Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Beat Generation (1959) You Rang?

Another Tail Fin Noir (barely), a curiosity on the cusp of Classic Noir/Neo Noir, Directed by Charles F. Haas, and stars, Steve Cochran, Mamie Van Doren, Ray Danton, Jackie Coogan,  Fay Spain, Louis Armstrong, James Mitchum, Cathy Crosby, Ray Anthony, Dick Contino, Maila Nurmi (Vampira) "Slapsie" Maxie Rosenbloom and Sid Melton.

The Beat Generation is somewhat in the vein of Detective Story (1951) the ensemble film that takes place in a New York City Police Precinct Detective squad. In Detective Story, Kirk Douglas plays an embittered morally superior cop McLeod who crusades against NYC's lowlifes. In the course of his pursuit of a Doctor Schneider who is an abortionist he discovers that his wife Mary, whom he had assumed was virginal and pure on the day of his marriage has had an abortion after she had a liaison with a racketeer named Giacoppetti.  Mary confesses this her husband, and asks his forgiveness. McLeod tells her in a misogynist rage that "he'd rather die than find out his wife is a tramp." He then asks if her infertility was caused by Schneider's abortion.

Part of the title sequence with Louis Armstrong with title bongo with beat stereotype artwork 

In The Beat Generation Steve Cochran plays a Sergeant of Detectives Culloran, who is after a serial rapist dubbed "The Aspirin Kid" Stan Hess, (Ray Danton) a quasi "Beat" coffee house guru, who charismatically attracts women but is in reality a misogynist.  The Kid's M.O. is to impersonate the friend of his victim's husband, boyfriend, etc., etc., by saying that he's there to pay back some money that he borrowed. He then gains entrance to their house by saying he needs a pen to write his check. Once inside he fakes a headache, and asks the victim for a glass of water so that he can take a aspirin. While the victim is out of the room he puts on leather gloves and lies in wait, attacking them from behind and raping them upon their return.

Leaving his latest victim The Kid is lightly hit by a car driven by Culloran, when he jaywalks out in the road, he's picked up and innocently given a ride to an emergency room. While making small talk Culloran reveals that he's married but is working late nights on the Aspirin Kid Case. The Kid spots a letter addressed to Culloran and memorises his address, writing it down. The Kids next victim is Culloran's wife. She subsequently gets a "bun in the oven", and Culloran begins to show his own misogynist streak, blaming the women victims for getting raped. His wife wants to get an abortion, which puts Culloran  into destructive obsessed overdrive trying to solve the case so that he can find out The Aspirin Kid's blood type. This all alienates him from his wife and friends.

Both Detective Story and The Beat Generation are examples of films with slim to none Noir visual stylistics, they are NIPOs, Noir In Plot Only type films that get listed in the Noir Canon more for the dark subject matter (at that time period) of their plots than for the cinematography.

The film opens in a Daliesque festooned coffee house The Golden Seallion, Louis Armstrong and his Allstars playing to a Beat crowd.

Golden Seallion

Beat Crowd

Louis Armstrong and beats
Detective Jake Baron: It's summer alright that's when these cages get heavy...  the trees are green the birds are on the wing and all the nuts are coming out of the woodwork.

The Beats are your stereotypical Maynard G. Krebs beatnik's dressed in torn sweatshirts, goatees, black sweaters, berets, sunglasses, horizontal striped shirts, ponytails and leotards, Some are grooving to the jazz some are stone still. Other's walk around dazed carrying abstract sculpture. Stan Hess dressed in black is sitting at a table reading Schopenhauer. Meg a blonde in spaghetti straps is beside him. We get full frontal beatnik jive dialogue heavily seasoned with the culture's Zeitgeist of impending nuclear destruction.

Meg And Stan Hess

Meg: I wish I didn't have to make the scene with that plane tonight. I wish I never had to go back East. I wish I wish....
Hess: Hey hey play it cool chick, like play it like cool. You got to go, everybody's got to move. I mean we can't stand still and wait for the next mushroom cloud now you dig.
Meg: Crazy, but as soon as I cut out you'll forget me.
Hess: Oh Meg you're the most, but there's no tomorrow not while the sky grooves radiation gumdrops, man you got to live for kicks, right here and know that's all there is.
Meg: You know in all the months I've know you you never even held my hand.
Hess: The love and marriage bit I put that down. That's for the Rat Race and the squares, Schopenhauer says and I agree with him, lovers are traitors who seek to perpetuate the whole want and druggery of life..... That cat Schopenhauer also says that this world which is so real with all it's sunsets and milky ways is nothing.
Meg: It's the only world we got.
Hess: Crazy.

Hula Hoop and leotards
The huge ensemble cast has some standouts, watch for Jackie Coogan (pre Uncle Fester from The Addams Family) in a serious turn as Culloran's best friend and fellow detective Jake Baron. James Mitchum, doing his daddio's eyelids at half mast schtick. Sexpot Mamie Van Doren as a divorced women on the make who turns the tables on Mitchum, Maila Nurmi (Vampira, pre Ed Wood's  Plan 9 From Outer Space) reciting poetry with a pet rat on her shoulder, Slapsie Maxie Rosenbloom the wrestling beatnik, and a guy billed as just Grabowski.

Jackie Coogan Steve Cochran

Low Angle

Fay Spain and Steve Cochran

The film has a bit of crossdressing humor as the Coogan and Sid Melton in drag try to bait a lovers lane bandit . It also seems to cram in some of society's in things of 1959, hula hoops, California mussel beach blanket culture, even references to TV's Sea Hunt with a scuba sequence, I'm surprised it didn't have some surfing too. Like a lot of Hollywood films that attempted to replicate the 60's you get the impression that the Beat Generation wasn't just a man with a goatee and beret reciting nonsensical poetry and playing bongo drums or a base without strings, while ponytailed babes wearing black leotards dance in abandonment. lol. Soundtrack is Jazz, torch songs, bongo music. As a visual Noir it's a 5/10 it's pretty hard to get that claustrophobic atmosphere in a film shot in 2.35:1 CinemaScope, as an entertaining window onto a frozen moment of a quickly changing culture filtered through a Hollywood reflection  7/10. Crazy Man, Dig?

Van Doren and Cochran


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