THE BEAT GENERATION (1959)
(a film review by Mark R. Leeper)
CAPSULE: This is obviously a decent script mangled by a very bad production. There are two distinctly different styles apparent in the writing. One style is a tense police thriller about a serial rapist. The other is a Cloud-Cuckoo Land cartoon of beatniks. What is good almost certainly comes from talented writer Richard Matheson, but the film is more a study of bad filmmaking than the decent thriller it might have been. Rating: -1 (-4 to +4) or 3/10
Suppose one was to take a painting by a grand master and paint onto it a mustache, glasses, cross-eyes, etc. The net effect would be ludicrous. Stroke by stroke the observer would know which paint strokes were from the master and which by the vandal. And in the end you would be sorry that you could not just see the painting as it was at first. That is the impression one gets from THE BEAT GENERATION. This is a film supposedly co-authored by Richard Matheson and Lewis Meltzer. Richard Matheson is a good writer of suspense stories, though he is better known for his science fiction, horror, and fantasy. He was a frequent contributor to the original "Twilight Zone". He wrote many of the scripts for Roger Corman's "Edgar Allan Poe" series. His novel I AM LEGEND has been adapted three times to the screen. He wrote the scripts for television's THE NIGHT STALKER and THE NIGHT STRANGLER. He wrote the novel that was adapted into SOMEWHERE IN TIME. The list of his film accomplishments goes on and on. And at base there is a good crime thriller in THE BEAT GENERATION. But repeatedly getting in the way is a plot super-imposed with the agenda of cartoonish making fun of beatniks and occasionally adding a religious message.
From moment to moment there is never any question which author's work we are seeing because the writing is either improving the effect of the thriller or sabotaging it. Almost certainly Matheson sold the script and then was helpless to protect it as it was defaced and ruined by his co-author Meltzer and the filmmakers. Just a few years later Matheson was more ready to insist he could have his name taken off of film credits if he did not like the film, and THE BEAT GENERATION may have been the film that convinced him to do that.
Stan Hess (played by Ray Danton) leads a double life. He is the lead poet whose jive verse is the coolest thing to the cadre of local beatniks. (Example of his poetry: "The sky blooms radiation gumdrops.") But he leads a double life. He is also an extremely devious serial rapist. The police know the rapist as the "Aspirin Kid." He preys on women he knows to be alone, pretends to know a husband or friend and to be returning money to him to get into a home. He then feigns a headache and asks for water to have with his aspirins. When the woman returns he jumps her, beats, and rapes her. Before he leaves he plants signs that he was sharing a drink or a meal with the victim so the police think the victim knew and is shielding her attacker. Investigating is police detective Dave Cullorah (Steve Cochran). Cullorah unknowingly runs into Hess and Hess is able to get Dave's address. When Cullorah's wife is assaulted and then discovers she is pregnant, the game becomes personal between Hess and Cullorah. The story continues at two levels. The police story is one of some real dramatic tension, especially when combined with what then would have been the controversial issue of whether to abort. Then there are the coffee house scenes that have no reality at all and area sort of burlesque. In one sequence they cut back and forth between the two realities as in a back room of the coffee house the rapist is attacking Georgia (Mamie van Doran) while in the next room there is a ridiculous caricature of beatnik dancing.
One can gage the feel of the film by some of the casting. Jackie Coogan and Sid Melton play cops who work with Cullorah. They might almost be okay. Bombshell Mamie van Doran is one of Hess's intended victims who seems less than bothered by her peril. Professional wrestler and occasional film comic relief actor Max "Slapsie Maxie" Rosenbloom is completely miscast as the wrestling beatnik. He seems to be here merely to have a dubious celebrity. (A wrestling beatnik?) Jim Mitchum is along as someone who supposed resembles Ray Danton's character. Jim Mitchum does not look much like Ray Danton, but he does strongly bear a resemblance to his father Robert. Louis Armstrong also performs throughout at the coffeehouse and is actually given two or three lines of ineffectual dialog. William Schallert plays an inspirational priest who provides spiritual inspiration for Francee Cullorah. How the usually prestigious MGM ever released this strange travesty is something of a mystery.
Full of hokey dialog and absolutely no feel of authenticity for the "beat" movement, THE BEAT GENERATION gets a -1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 3/10.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0052610/
Mark R. Leeper
Copyright 2008 Mark R. Leeper