Ralph Meeker, Dan Duryea, Vince Edwards, Steve Cochran. There’s just something about the asshole. Scratch that. That’s too strong and vulgar and dismissive of a word. More like, the shit heel, the hinky hombre, the shit bird, the gas house palooka, whichever old-timey slang you choose to apply, these fellas are smarmy, slimy, ready with the pimp hand and sport that proverbial cat-that-ate-the-canary grin whenever a comely broad crosses their path.
If you’re upset, you’re just, as Duryea spits in The Little Foxes, “showing off your grief” (though he dares utter this to a man, which, in the rare case of the actor’s screen career, causes Mr. Duryea to become the recipient of the bitch slap, rather than his usual backhand). And should you ever flag down a car in hysterical distress; the good looking stinker might not give you the comfort you require. He might just ask, a la Ralph Meeker as Mike Hammer -- the most glorious a-hole of them all: “What's this all about? I'll make a quick guess. You were out with some guy who thought ‘no’ was a three-letter word. I should have thrown you off that cliff back there. I might still do it. Where are ya headed?"
Hey, at least he picked her up. As Meeker proved -- a jerk can be a softie sometimes, though a clever, conniving one. Unlike the sensitive bad boy, he doesn’t buy all that romantic, raging on the heath hokum. In fact, he’s not one to get dizzy with a dame -- he can be quite indifferent -- you know, so many women, such little time, another babe will swing my way.
I mean this as a true compliment, because, how can you resist the Meeker? These jerk-faces are confident, charming, meanies who can dress a girl down with two hard bitten lines said with a breezy SOB savoir faire. And, yes, that can work some dangerously seductive mojo on a gal. Forget Sylvia Plath and her fascist fetish, her boot-in-the-face business: every woman loves a heel in the face, as in the shit heel. When Jean Paul Belmondo, though a tragic romantic, still manages to petulantly stare at the beautiful waif Jean Seberg, the girl every supposedly “decent” man wants to save from ruin -- she can’t resist. After all, he says it himself, “I’m an asshole.”
This is the type of creature Michael Cera must create in Miguel Arteta’s Youth in Revolt, (adapted by Gustin Nash from the cult novel by C.D. Payne) and not surprisingly, his object of amour is obsessed with…ooh, la, la! Belmondo! She’s a full on '60s Francophile, an era when the men were allowed to be weird looking, the women almost obnoxiously beautiful, and Serge Gainsbourg, a sly brilliant fox, reigned supreme. Wily Serge charmed sweet little France Gall to turn a seemingly innocent lollipop song into an act of fellatio. He also got away with proclaiming his wish to “fuck” Whitney Houston, to her face, on French television and…oh the French! How can you not love Serge? I certainly do.
Read the rest of my piece at IFC, where I'm this month's guest critic.