Emily Fear is a librarian by day, professional wrestling lover and accordion player in the band Bitter Whiskers by night. You can catch her as the co-host of Talking Honor on PWTorch and read her new blog all about intergender wrestling, Boy Girl Party.
Like the straight-laced, grim-faced cousin of Roger Corman’s A Bucket of Blood, The Bloody Brood (1959) grounds its tale of murder and suspense in the hypocrisies and nihilism of the Beat Generation. While Beatnik caricatures steal scenes with bad improvised poetry and arhythmic, wide-armed dancing to spare bongo beats, the movie is dedicated to a more realistic portrayal of the majority of its hipster coffeehouse denizens – who may talk the talk of the culture, but are definitely working day jobs to support their nighttime wanderings.
That is, except for Nico (Peter Falk), whose business is those same too-jaded truth-seekers. While they flock to his wisdom – “They spend millions developing toothpaste to stop cavities, then they spend billions on bigger and better ways to blow us to bits” – they also partake of the drugs that he is selling, without even realizing that he is the one selling them. While Nico may be about the “truth,” he is happily raking in the profit of the drug deals without the shame or scrutiny, which is left to his rougher mules.
Early in the film, Nico, advertising director Francis and a few Beatnik cronies witness the death of an old newspaper man. What might be a traumatizing event for most warm-blooded civilians is a source of twisted inspiration for Nico: “What do we do? Watch. Gentlemen, this is the greatest show on earth. Spontaneous, unrehearsed, only one performance.”
Turned on by this ultimate kick, Nico ropes Francis into a plan to create more of these “spontaneous” moments and before you know it, they’re bringing a messenger boy into a party to feed him a hamburger laced with ground up glass.
The boy dies and it’s up to his brother, Cliff (Jack Betts), to solve the mystery of who killed him, aided by a sympathetic detective – who honestly doesn’t seem very good at his job – and Ellie (Barbara Lord).
If Cliff inching closer and closer to the truth wasn’t enough trouble, Nico’s also got mule problems, as Studs and Weasel demand a larger cut of the drug money, considering that they’re taking all the risk. Meanwhile, the drug-dealing powers that be above Nico are concerned that he is becoming a bit too immeshed with the scene in which he is profiting from.
What The Bloody Brood lacks in the entertainment factor of A Bucket of Blood, it makes up for with a certain earnestness – and that creates characters that are more effective than even needed for pulp like this. For every Dave, with his straight-out-of-costuming beatnik uniform and slang nonsense, there’s an Ellie, whose fear of wasting away her life blinds her to the snobbish contradictions of her hipster peers, or even Francis, an effete posturing jerk whose pompousness is second only to his cowardice.
The nuance, however, ends with the main characters. Cliff is a fairly bland hero who is also not particularly good at masking his covert operations. And while Falk tries to give Nico complexities, many of his actions, particularly later in the film, seem to be against his own self-preservation. The whole “murder for kicks” idea overall doesn’t seem to gibe with a guy whose just trying to profit off the self-important obliviousness of the subculture he’s infiltrated.
But perhaps that is the point. Nico’s boss is concerned that he is getting too close with his customers. While others might exhibit that over-closeness with feelings of love and affection toward their peers, thus inhibiting their ability to sell them drugs, for Nico, the effect is that he buys all the bullshit that the others drink down like cheap table wine. He may have started off as conning them, but he became the biggest mark of all.
Despite its technical flaws and a few glaring holes in the storyline, as far as low budget pulp thrillers, you can do a lot worse than The Bloody Brood.