Sunday, 29 September 2013

Off… Beat Girl (1960)

"She’s nearly always here, digs all the modern gear, co-o-ol like a lager beer… Beat Girl…”

The John Barry-penned theme tune, snarled by Adam Faith with more genuine menace than Cliff or Tommy could ever hope to muster (wouldn’t mess with Joe though), is one of the surer steps of this odd film.

Whilst it’s easy to mock the “dated” battle of the generations between the hipsters and the squares, there are some interesting performances and a genuine sense of threat as well as period. Christopher Lee and Nigel Green are the pick for the grownups whilst Adam Faith’s mumbling authenticity and Gillian Hills’ youthful edgy-ness stand out for the kids oh, and one youngster name of Oliver Reed already typecast as “dangerous”.

Adam Faith: way more edgy than Cliff...
There’s also that cracking soundtrack from John Barry (that musical redeemer of so many flawed narratives…) which ranges from energetic modern jazz (still most hip in 1959) to the bruising RnB of the theme tune.

Then there’s the dancing, the Beat Girl certainly cuts a rug in the basement discotheque whilst some of Soho’s finest are employed to show just a little of what they can do in the strip club. Even now this is raunchy stuff recalling scenes from London in the Raw and other sexploitative documentaries of the period. Two of the performances shown are all the more shocking for their frankness: half a century probably hasn’t changed the watchers or the watched… the drinks are just more expensive.

David Farrar and Noëlle Adam
The beat girl in question is Jennifer (Gillian Hills who was later to turn up as a brunette sharing a cavort with David Hemmings and Jane Birkin in Blow Up!) a sixteen year old actress playing a sixteen years old rebelling against her straight-laced, radical architect father Paul Linden (David Farrar) and his pretty new Parisian trophy wife Nicole (Noëlle Adam).

No one understands her and even though she is studying art at the respectable St Martins, Jenny would prefer to be out dancing with her beat friends in their Soho coffee shop basement.

The beat girl
Her friends include Dave; a bit of rough with a guitar (Adam Faith, who does rather well), Dodo (Shirley Anne Field – a good actress who’s clean good looks make her seem forever posh, even though she’s from Bolton...) and Tony (Peter McEnery, in his first film), who is constantly swigging from a cough mixture bottle filled with gin…

As is revealed, Jenny is not alone in having generational difficulties: Tony’s father is aloof, a war hero without the courage to be a full-time parent, whilst Dave’s had to bring himself up spending so much time playing on bombsites, a world away from post-war regeneration.

Shirley Anne Fields, Gillian_Hills and Adam Faith
Alcohol is not yet “cool” for these guys and it is interesting what they do think is uncool – these beats are passionate about Dave Brubeck, rock and their own means of expression… even if you cringe at some of the self-conscious slang. “He sends me…” says Dodo describing Dave’s singing… yes, but probably not too far from the Home Counties.

Bolton's finest, Shirley Anne Field, being "sent"
Jennifer doesn’t take to her new step mother partly because of her growing alienation from her father his obsession with work and in particular his City 2000 project a model of which fills their sterile living room. See, the fault’s not just youth but career-centric middle age…

Nichole reaches out to Jennifer and seeks her out in her coffee bar haunt but things go awry especially when she bumps into an old friend, Greta (Delphi Lawrence) who she feigns not to recognise…

The days of well-dressed door men
The kids know Greta as one of the strippers in the club across the road and Jennifer starts digging deeper trying to find a way to antagonise Nichole. She goes into the club to quiz Greta and sees more than she bargained for on stage - an obviously well-practiced, sensuous routine from one Pascaline (actual stage name…) involving innovative use of a long shawl… The seediness is well done, I should imagine, and surprisingly convincing for the vintage: this looks all too real.

Pascaline performs
Jennifer doesn’t get much out of Greta but then she is noticed by the club’s shady manager Kenny (Christopher Lee) who also happens to be – just about – the older woman’s boyfriend. He takes a shine to Jennifer and makes Greta tell her about her life in Paris with Nichole… There’s more but she has to return to learn it all.

Jennifer sees more than she expected...
This is enough for Jennifer to really start torturing her step mother and you really do lose sympathy with the Beat Girl from this point on.

Nichole goes to meet Greta to try and put a cap on things yet, despite her standing up to Kenny he threatens to reveal more if Jennifer is not allowed back to the club. He’s looking for fresh blood and already has a trip to Paris planned with side-kick Simon (great stuff from Nigel Green given a rare chance to be a geezer).

Claire Gordon and Nigel Green
Jennifer starts to go wild, encouraging Dave to drive too fast in a race with other hipsters and inviting a party round to her parents’ house.  She performs a striptease mimicking Nichole’s past and Dad arrives just in time to kick out the beats…

Wicked step-mother
All is revealed and yet David is willing to forgive and forget Nicole’s burlesque past – not such a square after all!

But Jennifer has run off seeking adult refuge with Kenny. We’re shown another expert routine from a woman in a white negligee (Diane D'Orsay) as he attempts to persuade her to come to Paris with him… there’s clearly a career for her on the stage whilst Greta’s time is obviously up…

Diane D'Orsay cuts a rug...
Meanwhile some Teds smash up Tony’s car and the Linden’s race to try and find their daughter. Will the Beat Girl be corrupted for good or is there still a chance for her to re-connect with family?

Released in the US as Wild for Kicks, Beat Girl was sensationalist and must have caused quite a stir on its release in 1960. With established stars like Farrah (whose credits include numerous Powell and Pressburger such as the classic Black Narcissus), Lee and Green merged with the genuinely up and coming it was well-cast if not that well funded - Shirley Anne Field recently complaining that she got paid less than the extras.

He's behind you!
But the nudity and situations must surely have limited its distribution – certainly in the UK. How would the film be viewed if it had been French (with Bardot) or Italian? As it was, I’m not sure how many teenagers got to see it… fewer than Expresso Bongo that’s for sure!

The music also became the first soundtrack LP issued in Britain and featured The John Barry Seven & Orchestra. It’s available for download from eMusic as well as in plastic from Amazon.

Britain's first soundtrack LP?
The soundtrack has been re-mastered and the film needs a digital upgrade on the shoddy DVD that is just about currently available at rather inflated prices... we still want to be exploited it seems...

Dusty verdict: Not a classic but certainly very interesting. Almost everybody involved went on to great things from vampires to nude wrestlers and budgies…

“That’s the Beat Girl, feeding the coins into the juke box…long black stockings and no make up… she makes like she’s not over concerned about  this extravagant attention: keeps given’ me the look like I’m supposed to rate this chick high or somethin’…”
Retitled for the US market
"Fighting's for squares..." in reality Faith would have bopped 'em!
Dangerous Olly Reed
Gillian Hills went on to pop stardom in France with Zou Bisou Bisou...

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