DVD Talk
Release List Reviews Shop Newsletter Forum DVD Giveaways Blu-Ray Advertise
Reviews & Columns
HD DVD / Blu-ray
International DVDs
Video Games

Collector Series DVDs
Easter Egg Database
DVD Talk Radio
Feature Articles

Anime Talk
DVD Stalk
DVD Savant
High-Def Revolution
Silent DVD

discussion forum
DVD Talk Forum
DVD Price Search
Customer Service #'s
RCE Info

DVDTalk Info
Review Staff
About DVD Talk
Newsletter Subscribe
Join DVD Talk Forum
DVD Talk Feeds

Sponsored Links
Search: For:
Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » The Beat Generation (Blu-ray)
The Beat Generation (Blu-ray)
Olive Films // Unrated // March 31, 2015 // Region A
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted March 19, 2015 | E-mail the Author
Buy from Amazon.com
E - M A I L
this review to a friend
Printer Friendly
Hollywood producers with no taste are a dime a dozen, but producers with consistently appallingly bad taste are, thankfully, less common. Albert Zugsmith was maybe the first great innovator in the latter category. Briefly, during the mid- to late 1950s Zugsmith was associated with a few honest-to-goodness classics made at Universal-International: Written on the Wind (1956), The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), and Touch of Evil (1958). But soon he after began producing more "personal" films at MGM and elsewhere that grew steadily worse: High School Confidential! (1958), Sex Kittens Go to College (1960), Confessions of an Opium Eater (1962), The Incredible Sex Revolution (1965), etc. Increasingly aimless and indescribably scattershot, they exploited taboo subjects and were populated by bizarre jumbles of talent: blonde bombshells, former child stars, marginally talented offspring of famous movie stars, ex-TV stars, jazz musicians. Zugsmith's later films aren't so much movies as car wrecks that rubbernecking filmgoers can't help but gape at with appalled fascination.

The Beat Generation (1959) is unusual among Zugsmith's oeuvre in that it's actually coherent and reasonably entertaining. It's less outrageous than High School Confidential! and Sex Kittens Go to College (also available on Blu-ray) but less offensively stupid than the former and more entertaining and competent than the latter. Its depiction of beatnik life is ludicrous, but it was also one of the last classical film noir titles, though its connection to that genre are slight. The film revolves around the investigation of a serial rapist and there's some serious talk about abortion, weighty stuff in 1959. Though producer Zugsmith is clearly only interested in exploiting these issues, the screenplay (co-written by Richard Matheson) and direction tries hard to take such matters seriously.

Olive Films' Blu-ray of this MGM production (now inexplicably owned by Paramount), in black-and-white and CinemaScope (though using Panavision lenses) looks great.

Stan Hess (Ray Danton) hates women. In the film's opening sequence, as Louis Armstrong sings the title song (to appallingly bored, blasé beatniks), he's rejected by one woman and, at another table, learns that his rich father is marrying a gold-digger Hess briefly dated.

Pretending to know the husband of a middle-aged woman (Margaret "Maggie" Hayes, in leotards and twirling a hula hoop) and claiming to be anxious to repay an old debt, he gains entrance to the home and brutally rapes her. Though the rape is off-screen, the movie generates some real tension here, and her screams are genuinely unsettling.

Leaving the residence, Hess is almost struck by a passing car whose driver offers Hess a ride. Ironically, the driver is plainclothes detective Culloran (Steve Cochran), part of the team investigating the "The Aspirin Kid." Hess catches a glimpse of the cop's address on a piece of mail.

Later, Culloran and his partner, Baron (Jackie Coogan) follow a lead to Muscle Beach, where they arrest a suspect, Arthur Jester (James Mitchum, Robert's oldest look-alike son), but he turns out to have a solid alibi.

Culloran and Baron then receive a call at the station from Hess, offering to give himself up at the local beatnik club that evening at 8:00pm. Of course, as Culloran and Baron wait at the club, listening to a beatnik poetess (Vampira, with close-cropped hair and holding a big white rat), Hess instead turns up at Culloran's home. Using the same modus operandi, he rapes Culloran's wife, Francee (Fay Spain). The young marrieds had been trying to conceive a child. A couple of months later Francee learns she's pregnant, but has no idea whether the child is her husband's or her rapist's.

The movie has its good points. The script draws Hitchcockian parallels between the misogynistic Hess and cynical Culloran. "When it comes to women," says one character, "You two make a good pair!" The latter distrusts women, too, after his first marriage, to a prostitute he met while working in vice, failed. "Once you were married to a tramp," notes Baron, "So what?" After Francee's rape, Culloran subconsciously blames her. She initially wants to have an abortion ("I'm not going to carry a rapist's baby!" she screams), but that was illegal in 1959. He vetoes the idea, but she insists she have one even without his approval. However, Francee eventually changes her mind after an encounter with William Schallert's antiabortionist clergyman, yet Culloran isn't so sure he wants to raise the baby, either, and the couple separates. The story, incidentally, begins just before her rape and concludes shortly after the birth of her child, making this one long, costly police investigation.

The Beat Generation might have been remembered as one of the more interesting, even ahead-of-its time film noirs were it not for its frequent ridiculousness. Culloran and Baron work undercover with other officers (including Sid Melton) at Lover's Lane, where Jackie Coogan and Sid Melton dress as (profoundly ugly) women. When a mugger turns up, Culloran unhesitatingly empties his revolver on the purse-snatcher. The beatniks are patently phony; their ranks include "The Wrestling Beatnik" (Max "Slapsie Maxie" Rosenbloom), "The Beat Beatnik" (custom car builder Norman Grabowski), and "Lover Boy" (Charles Chaplin, Jr.). At one point they sing something like a beatnik anthem, but the song sounds more appropriate to a Disney comedy. It's also extraordinarily strange to see Louis Armstrong (playing himself) giving his all in a run-down club to such an utterly disinterested audience. Satchmo should have fired his agent.

Mamie Van Doren gets second billing after Cochran (who's quite good), but she doesn't turn up until the halfway point, and only sporadically after that. She plays a bored wife looking for a little action, eventually becoming the means for Culloran to locate Hess. She gave a better performance and had a lot more to do in the lesser-known Born Reckless, newly released from the Warner Archive. Oddly, her character is named (Georgia) Altera, perhaps inspired by Altaira, Anne Francis's character in MGM's then-recent Forbidden Planet (1956).

Video & Audio

A CinemaScope presentation, though shot with superior Panavision lenses, The Beat Generation has its share of scratches and other minor imperfections, but mostly this black-and-white production looks great on Blu-ray, with excellent detail throughout. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono, with no alternate audio or subtitles, is fine. No Extra Features.

Parting Thoughts

Of producer Albert Zugsmith's post Universal-International films, The Beat Generation comes closest to actually being a good movie. It's not as entertainingly stupid as some of the others but, overall, it's interesting and enjoyable. Recommended.

Stuart Galbraith IV is the Kyoto-based film historian and publisher-editor of World Cinema Paradise. His credits include film history books, DVD and Blu-ray audio commentaries and special features.

Find the lowest price for 'The Beat Generation (Blu-ray)'
Popular Reviews
1. The Strangers (Collector's Edition)
2. I, Tonya
3. The Passion of Joan of Arc
4. The Lion In Winter: 50th Anniversary Edition
5. Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice
6. The Sect
7. Hammer Films Double Feature - Never Take Candy From a Stranger / Scream of Fear
8. Husbands And Wives: Limited Edition
9. Boys
10. (Robert Altman's) Images

Sponsored Links
DVD Blowouts
Alien [Blu-ray]
Buy: $19.99 $9.99
Sponsored Links
Release List Reviews Shop Newsletter Forum DVD Giveaways Blu-Ray Advertise
Copyright 2018 All Rights Reserved. Legal Info, Privacy Policy, Terms of Use