Musical Monday: The Fastest Guitar Alive (1967)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 600. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

fastest3This week’s musical:
The Fastest Guitar Alive (1967) – Musical #726


Michael D. Moore

Roy Orbison, Sammy Jackson, Maggie Pierce, Joan Freeman, Lyle Bettger, John Doucette, Patricia Donahue, Ben Cooper, Ben Lessy, Iron Eyes Cody, Douglas Kennedy, Wilda Taylor, Victoria Carroll, Maria Korda, Domingo Samudio (billed as Sam the Sham)

Johnny (Orbison) is a singing Confederate spy, who’s guitar also doubles as a gun. Johnny and his pal Steve (Jackson) are both working to rob the United States mint for gold in San Francisco to help the Confederacy.

• While Roy Orbison made a few film appearances, this was his first and only starring role as an actor not appearing as himself. Orbison was under contract at MGM for a five picture deal, but because this movie didn’t do well, the deal was dropped.
• Elvis Presley was offered the lead role in this film, and he turned it down.
• One of two acting roles for Domingo Samudio of the band Sam the Shams and the Pharaohs.


• Roy Orbison’s musical performances

Notable Songs:
• “Fastest Guitar Alive” performed by Roy Orbison
• “Pistolero” performed by Roy Orbison
• “Good Time Party” performed by Roy Orbison
• “River” performed by Roy Orbison
• “Snuggle Huggle” performed by Maggie Pierce and Joan Freeman


My review:
When the film started with some gags and songs, I thought, “Oh this might not be so bad. I think these bad ratings are being unfair.”

But as the film continued, I understood why THE FASTEST GUITAR ALIVE has the reputation for not being very good.

The plot follows Confederate spies who are posing as traveling performers with a medicine show. Their goal is to steal gold that may help the Confederacy win the Civil War.

While Roy Orbison wasn’t a born actor, really the biggest flaw is that the script is no good. A Civil War-western-comedy? Who thought, “This is a great vehicle for Orbison’s first acting film!” Why not cast him as a performing rising to fame or in some sort of singer biopic. I don’t know. Comedy is considered to be a difficult acting form, so he really was set up for failure, in my opinion. And the guitar with a gun in it? How dumb.

“It was intended to be a serious film,” Orbison said. “Cat Ballou had just won an Oscar and so they changed it to comedy.”

I honestly felt bad for Roy Orbison, because he seems to be the one people blame for this film being bad, but it would have been dumb with anyone — even Elvis, who was originally considered for the lead.

I don’t think Roy Orbison is as bad as they say, though he’s not great. I think part of the issue is the material he was given. Any other story, outside of a Civil War western, would have been better.

When he acts, it isn’t stellar, but when he sings, Roy is electric. When he skipped out and is dancing and snapping to “Good Time Party” I thought “Is this the same fella?”

Not a good movie, but worth seeing if you’re an Orbison fan. The music is decent, at least.

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