Tuesday, 13 July 2010

The Rebel Set (1959)

I adore 1950s juvenile delinquent movies. The bad news about The Rebel Set (Beatsville) is that despite being included in a boxed set of JD movies there isn’t an actual juvenile delinquent in sight. The good news is that it’s a fairly entertaining little movie anyway.

So if it’s not a JD movie, what is it? In fact it’s a crime B-movie, a heist movie to be more specific, but with beatniks. It follows the classic pattern of a brilliant criminal mastermind coming up with an elaborate and ingenious plan for a spectacular robbery and then recruiting a team of expert thieves to pull it ff. Only Mr T (the criminal mastermind in this movie) doesn’t recruit a team of expert thieves.He recruits a team of beatniks. And they’re not experts in anything. They’re total losers. At one point he tells them they’re not beats, they’re just beaten.

So why beatniks and losers? He wants losers because they’ll try harder, being really desperate! And they’re beatniks because this was 1959 and beatniks were the social threat of the moment, undermining freedom and democracy and all the rest.

Mr T is played by Edward Platt, best known as the Chief from Get Smart. He’s a chess hustler (yes, a chess hustler) who owns a beatnik coffee shop. He intends to pull off an armoured car robbery. The gang will catch the rain to Chicago, commit the robbery, and then return by train. The three beatniks he assembles for the heist are a spoilt rich kid, a would-be writer and a would-be actor. The robbery goes off as planned but of course complications ensue in the aftermath as the gang make the return train journey.

The heist isn’t all that spectacular, this being a very low-budget movie, but it’s still quite well done. And while the acting is B-movie standard, it’s reasonably OK B-movie standard. Edward Platt makes an amusing middle-aged beatnik.

While it lacks actual juvenile delinquents it’s possible to see it as a kind of JD movie if you consider the beatniks as representing the dire threat of youth culture. They play the same role as juvenile delinquents in 1950s exploitation movies, thumbing their noses at authority and decent respectable society. The coffee shop scenes are the most entertaining part of the film, with I. Stanford Jolley (who generally appeared in B-grade westerns) doing an amusing turn as beat poet King Invader. And there’s a dance sequence featuring an obviously zonked young beatnik woman which provides further fun.

By the standards of this kind of movie it at least looks fairly professional and it’s nicely paced. Good B-movie entertainment.

It’s included in the St Clair Vision Classic Teenage Rebels DVD boxed set along with a host of other great public domain movies of the same type. There’s a fair bit of print damage but on the whole the picture and sound quality are quite acceptable. It’s a great value set.

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