Thursday, February 29, 2024

Rat Fink (1965) The Last Transitional Beatnik Noir?

 "John Boy Breaks Bad"

Directed by James Landis (The Sadist (1963). Written by James Landis and based on a story by Matthew Cheney and Jack Miller.

Cinematography by Vilmos Zsigmond (McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Deliverance, The Long Goodbye, The Black Dahlia) and Music by Ronald Stein

Schuyler Hayden as Lonnie Price, Hal Bokar as Paul Finlay, Judy Hughes as Betty Larsen, Warrene Ott  as Vera Finlay,  Don Snyder as Tommy Loomis, Eve Brenner as Mrs. Dunkirk, Alice Reinheart as Lonnie's Mother, Jack Lester, as Lonnie's Father.

I had to look Schuyler Haden up I'd never heard of him, and I thought at first glance that he was John Boy (Richard Thomas) from The Waltons, I had to look it up because I couldn't remember Thomas' name. Looks like Haden had that look first.

Schuyler Haden lt., Richard Thomas rt.

Wow! This has got a great opening sequence. We get a folky opening credit song that sort of acts like a V.O. in a 1940s-50s Noir. It tips more Beatnik "Beat Generation" than it does "Age of Aquarius."

Schuyler Haden as Lonnie Price

Daybreak. Lonnie Price is walking along a deserted stretch of Southern Pacific track. The sun is coming up behind his head. He's holding what looks like an apple in one hand and a guitar in the other. 

The song tells us that he's been away from home about a year took just his guitar and split - he left "the farming to his pa (pronounced like paw), and the trouble with the law."  lol.

Lonnie turns his head when he hears a diesel horn coming back through the cut.  He's been waiting to catch a freight drag headed West. 

Cut to a sequence of beautifully shot railroad / hobo imagery.

When the freight drag finally slows down hitting a yard Lonnie hops off with is guitar. Unfortunately it's right in front of a yard bull and Lonnie takes off running. The yard bull is right behind him, Here we get another nice sequence of the chase. Lonnie finally gets away jumping a fence but he loses his guitar and has gashed his shoulder on some uncoupling linkage while diving under a train car. 

Lonnie finally gets away jumping a fence but he loses his guitar and has gashed his shoulder on some uncoupling linkage while diving under a train car. 

Lonnie stops along a small creek and splash water on his shoulder. He continues walking on grassy hillsides and spots a farmhouse and heads towards it. He meets there a lonely sexually starved farmers wife Mrs. Dunkirk, hanging out her wash. 

 Eve Brenner as Mrs. Dunkirk

Lonnie asks her which way to the highway. Eve gives him a direction but she notices Lonnie's wound and offers some first aid and some food. Of course one thing leads to another and he ends up plowing Mrs. Dunkirk.  

"Like all the fair maidens who've laid down beside him

She knew in her heart that he'd lied

But nothing that I could have said could've saved her

No matter how hard that she tried

Cause she'll offer her soul to the darkness and danger

Of something that she's never known

And open her arms at the smile of a stranger who'll love her and leave her alone

And you know he's the devil..." 

(Kris Kristofferson)

Later, Mrs. Dunkirk feeling her age as a handicap, and trying to get Lonnie to stay, explains to him that she can look really good with her hair done and some makeup and a nice dress. She tells Lonnie that he wont recognize her when she gets all decked out. She disappears to bathe etc., etc., and when she finally come out to show the outcome to Lonnie she finds her pocket book emptied and all her money gone. Lonnie's split.

We next see Lonnie wearing a sport jacket and tie loitering outside a civic auditorium where he overhears girls talking about a cool car that must belong to Tommy Loomis it has a big "TL" on the steering wheel. Loomis is a popular new singer who is going to perform his hit 45 RPM single  "One on Every Corner" (by Don Snyder who also dubbed it). 

Inside the auditorium we see people twisting to a warm up band. Lonnie now inside is watching the scene. 

Finally Tommy appears and starts singing. His band is playing a sort of Buck Owens - Bakersfield "Sound" type of tune. One on every corner refers to the girls who want to "meet" him. 

Don Snyder as Tommy Loomis

Lonnie sees more examples of female adulation and just happens to overhear a conversation between Tommy Loomis' manager Paul Finlay and the auditorium owner who is impressed with his crowd size. 

Cut apres show,  a large group of girls are waiting at the stage door to get Tommy's autograph. 

It starts to go very Noirsville when we see Lonnie standing and watching the fracas. Tommy and the group of wildly screaming girls move from the auditorium towards Tommy's car. Tommy is signing autographs all the way to the vehicle.

Lonnie is standing by the back window of Tommy's car. Tommy gets in and shuts the door. 

"I smell gas"

Tommy has a second or two to say "I smell gas" before Lonnie drops a lit cigarette into the back seat the whole interior erupts into a ball of flame. Loomis is severely burned. 

Hal Bokar as music agent Paul Finlay

Lonnie is a psychopath. 

We next see our Lonnie trying to audition for Paul Finlay, telling Finlay's secretary that Finlay told him to stop and see him if he was down in L.A. 

Lonnie is apparently a "chick magnet" the secretary is charmed and attracted to Lonnie the way Mrs. Dunkirk was, the trick works and Lonnie is on his way to becoming the next Tommy Loomis but with a serious screw loose. 



A Maynard G. Krebs Beatnik character rt.

Alice Reinheart as Lonnie's Mother


Jack Lester, as Lonnie's Father


This film kind of captures the end of the "Beat Generation" as it morphs into the "Age of Aquarius." The jazz of the late 50s is now replaced by coffee house folk music. So you have this paella of a West Coast version of something along the lines of Dave Van Ronk, Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, Joan Baez, etc., etc. acoustic sound on the opening credits (sung by Schuyler Haden) mixing with that Bakersfield Sound of Don Snyder and then some Ricky Nelson-ish ballads by Lonnie.

All the friends and go-fer's that Lonnie acquires after he achieves his fame are definitely beats. One even reminds me of Maynard G. Krebs. 

Rat Fink? What were they thinking? I'll tell you what I thought. 

When I was a kid I liked to build plastic models. The closest store that had them was Woolworth's a 5 and 10 about a 15-20 minute bus ride from my house. This was one of the old fashioned style Woolworth's. When you walked in there was a paperback book and magazine section on the right, and an actual soda fountain on the left. Behind the end of the soda fountain was one shelf section, at an average ten year old boy's eye-height, that was filled with models of battleships, tanks, airplanes, and model cars, below it in a bin was these rubber toys and the like designed to catch the eye of grabby kids at least 3 1/2." high. At the back beyond their reach were these Ed "Big Daddy" Roth figurines. Wha?, as in Cafe Wha? Of course, Beatniks and Hot Rods. 

"Roth is best known for his grotesque caricatures—typified by Rat Fink—depicting imaginary, out-sized monsters driving representations of the hot rods that he and his contemporaries built. Roth began airbrushing and selling "Weirdo" T-shirts at car shows and in the pages of Car Craft magazine as early as July 1958. By the August 1959 issue of Car Craft "Weirdo shirts" had become a full-blown craze with Roth at the forefront of the movement...

"In 1959 Roth created the Outlaw. This fiberglass Kustom hot rod was featured in the January 1960 issue of Car Craft. The car was covered in Car Craft and Rod and Custom, and appeared at custom car and hot rod shows. Other hot rods include the Beatnik Bandit (1961), the twin Ford engined Mysterion (1963), the Orbitron (1964), and the Road Agent (1965), among others.[3] In 1965, Roth's surf buggy, the Surfite, was featured in the film Beach Blanket Bingo starring Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello, and also in Village of the Giants, featuring Beau Bridges and Tommy Kirk. One of Roth's personal drivers was a tangerine orange 1955 Chevy 2-door post with a Ford 406 cu. in. engine under the hood; he drove this car to his shop every day for years.

In 1962 the Revell model company began selling plastic models of Roth's cars and from 1963 to 1965 Revell also manufactured plastic models of many of Roth's monsters, including Rat Fink, Brother Rat Fink, Drag Nut, Mother's Worry, Mr. Gasser and other weird creatures created by Roth. Revell continues to re-issue Roth's Monsters and Kustom Car kits." (Wiki).

Ok so now you may ask why would this hotrod stuff sell in the middle of New York City? Now looking back through the years I lived on 49th Street in Astoria, Queens. In walking distance of home, was one of the hottest illegal drag strips in the country. The "Connecting" highways. It was a Robert Moses designed "fork" connecting the Grand Central Parkway with the start of the Brooklyn Queens Expressway. The West fork was a sunken straightaway with the 49th Street overpass and retaining walls serving as a grandstand. Late at night no traffic, it was almost deserted. My next door neighbors kid Ronnie even had a hot rod that I remember him and his buddies would work on. lol.

An interesting Transitional Noir with some beautiful cinematography. 7/10.