Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Beatniks (1960) – MST3K Review


This episode starts with a short “General Hospital”. Yep, that “General Hospital”. We get a bit at a birthday party where the soap opera antics make everyone very awkward.

In the movie, Eddy (Tony Travis) and his crew love to race around and rob mom and pop stores. While going over his loot he is discovered by a talent agent. You see Eddy can croon like the best of them, and so he begins his ascent to stardom. Unfortunately his gang lead by the unstable Mooney (Peter Breck) wants to keep hanging out with him, and everything they touch – they destroy. Will Eddy be able to keep his singing contract and get the girl, or will “The Beatniks” land him in the big house?

Movie Review

The short is actually very grey and very dull. These are moments taken from the 1963 episodes of the show and boy are they a snooze. Everyone talks slowly, like they are all on downers and the music… wow. Not much else to say about “General Hospital” other than it was a long way from the 80’s version my grandma used to watch.

I watched this fine film right after watching “Walk the Line”, the biography about Johnny Cash. They both have similar stories, a young man from a messed up background struggles to make it in the music industry. A history with a bad crowd threatens to destroy them. The light at the end of the tunnel is the good girl who wants to help them. Of course, I don’t think we’ll see “Walk the Line” on Rifftrax any time soon. But it’s odd how nearly 40 years later we are still seeing similar stories.

So what is so wrong with this film? Well it’s not horrible it’s just not terribly good. First off Eddy never strikes us as the kind of talent that would get noticed and exploited. He’s an OK singer, doing a kind of crooning similar to Sinatra in style, but without the smoothness. He’s a bit of a jerk, although Helen (Joyce Terry) is able to get him to lighten up. Still, we never buy into the fact that he’s supposed to be a singing heartthrob. He’s more like your pal who sings along with the radio and no one tells him to shut up.

None of the songs really catch you. Writing this I can’t remember the title or melody for a single one of them. Again, nothing really stinks here, but they are so bland that they enter one ear and leave the other.

No the real issue here is the gang. Let’s get something out of the way right off the bat. Eddy’s gang are not beatniks. They are a bunch of thugs and ruffians. You wanna see a real group of beatniks in a MST3K setting? Check out “The Rebel Set”, those guys are a lot closer to the beat lifestyle than these clowns.

My two favorite characters of the film are found in this little gang. Iris (Karen Kadler) is a catty woman who manages to be clingy as well. She starts the film hanging all over Eddy. When he grabs the interest of the talent scout, she pressures the reluctant Eddy to sign with him. We can see the stars in her eyes. When Eddy starts to fall for Helen, she gets very jealous and this causes her to be even more abrasive. I feel a little bad for Iris. She’s not a likable woman at all; maybe these jokers are the only ones that could tolerate her.

Of course it could be the simple fact that Mooney is a complete nut job. Maybe he hopes that Iris will turn into a more annoying character than him. Well that’s not going to happen. Breck chews all the scenery he can from the moment we see him. He’s aggressive, and yet whiney and stupid all at the same time. He reminds me of the leader of the gang in “Zombie Nightmare”. My favorite Mooney moment is when he breaks down in the hotel. It’s so over the top and shrill that you have to see it to believe it.

This movie was written and directed by Paul Frees. It’s the only movie he did either of these jobs. Don’t judge Mr. Frees by this film. He was an excellent voice actor providing his talents for nearly 40 years. Joel and the bots ask you to remember him as the voice of Ludwig Von Drake and not the director of “The Beatniks”.

Episode Review:

Crow, Tom and Joel have been on this type of road before, with the film “Daddy-O”. That turned out to be a fan favorite, so I think they felt pretty comfortable with this movie. The riffing is easy and good-natured for the bulk of the film, with most of the comedy coming with the songs and Mooney’s antics. It’s the other scenes that seem a bit blasé by comparison.

But the “General Hospital” shorts never really grabbed me. MST3K tackled three of them. While there are moments of comedy, I always forget about them as short subjects. The funniest part of this episode is when Joel and the bots improvise a commercial from “The Booze Council” explaining how booze would make the dull party more fun.

This is one of those episodes that I enjoy when I watch it, but after a while I don’t remember any really great riffs or fun moments. Ok, this movie is the source for the frequent riff “Shut up Iris! I said shut up!” used in later shows when a male character gets snappy with a female character. You also get Mooney’s meltdown which give us the “I killed the fat barkeep!” line that Frank will blurt out once in a while. So maybe it does have some memorable moments, but those are mostly because of the callbacks and host segments that riffed on them later.

Speaking of host segments, things start off with Joel being very mean while playing Rock, Paper, Scissors with Crow and Tom. This is really bizarre, because Joel is usually very nice to his bots. Luckily Gypsy comes in and squishes him. For the invention exchange the Mads dress like good luck trolls and Joel shows off his literal version of pocket pool. At the first break Joel and the bots discuss whether what we are watching are real beatniks. The next segment has Gypsy, Tom and Crow throwing a slumber party in full P.J.s and dishing about Tony Travis. Next up is Tom Servo in a behind the music documentary about the 50’s rocker. It’s very silly. After the movie finishes Crow and Tom are inspired by Mooney and go insane! The Mads are super popular because of their Troll costumes… yeah I didn’t believe it either.

I think the cast and crew of the series enjoyed this film a lot more than I do. Compared to the similar “Daddy-O” it’s a better episode. But it pales to the season 6 classic “Girl’s Town”. This is making it sound bad, and it’s not. I enjoyed watching it again, but it falls into the average grade for me. If you love 60’s delinquent films, you might enjoy it a bit more than I did.

I give it 3 fat barkeeps out of five.

Available on the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection Volume XVIII.


  1. Rather like The She-Wolf of London (1946) which has no she-wolf and doesn't take place in London, but is otherwise a perfect title. Bucket of Blood and The Beat Generation, both 1959, are two of my favorite attempts to portray beatniks.

  2. Ohhh, "She Wolf of London" now that sounds like a good one... even if it doesn't have a she wolf. I've heard of "Bucket of Blood" but never saw it. Putting those on my list to check out.