Eddy Crane (Travis) is a down-on-his-luck kid in the late '50s/early '60s who, along with his Five-Man Band pack of hoodlums — Mooney (Peter Breck), Red, Dark Chick Iris and Satellite Character Chuck — lives only to rob convenience stores for petty cash and then lounge around. That is, until one day when talent scout Harry Bayliss happens upon Eddy singing ("You call that singin'? That was nothin'!" You can say that again...) and quickly tries to sign him to a big record deal. Eddy is at first bitter and reluctant but eventually agrees, on the stipulation that his hoodlum gang can stay with him.
Off to downtown L.A. where Eddy meets Helen, Bayliss' secretary, setting up the inevitable Love Triangle. As Helen begins grooming the rather rough (or so we're told) Eddy into a straight-laced star, he begins to see the futility of his Beatnik ways (to clarify; no, not that kind of Beatnik). His Poisonous Friends, on the other hand, are bound and determined not to let him leave them behind in his rise to the top, and continue to create mischief and mayhem — which culminates when Ax-Crazy Mooney shoots a barkeeper dead during an altercation, thus jeopardizing not only Eddy's career, but his entire future.
Tony Travis had a very brief film and television career, fizzling one year after his big break in this movie.
This film contains examples of the following:
- Ax-Crazy: Mooney, who is constantly trying to pick fights even with his "friends".
- Betty and Veronica: Helen and Iris.
- Break Her Heart to Save Her: Eddy accuses Helen of stringing him along for business reasons to discourage her from staying with a no-good punk like himself, mostly out of fear that she'll be implicated in the gang's crime if she does stay. It doesn't stick.
- Downer Ending: Eddy sacrifices his career to atone for his past crimes.
- Drunken Montage: After Eddy (briefly) drops out of show business and breaks up with Helen, he takes a Noir Walk through Los Angeles. As it turns out, though, he's not actually drunk (that we know of).
- Drives Like Crazy: Iris invokes this deliberately, just for kicks.
- Green-Eyed Monster: Thanks to Mooney being a Small Name, Big Ego, he gets increasingly jealous of Eddie's fame.
- Ham-to-Ham Combat: After Red gets shot, it's a toss-up between him and Mooney as to who's better at making their own gravy and splashing it up on film.
- Have a Gay Old Time: Mooney's threat to the hotel manager: "I'm gonna MOOOOOOON YOU!!"note (Even at the time the film was made, the term was starting to gain its current meaning on college campuses, making the manager's nervous confusion all the more plausible.)
- Informed Ability: Eddy's prosaic stage presence somehow sends teenage girls (and guys too) into screaming fits of Beatle-esque hysteria.Eddy: You call that singin'? That was nothin'!
- Large Ham: Peter Breck, again, as Mooney.
- Murder Is the Best Solution: Mooney KILLED THAT FAT BARKEEP!
- Non-Indicative Title: There are no actual beatniks in The Beatniks. The writers seem to be either be under the impression that "beatnik" means something along the lines of "delinquent" or "hoodlum", or that the name comes from beat — as in music — niks, or possibly a bit of both.
- Poisonous Friend:
- Once again, Peter Breck as Mooney. He avoids being The Starscream solely because he doesn't want to be a leader: "Leaders got too much on their minds, man...I only got time for one thing —" (incomprehensible hand gesture; Evil Laugh)
- The rest of Eddie's "friends" aren't much better; they're determined to keep Eddie in their circle of petty criminals, accusing him of acting like he's too good for them any time he expresses greater aspirations than knocking over candy stores, or of shutting them out whenever they can't barge in somewhere private that he can enter.
- Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: I KILLED THAT FAT BARKEEP!
- In addition, the diner is on FAWTH STREET!
- Satellite Character: Chuck the Fifth Beatnik. While he should have similar standing in the gang alongside Red, Mooney and Iris, Chuck gets absolutely no character focus and has all of one or two small lines of dialogue in the entire film. So incidental to the proceedings is he, in fact, that the film doesn't even bother to confirm whether he survives being shot in the climax. None of this is helped, of course, by his being The Generic Guy compared to the others' quirks.
- Shopping Montage: Helen takes Eddy out on the town to get him cleaned up for his big break.
- Slasher Smile: Still again, Peter Breck as Mooney.
- Unusual Euphemism: Mooney likes to use his own name as a Deadly Euphemism. But even in The '50s, to "moon" someone had an entirely different meaning, meaning Critical Research Failure on the part of the writers.
- Word Salad Lyrics: "Sideburns don't need your sympathy..." Well, I can see how WHAT???
- It's Eddie's nickname.
- Worst News Judgment Ever: Mooney thinks the barkeep murder will make him as famous as Eddy.