Roy Orbison Heads West and Watches His Movie Career Go South in THE FASTEST GUITAR ALIVE


Django carried a coffin full of guns. El Mariachi toted around a guitar case packed with guns. But Roy Orbison once played a singing cowboy whose guitar WAS a gun.

The Fastest Guitar Alive, a 1967 MGM release, was originally written for Elvis Presley. When the King turned the project down a suitable enough replacement was found in his fellow rock & roll icon Orbison. As a stage presence and recording artist Orbison was a silken-voiced charmer when he was belting out classics like “In Dreams” and “Only the Lonely”. Stripped of his trademark black sunglasses and stuffed into an ill-fitting generic western backdrop, Roy was a stiff on the screen – less John Wayne, more Milhouse. Even when he was permitted back in his wheelhouse to perform some songs he just seemed adrift and uncomfortable.

Fastest Guitar was intended to launch Orbison as a movie star cut from the Elvis mold, but a staggeringly ordinary western that even Elvis the Pelvis didn’t think was worth the untold bounty of peanut butter and nanner sammiches and prescription drugs the salary would have secured for him was doomed to failure from the start. The movie bombed at the box office and outside of appearing in a brief cameo as himself in 1980’s Roadie Orbison would never again be featured on the big screen unless “Oh Pretty Woman” was needed for a chick flick montage.

The movie has some interesting pedigree in its cast and crew. Producer Sam Katzman was notorious in the film industry for cranking out over 200 cheapie B-flicks from the 1930’s through the 60’s, including countless movie serials such as Superman and Atom Man vs. Superman with Kirk Alyn as the Man of Steel. Director Michael D. Moore had little success helming his own features; after working primarily in television he switched the focus of his career to second unit direction and later accumulated credits on the first three Indiana Jones movies, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Man Who Would Be King, and Ishtar. Joan Freeman played one of the singing “Chestnut Sisters” and her career in film and television began when she was seven years old. Freeman made features like the Presley-starring Roundabout and The Reluctant Astronaut with Don Knotts, but fans of slasher movies know her best as the unfortunate Mrs. Jarvis in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter.

If you’re still curious you can buy The Fastest Guitar Alive on DVD from Warner Archives HERE.

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