Mamie Van Doren in The Beat Generation (1959)


(director: Charles F. Haas; screenwriters: Walter H. Castle/Richard Matheson/Lewis Meltzer; cinematographer: Walter H. Castle; editor: Ben Lewis; music: Lewis Meltzer/Albert Glasser; cast: Steve Cochran (Dave Culloran), Mamie van Doren (Georgia Altera), Ray Danton (Stan Hess), Fay Spain (Francee Culloran), Louis Armstrong (Himself), Maggie Hayes (Joyce Greenfield), Jackie Coogan (Jake Baron), Max “Slapsie Maxie” Rosenbloom (Wrestling Beatnik), Billy Daniels (Dr. Elcott). Jim Mitchum (Art Jester), Cathy Lee Crosby (The Singer), Ray Anthony (Harry Altera), Dick Contino (The Singing Beatnik), Maila “Vampira” Nurmi (Poetess), Charles Chaplin, Jr (Lover Boy), Irish McCalla (Marie Baron); Runtime: 95; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Albert Zugsmith; MGM; 1959)

“Ugly crime drama.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Charles Haas directs this ugly crime drama set around the coffee house ‘beat’ scene in the late 1950s, where the rebellion comes in performing scathing poetry and playing childish mind games by the sheep-like beatniks. The crime story revolves around the character study of a women hating cop and the equally women hating rapist the cop is pursuing. It offers a revolting and outlandish depiction of beatniks as background for the crime drama. It also throws in a Christian fundamentalist right-wing family value message that President George W. Bush could respect, that comes out against abortion even when a rape is committed. The lingo goes all out in trying to be hip, using words like the following: far-out, cool, square, daddy–o, dig, make the scene and split. It was done in a satirical camp manner that was so bad that it could be thought of by some as being good in a perverted way (one’s humor to such stupidity varies with each viewer).

Joyce Greenfield is twirling her hoolah hoop in her pad when she’s interrupted by someone at the door. The handsome young man gives his name as Art Garrett but his real name, we know from a previous scene, is Stan Hess (Ray Danton)–the mentally disturbed woman hating son of a wealthy dissolute father who still supports him. Stan claims he’s here to pay back Joyce’s hubby some money and when he’s let into her place feigns a headache and asks for water for his aspirin, when she returns with the water he proceeds to rob and rape her. The detectives assigned to investigate, Dave Culloran (Steve Cochran) and Jake Baron (Jackie Coogan), dub it as another serial rapist case of the Aspirin Kid because of the perp’s modus operandi.

Culloran thinks all women are tramps because his first wife was one, and when he questions Joyce he does so in a harsh manner indicating he doesn’t believe her story. A beatnik suspect who fits the description, Art Jester (Jim Mitchum), is picked up and placed in a police lineup, but the victim fails to positively identify him. Jester then complains to his beatnik friend Stan Hess that because of him the police brought him down to the station for a grilling. But Stan has info of a statutory rape committed by Jester and blackmails him into silence, and then into helping him throw the cops off his trail.

At home, Culloran’s recent second wife Francee (Francee) always feels she’s being interrogated when he talks to her.Francee is irritated that her hubby spends all his time on the case and not at home. Sicko Hess, learning that Culloran is assigned the case, makes Francee his next rape victim. This attack outrages the uptight cop, who feels his wife is soiled and can’t even hold her in his arms anymore like a husband should. The embittered Culloran spends all his time chasing down clues. When Georgia Altera (Mamie van Doren) is about to be attacked by Art Jester, who is ordered by Hess to commit a copy-cat rape to throw the cops off the trail, her separated husband returns to prevent the attack. Culloran then will hound Georgia until she agrees to be used as bait to catch the rapist.

When Francee discovers she’s pregnant a few months later and cannot be sure who fathered her child, the dilemma the couple is faced with becomes as great as catching the rapist. The only support Francee gets comes from Baron and his wife, as Culloran becomes even more obsessed than before to get the rapist in order to get a blood test to see who is the father of the child.

The film in its noir moments suggests that it’s possible for a pressured policeman to be as mentally disturbed as the criminal he is pursuing. The cop’s moral self-righteousness is exposed for hiding behind a sick view on life, and his police work comes into question as being not only insensitive but dangerous to the victims he intends to use as bait to catch the rapist. The cop and the criminal are both misanthropes: the cop is verbally abusive to woman, while the rapist takes out his rage in his violent act.

It’s an icy picture with manipulative lead characters that have no reservations about using others to serve their ends. The film never had a compelling sense of getting to the truth as it got lost in veering from cultural hokum to phony religiosity to outrageous camp. Its empty message of love over violence seemed gratuitous and hardly earth shattering, and its unpleasant narrative bordered on being more an exploitation of the rape victims than a telling of their story as it should be told.

The film’s best scene is when Louie Armstrong sings the theme song in the coffee house.


REVIEWED ON 10/21/2004 GRADE: C-