Friday, October 9, 2020
The Beat Generation (1959)
Produced by Albert Zugsmith it boasts an interesting cast - film noir icon Steve Cochran, Mamie van Doren, Jackie Coogan, James Mitchum (Robert Mitchum’s eldest son and looking uncannily like his dad), Vampira and Irish McCalla (yes, Sheena Queen of the Jungle herself). And oh yes, there’s Louis Armstrong to provide some cool jazz sounds.
Bitter cop Dave Culloran (Steve Cochran) and his partner Jake Baron (Jackie Coogan) are hunting a serial rapist nicknamed the Aspirin Kid because he wins his victims’ trust by pretending to need a glass of water to take an aspirin. The hunt will take Culloran and Baron into the word of the Beat Generation. The rapist calls himself Arthur Garrett but we will discover that his name is really Stan Hess.
Then Culloran’s wife Francee becomes one of Hess’ victims. This puts a strain on their marriage, and on Culloran. The case becomes a personal obsession. It also allows the movie to focus on a subject that was far more controversial at the time than rape - abortion. Which, it has to be said, it handles carefully but sensitively.
Hess is a beatnik, or at least he hangs around with beatniks and he certainly has the nihilism popularly associated with the beats.
Now a 1959 Hollywood movie focusing on the world of the beatniks sounds like it’s going to be an exercise in camp, which it is up to a point, but mostly this is a gritty nasty and at times very dark crime flick. A particularly nasty touch is that Hess also leaves evidence at the scene of his crimes that suggests that the women (and he only targets married women) may have been willing. He likes playing with people’s minds.
Since this was 1959 we obviously see the lead-up to the rapes but nothing of the actual rapes. But we hear enough to make the rape scenes genuinely harrowing. Charles F. Haas didn’t have much of a career as a feature film director but it has to be said that he handles these scenes very effectively indeed.
Fay Spain is very good as Francee. Ray Danton is suitably creepy as Hess. Once you’ve seen Jackie Coogan as Uncle Fester in The Addams Family it’s had to take him seriously in anything else but he’s quite good as well.
And then there’s blonde bombshell Mamie van Doren as Georgia Altera, who almost becomes one of the Aspirin Kid’s victims, or maybe she doesn’t. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that van Doren looks great.
Olive Films have released this one on DVD and Blu-Ray. The DVD, reviewed here, boasts an excellent anamorphic transfer (the film was shot in the Cinemascope aspect ratio).
The Beat Generation is a much better movie than it has any right to be. Underneath its campy beatnik exterior it’s a tough little crime movie. Highly recommended.