Skidoo (1968)

“You are a backwards step in the evolution of mankind!”

Synopsis:
An ex-con (Jackie Gleason) is summoned by his former crime boss (Groucho Marx) to kill a prison inmate (Mickey Rooney); meanwhile, his daughter (Alexandra Hay) is seduced by a group of hippies (including John Phillip Law) who move in with her and her mother (Carol Channing).

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Review:
Otto Preminger’s notoriously bad counterculture comedy only played in theaters for about a week (Vincent Canby of the New York Times called it “something… for people whose minds need pressing by a heavy, flat object”), and has never been released on home video or DVD. Nonetheless, it’s developed a strong cult following by those who consider its very existence a juicy feat to behold. Gathering together an eclectic host of “big names” (including a surprising number of TV actors), Preminger puts his characters into situations that simply defy logic and expectations; indeed, whatever one feels about the ultimate success of the film — and opinions vary wildly! — what definitively cannot be denied is that one is never sure exactly what will happen next.

The brief synopsis provided above only hints at the wacky trajectory of Skidoo‘s storyline, which eventually devolves into massive LSD tripping and the most creative prison break ever depicted on-screen. Preminger had apparently experimented with acid himself, and was genuinely interested in attempting to portray such experiences on film — indeed, it’s Preminger’s sincerity with the entire venture that ultimately affords it its campy seal of “approval”. Taken strictly on face value — as an earnest attempt to tell a tale of redemption and cross-cultural understanding — the characters and situations are undeniably ludicrous and naive; viewed as a wacky congruence of fearless caricatures and boldly outrageous scenarios, it may provide you with just the type of cinematic misadventure you can’t look away from.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Maybe – just maybe – the hallucinogenic “Dance of the Garbage Cans”
  • The truly unique (entirely sung) closing credits

Must See?
Yes, simply for its bad-movie cult notoriety.

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3 Responses to “Skidoo (1968)”

  1. Skattered thoughts on a very skattered ‘Skidoo’:

    For me, it’s almost impossible to give an actual, critical review of this…thing. I’ve seen it three (yes, three) times: many years ago, a few years ago, and last night.

    Is it must-see?

    A first viewing reveals it to be little but godawful. A second viewing reveals that there’s…some kind of movie in there somewhere, but it’s still pretty bad. Surprisingly, for me, a third viewing revealed some…well, merits (?). But it’s still…atrocious.

    One of the few merits is its cast – in the sense that a lot of known names show up here, and most of them are giving believable performances (considering what they’re asked to do). A script as messy as the one for ‘Skidoo’ would not make an actor’s job at all easy. It does have a clear-enough storyline about forgotten ties to the Mafia (for a better, similar yet more detailed one, see Phil Karlson’s ‘The Brothers Rico’), but the script is a slog. It is credited to Doran William Cannon. Preminger brought some other people in to…fix it up (didn’t happen noticeably enough). Cannon also ‘wrote’ Robert Altman’s ‘Brewster McCloud’. The two films share the same marginally wacky sensibility, but Altman went one ‘better’ with Cannon on the ‘Brewster’ script; he apparently ignored most of it but the barest of bones. (As a result, it’s a better film.)

    The acting:
    -I kept wondering what Gleason’s role would have been like had it been played by Zero Mostel. Not that Gleason is bad, just too grounded in reality.
    -Channing (seen rarely in film) comes off as game in an underwritten role.
    -Frankie Avalon actually tries to…act.
    -Rooney is shockingly confident and subtle.
    -Marx mostly reads his lines off cue cards, the poor thing.
    -Fred Clark! ~in the small role of Tower Guard (playing opposite film’s composer Harry Nilsson!), Clark pretty much steals the film when, under the influence of LSD, he seems to believe he is a somewhat-flirtatious chorus girl (!). ‘The Dance of the Garbage Cans’ is included in this sequence – this whole section may not save the film, but it’s the part I enjoy most, even if it is a l-o-n-g haul getting there.

    The biggest problem with ‘Skidoo’ – and there are many BIG problems here – is that it isn’t nearly wacky or witty *enough*! It also has no real solid tone. (It opens, in fact, with an interminable sequence in which Gleason and Channing fight over which tv channel to watch while, eventually, using dueling remotes. An unfunny and endless snore of an opener, giving the film nothing from which to launch.)

    Does the film’s very badness make it one ffs should be sure to catch? Well, not really. It’s not like it has camp value; it’s not naive, it’s just badly misconceived comedy.

    That said, if you’re a Fred Clark fan…you will not want to miss the five minutes or so of FC as you’ve never seen him before! ;)

  2. Somehow I think of “Skidoo” as so infamously bad that I figure most film fanatics would be at least curious to see what all the fuss is about… Which is why I vote it “must see” for that reason alone. But its ultimate merit as a cult camp classic — sure, I’ll agree that’s debatable. And certainly, one’s appreciation of film as an art form will certainly not suffer from having missed this one. ;)

    And yes – that opening “remote control duel” sequence is both interminable and of questionable merit all around.

  3. A year later, John Schlesinger used the channel-changing joke in ‘Midnight Cowboy’, as Jon Voight and Sylvia Miles romped on a bed with a remote under them. The tv clips used there at least made the joke, and its use in the scene, effective. But who knows what Otto was thinking.

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