Hi, Burl here with some early Roger Corman to chat about for you all! Ha ha, old Roger certainly has made his share of movies over the years, and for a producer he was an awfully prolific director too! I guess when you make a movie in three or four days, you can pack quite a few of them into a year! This particular one has a pretty bland title, so it’s better known around my house as No! Don’t Touch Me!
But though Carnival Rock isn’t one of Corman’s better-known pictures, it’s one of his more serious-minded efforts of those early days! Ha ha, it wasn’t all monsters and dragsters for that fellow! This movie was certainly intended as a drama above all else, but it was still ultimately a drive-in picture, so Corman salted it generously with the shakinest tunes of the day in an effort to keep the kids on the Southern ozoner circuit intrigued! There are numbers from David Houston, Bob Luman, The Shadows, and a groovy theme tune from The Blockbusters! The best musical interlude comes from The Platters – it’s a truly excellent slice of goodtime vocal pop, and a highlight of the movie!
But most of the movie is the story, and the story is as follows! It seems that on “the pier” – it’s never specified which pier, or where the pier is, and we never even see any remotely pier-like details, since Corman wasn’t shelling out for any location photography on this one – there is a nightclub establishment known as Christy’s! Christy, the owner, is a potato-faced Greek who, we are repeatedly told, is fifty years old! He’s desperately, passionately, completely in love with his star attraction, a lady singer named Natalie, played by Susan Cabot! He’s so be-smitten, in fact, that he’s completely neglecting his failing business, despite constant reminders from his stylish factotum Benny, a role essayed by the great, great Dick Miller, my very favourite actor!
As the business pressures on Christy get heavier, his demented refusal to face reality becomes only more determined! Benny’s complete and unexplained devotion to him (perhaps Christy saved his life in the war?) is severely tested as Christy’s hard-headedness calcifies into looniness! And Natalie, a decent lady with no attraction to the Greek, is driven further and further away! Her fiancé Stanley wins the club from Christy in a simple game of high card/low card, and in a desperate attempt to stay near his beloved, Christy takes a job as the club’s baggy-pants comic! Ha ha, saddest clown ever! Well, when Christy finally goes over the edge and starts the club on fire (it’s the lowest-budget conflagration ever committed to film!), matters come to a head, and it’s up to the decent Stanley to save both his lady love and the cracked Christy! There’s a very bittersweet conclusion after that, tinged only ever so slightly with hopefulness!
Ha ha, it’s hard to say what the drive-in crowd would have made of this one! It’s very talky, so they would have had plenty of time to make out between the musical numbers! The romantic and business travails of a homely pentagenarian would not likely have interested them overmuch! But what do I know, maybe they were riveted! In any case, I say the movie is well worth a look! The performances and script are both strong, and the moody photography by Floyd Crosby (he shot F.W. Murnau’s Tabu and such prestigious pictures as High Noon and The Old Man and the Sea, and later on all the American-International beach movies) gives it some carnival atmosphere! And you know how much ol’ Burl loves a carnival picture!
And what a cast! You’ve got the excellent Dick Miller of course, and then in the role of Stanley there’s Brian G. Hutton, better known from his later action-movie directing career! He made Where Eagles Dare and Kelly’s Heroes and The First Deadly Sin, and then the 80s moustache picture High Road to China, before apparently chucking it all to become a plumber! Ha ha, weird! And there’s Susan Cabot, whom I’ve liked in all her roles, but she had a troubled life and came to a sticky end when her dwarf son clubbed her to death with a barbell while she was sleeping one night in 1986! That’s very sad, she was talented! And you also get Bruno VeSota from Attack of the Giant Leeches, and Jonathan Haze, Seymour Krelboyne himself, in supporting roles!
Maybe I’m just a sucker for a little good music, or for a Corman stock-company cast, or for a movie that tries hard! I know I’m a sucker for any Dick Miller performance I happen to run across! At any rate, all of this means that despite its cheap talkiness, I’m going to give Carnival Rock three skinny neckties!