One of the last surviving members of Hollywood’s Golden Age script factory, battered but unbowed A.I. Bezzerides tells it as it was in “Buzz.” The still feisty nonagenarian, who scripted such postwar noir classics as “Thieves’ Highway,” “On Dangerous Ground,” “Track of the Cat” and “Kiss Me Deadly” and became a victim of the so-called “gray list” during the 1950s, provides a rambunctious commentary on his own colorful life and Tinseltown practices, illustrated with numerous clips. Docu will be manna to movie buffs, with fest dates and cable slots a given.
Albert Isaac (“Buzz”) Bezzerides was born in 1908 in Samsun, on Turkey’s Black Sea coast, of Armenian parents who’d Hellenized the family name to escape anti-Armenian sentiment. His father was a traveling salesman, but, after Armenian persecution by the Turkish authorities increased, the family moved Stateside. Buzz was only 1 1/2.
Archive material graphically illustrates their arrival in Fresno, Calif., when, in Buzz’s words, it was just a train stop in the semi-desert between Los Angeles and ‘Frisco. As a school kid, he got to know Fresno-born William Saroyan, also the son of an Armenian immigrant, with whom Buzz remembers “competing” scholastically.
The two re-met in the early ’30s, when Saroyan was first becoming known. However, Buzz’s own journey to scribedom was more difficult, due to his father’s desire for him to follow in the family trucking business.
Prior to going to U. of California at Berkeley, he was been forced to work as a mechanic. When he finally became a full-time writer, it was initially as a novelist (“Long Haul”) on a subject he knew plenty about — trucking. Then Hollywood came calling, wanting him to turn the book into “They Drive by Night,” directed by Raoul Walsh.
In his body language, approach to writing and no-nonsense attitudes, Buzz, interviewed at his spartan Woodland Hills home, irresistibly recalls the late Sam Fuller. Philosophical in his (clearly not wealthy) old age, he narrates how he dealt with the town on its own terms, privately charging stars like George Raft and Edward G. Robinson $5,000 each to rewrite their dialogue.
It was Humphrey Bogart, for whom Buzz had also quietly polished dialogue, who helped propel his career, with tough-guy dramas during the late ’40s and 1950s. Buzz excelled at the pungent, dime-novel dialogue in vogue at the time–though, curiously, he thought Mickey Spillane’s novel “Kiss Me Deadly” “stank.”
Buzz also became a lifelong pal of Robert Mitchum. But despite his heavyweight friendships, Buzz’ scarcely concealed left-wing sympathies meant he never got any really major jobs during what should have been his heyday, the ’50s. Though he was never called before HUAC, like Robinson and others he existed on the so-called “gray list.”
With film historians Dan Georgakas and Philippe Garnier supplying useful context, and actresses Gloria Stuart and Terry Moore (“Beneath the 12-Mile Reef”) anecdotes, film traverses Buzz’s career with reasonable depth, helped by good-quality trailers from several pics. However, one suspects there are a lot more stories Buzz could tell in a more rigorous format.
Son Peter and daughter Zoe patch in more of the personal stuff, though Buzz himself, with a canny eye for the camera, remains his best advertisement. Transfer from DV is acceptable.