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HEART BEAT (director/writer: John Byrum; screenwriter: Carolyn Cassady; cinematographer: Laszlo Kovacs; editor: Eric Jenkins; music: Jack Nitzsche; cast: Nick Nolte (Neal Cassady), Sissy Spacek (Carolyn Cassady), John Heard (Jack Kerouac), Ray Sharkey (Ira Steiker), Tony Bill (Dick), Anne Dusenberry(Stevie), Margaret Fairchild (Mrs. Kerouac), John Larrouquette (Talk Show Host), Ray Vitte (Undercover Cop); Runtime: 100; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Alan Greisman/Michael Shamberg; Orion; 1980)
The analysis of the beats comes across as superficial.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Heart Beat disappoints as it never manages to expand its loose riff of the Beat Generation stars Jack Kerouac (John Heard), Neal (Nick Nolte) and Carolyn Cassady (Sissy Spacek) to take us into the poetry the rebels fed off. Neal was the real-life inspiration for the charismatic character of Dean Moriarity in Jack Kerouac’s game-changing book On the Road (1957). The Beat in the title stands for the 1950’s beatniks.

Director John Byrum (“The Razor’s Edge“/”Inserts”/”The Whoopee Boys“) co-writes with one of the main beat principles Carolyn Cassady, on whose autobiography the film is based. Nevertheless it still comes off looking inauthentic despite such an insider’s view. It covers twenty years of chasing after whatever the American Dream is by the carefree beat heroes, ranging in time from the A-bomb to the birth control pill. It features the trio’s mind-blowing cross-country journey, where they experienced America in the raw.

The gist of the pic has the swinging Cassadys trapped in a love-hate relationship and an unconventional love triangle. Ray Sharkey channels their beat poet pal Allen Ginsberg, in a manner that’s credible. The only acting problem is that a miscast John Heard misses getting his beat writer Kerouac character by much more than a bongo beat, as his wild love life is compared with his literary quest. The analysis of the beats comes across as superficial, the story is confusingly told (Carolyn’s script is a drudge, which is the pic’s main problem) and its overview of the On The Road 1950s era hardly shows the radical impact it had on the country at a time when conformity ruled.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”