THE MOVING FINGER (1963; Something Weird Video).
While the hippie phenomenon of the late-'60s spawned a tidal wave of cinematic grooviness, the beatniks of the early-'60s barely left an impression on the big-screen -- with its best known artifacts ranging from the vomitable adaptation of Kerouac's THE SUBTERRANEANS to the comic agenda of A BUCKET OF BLOOD. That's why I was glad to see this jazzy little obscurity turn up on video. Set in Manhattan's Greenwich Village, this improvisational b&w indie by Larry Moyer grafts the world of smoky coffeehouses and stoned deadbeats onto a B-movie crime scenario...A botched bank robbery jump-starts the cheap thrills, with only one of the crooks escaping with his life, as well as $90,000 in loot. On the lam and bleeding from a bullet wound, he sneaks onto a Greenwich Village tour bus and is soon taken in by a bunch of local "tea-heads" (including future VANISHING POINT star Barry Newman in one of his first film roles, as head beatnik Mason), who get him a morphine shot for his pain and let him crash out on a handy mattress. Gruff-voiced Lionel Stander plays the owner of the upstairs coffeehouse, who lets all of the neighborhood bohemians sack out in his basement apartment, in exchange for filling his cafe whenever the yokel tourists pay a visit. While the crime scenario is standard stuff, these unwashed rebels embrace every lovable cliche -- they share some "reefer", meet a drug-dealing pharmacist, have a stoned cockroach race, cruise through a beat shindig (which Moyer actually held -- and shot -- in his own apartment), and attend an art opening only so they can steal the deli platter. Of course, when they need a shower, they do it en masse at the swanky home of an elderly art patron ('30s actress Wendy Barrie). Every so often these lay-abouts remember they've got a murderous, injured felon hiding out in their pad, with each of these anti-social rebels secretly planning to pry the stolen cash from him. Despite his dirty sweatshirt, Newman looks a bit clean-cut to be a beatnik, but uses his natural charisma and arrogance to win us over; while Stander is always good for a laugh, particularly when the Pigs shut down his coffeehouse. Mixing PULL MY DAISY with THE TREASURE OF SIERRA MADRE, Moyer (who was named Best Director at the San Francisco Film Fest) captures a crude spontaneity amongst the characters, while cinematographer Max Glenn's hand-held camera adds realism, right down to a wonderfully-cynical San Gennaro Festival climax (where it's obvious the crowd didn't even realize they were in a movie). Sprinkled with tacky Beat performance art, music and all-too-authentic weirdos, this is no classic, but certainly offers a finger-snapping dose of nostalgia on a shoestring budget.
© 2000 by Steven Puchalski.