Beat Generation, The (1959)

“The world is full of moldy figs: they’re the squares who eat, sleep, go to work, vegetate, and while they vegetate — I swing.”

Synopsis:
A surly detective (Steve Cochran) and his partner (Jackie Coogan) search for a psychopathic rapist (Ray Danton) known as the “Aspirin Kid”, who finagles his way into Cochran’s house and rapes his wife (Fay Spain). When Spain discovers she’s pregnant, she and Cochran face the difficult decision of whether or not to abort; meanwhile, Danton blackmails his buddy (Jim Mitchum) into instigating a copycat rape against a woman (Mamie van Doren) in order to throw the police off his trail.

Genres:

Review:
It’s difficult to know where to begin in assessing this painfully insensitive detective flick, conveniently situated within a Beatnik milieu simply for its novelty and exploitation value. Danton and Cochran are posited as two sides of the same flawed coin — one a psychopathic killer, the other a determined cop, yet both with an inbred distrust of (and/or hatred for) women; the intersection of their two characters seems designed to provide psychological complexity to the script, but instead just leaves us cringing. The rape scenes are disturbing, as expected — but what’s genuinely shocking is how Cochran treats the victims he interrogates, essentially accusing them of complicity in the crimes. (We’re reminded that his former wife was a tramp, which excuses his behavior, I guess.) Meanwhile, when Cochran’s current wife learns she’s pregnant but isn’t sure whether the father is Cochran or Danton, the storyline veers into a truly bizarre pro-Choice subplot that must be seen and heard to be believed. There’s some curiosity value to be had in the sight of a short-haired Vampira in Beatnik get-up, spouting a moronic poem about parenthood while stroking a white rat perched on her shoulder, but this ultimately just feels wildly incongruous to the plot. And while Mamie van Doren brings a bit of life to the second half of the film as a would-be victim, her presence once again feels superfluous, and is clearly designed simply to bring sexual star-power to the film. What’s most astonishing is that the screenplay for this clunker was co-written by the estimable Richard Matheson (who clearly must not have had any final say in what appeared on screen).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Good use of L.A. locales
  • An occasionally campy Beatnik sensibility: “There’s no tomorrow — not while the sky drools radiation gumdrops.”

Must See?
No; definitely feel free to skip this one.

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One Response to “Beat Generation, The (1959)”

  1. First viewing. Not a must.

    It’s another Albert Zugsmith production! (See my post on ‘Platinum High School’, also directed by Charles Haas – who, here, disappoints, but I’ll explain…).

    Zugsmith’s insufficient bio at IMDb refers to him as a “genial” man who, among other independent accomplishments, “outfoxed” Jack Kerouac by copyrighting the term ‘The Beat Generation’, which he went on to use as this film’s title. Apparently keen to cash in on the phenomenon, it seems Zugsmith made sure to present beat behavior in all its ‘glory’ by having it dominate roughly the last 30 minutes of Haas’ film. The result of that decision is a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater: just about the whole last third of this film makes no sense.

    Up to that point, we’re watching what is ostensibly some sort of statement regarding full-fledged respect for women and unborn children – set against unenlightened male dominance. Presumably, the beat kids are there in full swing to inform us that the generation surrounding them is ineffectual (not that they seem to have any ideas regarding positive social change; basically all they do is whine in rhythm).

    Think what you will of some of his other films, Haas (whose career was mainly in tv) is hardly incompetent. But, for whatever reason, he’s got a lopsided script here; the blend doesn’t gel.

    The number of films of this type that Zugsmith produced (as well as some of his classier films, like ‘Touch of Evil’) reveals some sort of clear interest on his part in social issues, esp. how they relate to human behavior. How he went about presenting these concerns on the big screen may not have made for Oscar-worthy flicks by any means. But you can see a through-line in his projects that makes them worth checking out.

    Alas, though, not always. And this is one of those times. Ironically, ‘The Beat Generation’ has little pulse.

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