Friday, January 17, 2014


Handsome Ray Danton, pictured at right, is hanging out in a beatnik club, the kind where a woman (a cameo by Vampira) holding a white rat chants beat poetry while a shirtless guy sits next to her, arms folded across his chest, glaring into space. A girl tries to hit on Ray, but he responds by telling her to "be cool… There’s no tomorrow—not while the sky drools radiation gumdrops," then goes back to reading Schopenhauer. Danton's father shows up with his new wife but Danton gives them both the cold shoulder, sneeringly calling the new wife, who looks younger than Danton, "Mommy." Turns out Danton is a serial rapist, known in the press as the Aspirin Kid for his M.O.: he goes to the home of a housewife whom he knows will be alone, tells her that he borrowed money from her husband and wants pay it back, then fakes a migraine and asks her for an aspirin. When she returns with the aspirin, he attacks, beats, and rapes her.

The main cop on the case is Steve Cochran, but he's handicapped by his belief that all women are filth (he seem happily married, but his first wife was a tramp), so he basically believes that all the victims were somehow "asking for it." When his own wife becomes a victim of Danton, he remains conflicted, unable to give her the support she needs; when she becomes pregnant soon after and he is clearly unable to deal with it, she considers an abortion. To throw the cops off the track, Danton talks his weaselly buddy (Jim Mitchum) into pulling a copy-cat crime with Mamie Van Doren as the target; the plan goes awry when her husband shows up, but Cochran and his partner (Jackie Coogan) follow Van Doren, thinking that she is seeing the Aspirin Kid on the sly, which takes them, after a couple of false leads, to a swinging beatnik party in a beach house where, as the kids chant "Don’t bug me, DaddyO," the ludicrous and overlong climax occurs with Cochran chasing a harpoon-carrying Danton right into the ocean.

Despite the unsavory rape aspect of the plot, this is mostly a deliriously fun B-thriller. Many sources call this a film noir, but it has virtually none of the visual elements of noir; only the fact that the lead character has a dark obsession (which is interestingly mirrored by the villain) gives the movie any tie at all to the noir genre. The "beat generation" milieu is mostly tangential to the narrative but those references (clustered at the beginning and end) are what make this fun. Danton's character is obviously not a real "beat" devotee; it's like near the end of shooting, they decided to bookend the film with satiric beatnik scenes to juice up what is otherwise a traditional crime melodrama. Danton is very good and good-looking as the creepy rapist with the charming surface, and Cochran (pictured at left with Danton) is equally good and good-looking as the charming cop with the creepy anti-female views. Mitchum (Robert's son) is OK in his role, though he is completely without charisma; Van Doren ultimately doesn't have much to do, but she comes off as a stronger character than Cochran's wife (Fay Spain, who has more screen time but doesn't register as much); former child star Jackie Coogan (later Uncle Fester on The Addams Family) is fine as Cochran's buddy. Norman Grabowski, looking like an overage frat jock (and in real life a famous hot rod designer) has fun during the final party scene. Louis Armstrong essentially has a cameo as himself, keeping as much cool as he can performing the ridiculous title tune: "You beat generation/You think you live as you choose…/I think you're headed for the blues." It’s a low-budget movie but in its widescreen incarnation it doesn’t look cheap. [TCM]

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