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Thursday, October 29, 2015

THE BEAT GENERATION (1959)

For a time in the mid-‘50s, ground-feeding Hollywood producer Albert Zugsmith upped his game significantly with WRITTEN ON THE WIND/’56; INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN/’57; TARNISHED ANGELS/’57; even Orson Welles’ TOUCH OF EVIL/’58. But he was soon back to cruddy exploitation fodder like this police procedural about a serial rapist, camouflaged & sensationalized as a daring look at those cool-cat coffeehouse hedonists known as The Beats. ON THE ROAD, it ain’t. Hard to imagine this ever being fresh territory, but it’s just possible that the ‘Daddy-O’ slang and middle-aged hipsters were still novel at the time. (Though FUNNY FACE/’57 was kidding this scene two years back.) Flatly lit, with its lack of production values cruelly bared in CinemaScope, it stumbles along until the inevitable capture-the-bad-guy finale gets improbably waylaid by a spontaneous hootenanny musicale! All that’s left is for the detective’s wife, possibly impregnated by the rapist, to give birth after her heart-to-heart with the smiling priest across the street. (We never do find out who’s Papa.) A pre-TWILIGHT ZONE Richard Matheson co-scripted, though you’d never know it (he’d worked for Zugsmith on SHRINKING MAN). As the lead dick, Steve Cochran shows he can chew gum, smoke and kiss the wife at the same time, while partner Jackie Coogan is rather good here (especially in drag on a sting operation). Ray Danton, slick, sick & handsome, manages to give a real perf as the bongo playing perv, but the film conks out just when it needs to be kookie.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Setting detective fare inside the latest L.A. trend usually works out pretty well. Two of Robert Altman’s best, THE LONG GOODBYE/’73 and THE PLAYER/’92, show how to do it.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: The only real mystery in the pic is what Louis Armstrong is doing in here. Playing the title tune on screen with his band then showing up for another song, he even interacts (as himself) in the storyline. Zugsmith calling in a favor for a marque name? Maybe that explains what Robert Mitchum’s son James, and Charles Chaplin’s kid Charles, Jr. are doing in the cast.

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