion period).
local saloon owner, Stella (Patricia Donohue) offers them a job
in her floor show, and the troupe accepts, over Steve's misgivings,
as he'd like to blow town as soon as possible, but he eventually
allows that this will give them time to ponder their next move.
What they don't know is that the treacherous Charlie has made it
to Prescott ahead of them, and is plotting with Stella to steal
night, Johnny starts the show banging on a tom-tom and singing "Medicine
Man" while the four non-star women perform one of the worst-choreographed
dance numbers outside of The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who
Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies. Then, apparently
genetically unable to hang around backstage between numbers, he
checks on the wagon, only to discover that Charlie has already attempted
to break into it. Luckily, Steve was on guard duty and knocked out
the unsuspecting former comrade. Figuring that "the vultures
are starting to circle," Steve and Johnny decide to leave that
night. Johnny alerts the girls to this plan of action by taking
the stage and singing a song called "Rollin' On"... which
is actually halfway clever, come to think of it.
returns to the wagon only to find that Steve has also had to coldcock
Rink, and then the Sheriff. Tying all these scalawags up, the two
men hotfoot it to the saloon; unfortunately, Stella has gotten tired
of pacing and gone to the stables to see what was taking Charlie
so long. She unties all the bad guys and they strike a deal to stop
things look bad, alright, as our wagonload 'o' heroes is stopped
by a full four people (but hey, Stella's carrying a rifle). Just
then, who should intervene but the Neo-Impressionist Tribe, who
offer to run interference in exchange for the "magic guitar".
Steve quickly agrees (over Johnny's protests), and seeing that the
Indians have a guitar that shoots bullets, the superstitious bad
guys promptly beat cheeks (this is apparently far more menacing
than a pompadoured cracker wielding a guitar that shoots bullets).
our heroes take advantage of this respite to leave town - no, what
am I saying, they stop at the hotel - also owned by Stella, I might
add, but we're probably not supposed to remember that - to pick
up the girl's things (Wimmen!). Mainly, however, this allows
the newly arrived Marshall to hide in the shadows and overhear their
plan to return to San Fran and surrender the gold and themselves
to the Army. The Marshall steps into the light, holstering his gun
and admitting he's delighted that they turned out to be okay folks
after all, and will escort them back to Frisco, "The last part
of the Confederate Army to surrender." Time for Roy to sing
that Fast Guitar song again (I guess the Confederate version of
Q Branch made him more than one trick guitar). The end.
things should be addressed first (logic dictates): a movie featuring
a rock star attempting to become a movie star is going to depend
a great deal on the performance of its drawing card: said rock star.
And as an actor, Orbison was a fine musician. He seems uncomfortable
with the entire concept, at ease only when he has a guitar in his
hands and singing. Every line is delivered in the same tone, at
the same pace, in a reading-off-the-cue-cards way; the few times
they give Orbison a laugh line will make you wince. The one time
he's guitarless and taking part in a dance number, he appears to
be concentrating mightily. He glances at the camera at least once.
bless him, the boy gives it the old college try, but Orbison simply
wasn't meant for the big screen. The seven songs he contributed
for the project are all quite good, though, and the movie becomes
infinitely more tolerable when he is left to his strong suits: his
music and distinctive voice. The whole flick might have been more
successful had he been relegated to a more minor role, stepping
to the fore when it was time to sing. Like Elvis' relatively minor
outing in his debut, Love Me Tender, this would have given
Orbison more time to learn the ropes, and there might been a second
maybe not. Cruel as it is for me to say this, there was a reason
Orbison wore those sunglasses all those years. Beady, close-set
eyes too small for his face really kind of dooms him as a romantic
Orbison, the actors are a likable if undistinguished lot. It's interesting
to track the connected filmographies in
this movie's entry in the Internet Movie Database. The lovely
Joan Freeman went on to a fairly nice career, even directed a couple
of films, up until her sad death by suicide earlier this year. Victoria
Carroll, besides Nightmare in Wax, has some great voice acting
credits of late, and of course we all recognize Poupee Gamin from
Journey to the Center of
wise, The Fastest Guitar Alive peters out after the gold
heist, but up to that point (the Neo-Impressionist Tribe notwithstanding),
it's fairly good; I appreciate the fact that the plot isn't spelled
out at the first, but we are allowed to learn about it as it progresses.
This served to involve me in the movie, when chances are my survival
instincts would have caused me to reach for the remote control after
the first piece of Komedy!!! Though it must be admitted,
when I start yearning for the return of the Neo-Impressionists,
something is way wrong.
through all this, probably the major reason this movie failed was
disastrous timing. The Fastest Guitar Alive takes place in
an impossibly clean and well-lit West, much like another family-friendly
romantic comedy-Western that year, The Ballad of Josie (starring
Doris Day, 'nuff said). But another Western would serve
to eclipse such outings: Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars
hit American screens, and a sea change began to sweep over the American
Western, eventually making way for bitter revisionist outings like
The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid and Doc. The movie
also came out just in time for the Summer of Love, and Orbison's
rockabilly-tinged music was no match for the music America's Youth
now craved, the acid-tinged music of The Doors, The Beatles, Jimi,
Janis, you know, all those guys with 'J' names. Orbison's career
would fade until the 80's, when David Lynch's cheerfully perverse
Blue Velvet would bring him back to the forefront.
timing, bad acting, bad Komedy!!!! Good Roy Orbison songs!
What more could you ask? I hereby dub this a new party tape for
the coming millennium, and immediately - and somewhat suspiciously
- wash my hands of the whole thing.