Although Paul Frees would go on to have a successful voice-over career (he’s most recognizable voice-over work is arguably that of “Burgermeister Meisterburger” and various others from the beloved stop-motion Christmas classic Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town (1970)), his sole writing/directorial work, The Beatniks (1960) is so laughably bad and poorly written that one can’t help but thank Mr. Frees for having the common sense to go off and explore other facets of the film industry rather than to continue to wallow in one he clearly was not meant to be in.
Starring no one of particular interest, the film tells the story of Eddie Crane (Tony Travis), a gun-toting hoodlum with a penchant for crooning like a dime-store Frank Sinatra who is discovered singing in a diner by a talent agent and offered a chance to become a massive singing sensation. Just like Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William S. Burroughs. Right? You guys?
However, after becoming an overnight sensation even before the night is over, Crane must contend with his rowdy criminal friends who all want to mooch off him and his fame–its sort of like that show Entourage, only with more murders and less coherence. The worst offender, Mooney (Peter Breck), later kills a barkeep in a botched robbery, forcing Crane to choose between becoming a famous singer, or helping his dirt-bag friends avoid the net of the law.
In case the sarcasm displayed earlier wasn’t obvious enough, let it be firmly stated now that this film has nothing to do with ‘beatniks’, or the ‘Beat Generation’ of the late 50’s, early 60’s. There are no poetry readings. No organized protests. No traveling cross-country. No psychotropics, or introspective examination. There’s none of that. It’s simply one of many ‘juvenile delinquent movies’ that were made during the 50’s/60’s that also attempted to cash in on the Beat Bandwagon.
Containing numerous editing glitches, boom-mike shadows, terrible overacting, and poorly written dialogue, there is very little about this film that is funny on purpose, and even less that is intentionally good. Those involved with the movie had such little pride in their finished creation that they didn’t even bother to renew the copyright for it, meaning you can watch the entire film for free on the internet.
Ultimately, the only good thing that can said about The Beatniks is that Paul Frees learned his lesson fast, and promptly gave up the directing and writing reins for a career much more suited to his talents and abilities. By the time Frees went to his grave in 1986, he had accumulated such an impressive and huge resume of voice-over work and musical compositions that he no doubt went off peacefully and smiling, knowing that he would be remembered after his death as ‘The Man with a Thousand Voices’ rather than as ‘That Jerk who Directed The Beatniks‘.
Find the nearest Blockbuster near your home so you can rent this film almost immediately. Or, if you prefer that movies came to you instead, set up a Netflix account and start your ordering as soon as possible.