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TAGLINE: It takes two to skidoo.






Where does one begin to describe the joy-awful mix of Otto Preminger's 1968 counter-culture movie SKIDOO? With its large cast of Hollywood royalty, both oldies and newbies, perhaps I can start by calling it IT'S A BAD BAD BAD BAD WORLD. But that's unfair, because SKIDOO isn't bad. Well, it is, but it isn't. It all depends on which lens of the psychedelic kaleidoscope you're watching the movie through. And yes, the credits to this "comedy" really are sung (and I can sing the whole song...if you can call it singing), right down to "Copyright MCMLXVIII." That should give you a hint of the out there-ed-ness (again, not a good thing or a bad thing) of SKIDOO. I posted the song at the end of this write-up, but I'll give you the first line now:

alexandra hay by Random Movie Club
"Jackie Gleason was Tony Banks." He's a cantankerous retired mobster living with his wife Flo (Carol Channing, who A - I saw last October at Disneyland stepping out of a non-moving teacup, and B - has disowned this movie) and daughter Darlene (Alexandra Hay...hubba hubba and, yeah, why not - hubba). Tony and Flo are fighting for control of the TV (somehow this TV comes with two remotes). This may be the first filmed scene of remote wars...I'm not sure. Of course, if they had an Apple Television with SIRI, their Laurel & Hardy button-pushing contest would have just been a shouting match. Anyway, like all mob stories, Tough Tony's being forced back into the game by God ("No, not that God, stupid."). God is the big
macher Mafia kingpin, played by (ladies and gentleman, the one...the only) - Groucho! At first Tony declines, but he's soon intimidated by God's muscle Hechy (Cesar Romero) and his protege Angie (Frankie Avalon). The plan is to break Tony into jail so he can "kiss" (mafia-speak, at least in this movie, for "kill") his old friend Blue Chips Packard (Mickey Rooney), who is turning State's evidence. Inside, Banks is helped by Beany (Richard Kiel) and bunkies Fred The Professor (Austin Pendleton) and Leech (Michael Constantine), a repeat offender rapist (toldya it was a comedy). Yeah, that's right. This hippie-trippy movie actually has a real plot, and that's a problem. It's so silly and wacky (and unfunny) that it's unnecessary to have a plot as complex as, say, TOPKAPI. And that's not the half of it, because SKIDOO is more than a farcical mafia lark, it's also about the generation gap. You see...

Darlene falls in with the hippies, and dad Tony objects. So does the town, actually. In fact, when the hippies have a sit-in on the lawn of City Hall, the township holds a meeting and then demands that they pack up their teepees and leave. "We have a constitutional right to be here!" say the hippies. (Hmm, sounds...timely.) Anyway, because Flo is the forward thinker to Tony's "Archie Bunker patriotism," she invites the whole tribe back to the house, where Darlene can run around like Goldie Hawn in LAUGH-IN, in body paint and bikini.


"So Rich, if SKIDOO has too many players doing too many things, why was it so slow and boring?
Why did comedy bits go on too long or miss the target entirely?" Good questions, son. I'd say it was because it not only had no clear grasp of what hippies were, but even the establishment characters were cliched...like citizens out of THE MUSIC MAN. "But Rich, so what? It's a musical." Well, no, not really. Carol Channing does sing the title song at the end of the movie. The rest of the score, by Nilsson, has a song (the single-worthy I WILL TAKE YOU THERE) and instrumentals, but they're on the soundtrack, so it's not a musical. So I guess the simple answer to your really smart questions is - SKIDOO is not all that funny. That's not to say there aren't any laughs at all. I liked the part when Angie was getting a haircut; when done, he presses a remote and the wall spins around, replacing the barber and his wall of accoutrements with a bookshelf, and revealing that we're in Angie's swingin' bachelor pad. And later, when expecting a chick, Angie performs some remote controlled coolness; curtains close, lights dim, music plays, and the front door opens...almost. It is foiled by the chain lock.

Tough Tony (Gleason)

Gleason, with his
For crying out louds and What's the matta with yas plays Tony Banks like a retired Ralph Kramden, one who's not really understanding this new, youth-oriented world. "What are you, an anarchist or somethin'?" is what he asks the draft dodger, and when Darlene tells Tony "I don't think even he knows what he wants," referring to her hippie friend Stash (John Phillip Law), Tony's reply is, "What is he, a faggot?" So it makes story-sense that Tony eventually, and unwittingly, takes acid (when he does, he calls out "I see mathematics!"). Which is a perfect segue for:

smoking god
Groucho, the king of acid-tongue patter, literally put acid on his tongue while making this movie. At least once. And according to his trip-partner Paul Krassner, as documented in his 1981 article MY ACID TRIP WITH GROUCHO, Marx took LSD (which became illegal in '68) because he wanted to experience it before he shot SKIDOO. Though rumors abound, I'm not sure how many of the other cast and crew members went on the same voyage. Also, the last shot of the movie is of Groucho smoking a joint, though to be fair, he does allude to it being pumpkin spice. Still, it was great seeing Groucho, who was 78 at the time, in his last film. He did his best to be Groucho (he even had the greasepaint mustache, though it may have been an actual hair/greasepaint mix), but it was sad when many of his lines were awkwardly and obviously read off of cue cards. Though I sure did love him asking Darlene - GOD: "Would you like a little drinkie?" DARLENE: "No thanks." GOD: "How about a baked potato with sour cream?"


So you got this huge cast, and who steals the show? Fred Clark as a prison guard. And he does it with just a few lines of dialogue, some face-makings, and killer dance moves during the LIVING IN A GARBAGE CAN ballet sequence. Clark died the same month SKIDOO was released.

gleason-garbage cans

A STORY: Back in the 80s, and one or two (million) of you may know this by now, I worked in a cool video store in NYC. I'd not seen SKIDOO (it wasn't on VHS...or Beta), but I had the record and I dumped it on a cassette and would play it in the store. A lot. Some of my co-workers started getting into this SKIDOO-love even though none of us had seen the movie. Employee Allen went a step further. He picked up the phone and called information. He got the phone number for Doran William Canon in Malibu, SKIDOO's writer, and called him. Canon answered. Allen asked him a bunch of questions about the movie. I don't remember what they were, or what the answers were. In fact, I don't even remember why I'm telling you this story. Must be the pumpkin spice.

Musically, Nilsson, (almost) always the maverick, fit right into the SKIDOO ethos. Lyrically, he goes from SESAME STREET ("Between the one and three there is a two") to psychedelia ("And a succotash and a piece of hash can get together and have a bash.").


At this point in his career, director Preminger was no stranger to controversial subjects, having already directed films involving drugs, rape and homosexuality, so why not piss people off now with a counter culture picture. While they were shooting the movie, documents passed J. Edgar Hoover's desk regarding SKIDOO's unfavorable portrayals of the FBI. Preminger himself talked them down from this, after they called him in to explain it.

ANOTHER STORY: Before I worked in the video store, I worked at a cafeteria-style restaurant. One day, my co-workers swore that Preminger was eating there, at a table by himself. But I dunno. He just looked like an old bald guy...it could have been anyone. But Preminger was living in NYC at the time, so...who knows?

So yes, SKIDOO is an oddity. It's like they gave Otto Preminger a budget and permission to be a hippie teen. I mean, how many movies can you name that feature Slim PIckens singing HOME ON THE RANGE? Or Gleason, Frank Gorshin (as The Man, who talks through his teeth because he doesn't want lip readers knowing what he's saying), Michael Constantine, Richard Kiel and Austin Pendleton sitting at the same table? Or how 'bout Channing in her underwear? Gotta be fewer than ten, no? And if that's not enough, Channing singing the title song to SKIDOO, spasmodically kicking out her legs and scatting, is surely a sight that'll burn your brain. For a movie with nothing going on, it sure has everything. I bet there was even a backstage cage match between Austin Pendleton and Arnold Stang over who was the bigger nerd (smart money's on Stang). The cherry on top of this misshapen cake is that this is the only non-Batman movie featuring four villains from the BATMAN TV show - The Joker (Cesar Romero), Mr. Freeze (Otto Preminger), The Riddler (Frank Gorshin), and The Penguin (Burgess Meredith). This was seconds after the BATMAN series ended.

While 1968 saw movies like FUNNY GIRL and OLIVER!, it was also reflecting a time of hippies and Leary and drugs, oh my! There were alt-movies like 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (whose ad campaign was "The Ultimate Trip") and EASY RIDER (which was shot in 1968). SKIDOO was a failed hybrid stuck in the tectonic shift. Still, you should see SKIDOO, which was recently released on DVD for the first time so you won't have to be on the lookout for its infrequent airings on TCM as part of its "Underground Movies" series. And just like seeing a freak show, you really only need to see it once - to experience it and to have the bragging rights to say you saw it.

But stop! Before you skidoo, let me introduce the cast and crew: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q4IMX26xF9Q


In the 33 years I lived in the NYC area, I never went to the Statue of Liberty. I had to move to Los Angeles, then visit NYC for that to happen. But I'm glad I went. I'm always fascinated by things that are gigantic, like blimps, the Grand Canyon, and my gut. I taped this 1985 documentary, one of Ken Burns' first, off of PBS long before I visited the lady who was in more movies than you think; PLANET OF THE APES (they use that shot in this doc), SABOTEUR, REMO WILLIAMS: THE ADVENTURE BEGINS, GHOSTBUSTERS II, the WADZILLA segment of CHILLERAMA, and I think even one of those X MEN movies. And that beautiful shot in GODFATHER II. And in my student film parody of JAWS. And tons more.

The documentary is called THE STATUE OF LIBERTY (clever) and features a wide array of talking heads like Milos Foreman, Mario Cuomo, Jerzy Kosinski and Ray Charles. The story is fascinating, and Burns did a great job constructing the timeline. His inclusion of pop icons like Bugs Bunny and the aforementioned APES reference puts a secondary and fun distraction as to what the statue's real purpose is for so many people - to get destroyed in a ridiculous disaster movie.

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