Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Canon MST3K Review: The Beatniks

Today review is a look back at episode 415 of Mystery Science Theater 3000, The Beatniks. Released in 1960 and directed by Paul Frees (the voice of Boris Badenov and the original voice of the Pillsbury Doughboy) in his only directorial effort, The Beatniks stars Tony Travis, Karen Kadler, Peter Breck (who starred on Maverick and The Big Valley), Joyce Henry, Bob Wells, and Sam Edwards (the banker on Little House on the Prairie. In The Beatniks, a young singer named Eddy Crane (Travis) is discovered at a diner by an agent named Bayliss (Charles Delaney), whose car just happened to break down in front of the diner. The agent is so impressed that he offers Eddy a spot on a talent showcase, and Eddy wows the audience. Along the way, he falls for Bayliss's assistant Helen (Henry). The only thing keeping Eddy from being a star is his beatnik friends, particularly his girlfriend Iris (Kadler) and the mentally unbalanced Bob Mooney (Breck). A few notes about this episode, and there will be SPOILERS, so read carefully.

- This movie has many problems going for it. However, the biggest problem is that in a movie called The Beatniks, there are no actual beatniks in this movie. Where are the bongos? the berets? the weird facial hair? There's not even a hint of beat poetry in this film. Instead, these so-called 'Beatniks' are usually adorned in leather coats and seem more like a 'greaser' gang than anything else. They seem to prefer generic 50s style rock music, and the only thing that could be defined as 'counter-culture' about them is their criminal lifestyle. There's nothing resembling anything related to Jack Kerouac and Allan Ginsburg in this movie whatsoever.

- The leader of the gang is Eddy. He and his gang go and rob the same liquor store over and over whenever they need money, wearing some sort of crude homemade kabuki masks as a disguise. After a chance meeting with an agent at a diner (after they damaged his car, mind you). The agent, Delaney goes all ga-ga over Eddy's voice and offers him a chance to sing. While Eddy's voice isn't too bad, the problem is that it's rather obvious that the actor (Tony Travis) is lip-synching the song, and rather poorly I might add. Since about a fourth of this movie is devoted to showing Eddy sing, that tends to become a problem. While most of the songs are you typical generic love songs that one would expect from a poor man's Perry Como, Eddy's first song in the diner has some lyrics that are, well, interesting, with a chorus of 'Sideburns don't need sympathy'. They don't? Besides, how would Eddy know, since he doesn't even have any.

- Eddy has two main love interests in this film. His original girl is Iris (Kadler), a clingy type who becomes kind of annoying after a while. Not to be mean, but I assume Eddy dates her because she has a car or something. After Eddy starts his singing career, he starts to fall for his agent's assistant, a platinum blonde named Helen. Helen has a smile that reminds me of the pro wrestler Edge, and that's not necessarily a compliment. I wouldn't say she's bad looking, but her eyes and mouth seem to be too big for her face. As the movie progresses, a love triangle ensues, although it's not all together suspenseful and the movie makes it pretty obvious who Eddy prefers.

- Despite being a bunch of hooligans who are called beatniks but not actually beatniks, Eddy and the rest of his gang are mainly just a bunch of harmless goofballs who just happen to be too rowdy for their own good. That is, except for Bob 'Moon' Mooney. To say that Mooney was crazy would be an understatement. He walked around as if he were on an all-day heroin binge, and did strange things frequently, such as grinding his hips against a table while sitting down. Mooney becomes so unhinged that he becomes a danger to friend and foe alike, and eventually he kills a bartender. While Mooney was meant to be a bit of a nut, actor Peter Breck does such an over-the-top and hammy job that it makes Mooney look like a second-rate caricature of a psychotic man. For example, when a hotel clerk comes to tell the gang that they're making too much noise, Mooney gets right in the guy's face, and with a crazy look in his eye, puts his finger on his throat, and says that if the hotel manager tells anyone about this, he'll 'moon you'. I guess that had a different meaning back then. Mooney later has a meltdown in the hotel room, which is one of the worst examples of overacting that I've ever seen. I was shocked to learn that Breck had the most successful career of anybody in this film, as he's just terrible in The Beatniks.

- This episode also features a short clip from General Hospital, circa 1963 or so. It's quite a dull clip, as four people are having dinner, with two of them celebrating their recent engagement and the other two just look bored out of their minds. The segment is by far the weakest of the episode. The host segments in this episode were pretty good, all in all, particularly Joel and the 'bots explaining how to define a beatnik and the rise and fall of musical sensation Tom Servo.

Overall, yes, The Beatniks is a bad movie. But it's the type of bad movie that is full of unintentional comedy and, while dumb, isn't painful to watch a la Red Zone Cuba. There are quite a few laughs in this episode, and the overacting of Mooney provides many comedic moments. Overall, I'd give the movie a 2.8 out of 10, but the episode a 7.3 out of 10. Well, thanks for reading, and if you have any thoughts about this or other posts, or ideas for future posts, than let me know about them either by leaving a comment on the blog or sending me an e-mail at kthec2001@gmail.com.

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