Skidoo To You Too

skidoo-movie-poster-1968You don’t watch Skidoo (’68) so much as goggle at it uncomprehendingly. Is that–? you say, No, it couldn’t be—but could it? Oh god no. It is.

It is a comedy directed by Otto Preminger, a phrase no one, at any time in human history, wished it possible to express in anything but a madcap counterfactual sort of scenario, as in the example, “The only thing I can think of worse than worldwide nuclear apocalypse is a comedy directed by Otto Preminger.” That such a movie exists is a concept difficult to adjust to.

Perhaps we don’t have to adjust to it after all. Having now seen Skidoo, I feel it reasonable to ask if anyone, then or now, believes it’s funny. It’s funny looking, hence my goggling. But funny it ain’t. Still, a comedy isn’t a funny movie. A comedy is a movie that tries to be funny. Many fail, Skidoo more spectacularly than most.

Groucho as God

Groucho as God

The cast alone is enough to make a lumberjack weep: Jackie Gleason, Carol Channing, Franki Avalon, Frank Gorshin, George Raft, Cesar Romero, Mickey Rooney, Burgess Meredith, Slim Pickens, Richard Kiel, and in the last movie he would ever appear in, Groucho Marx.

Not exactly brimming with up and comers.

And sure, the eagle-eyed among you will note the appearance of three Batman TV show bad-guys in the cast—The Joker, The Penguin, and The Riddler—but alas, they don’t wear funny costumes, and nobody walks up the side of a building.

Looks like a regular romp, don't it?

Looks like a regular romp, don’t it?

The ‘60s were a grim decade for studio comedies. Describing them as “painfully out of touch” would be doing them a kindness. A new age of movies was coming, and by ’68 it had arrived. Some older directors flourished in the new age—Don Siegel and Sidney Lumet come to mind—while others did not. Skidoo is a product of a cinematic age already dead. Bonnie And Clyde and The Graduate came out the year before. Easy Rider would be out the year following.

And Skidoo? I can’t imagine who Preminger thought he was making this movie for. No one else could either. The studio hated it. The critics hated it. Audiences hated it, at least the five or six of them who showed up to watch it. Preminger made it because he’d always been at least relatively near the cutting edge of social issues with past movies such as The Man With The Golden Arm, Anatomy of A Murder, Advise & Consent, and In Harm’s Way. He wanted to connect with the youth culture.

Also, he’d recently dropped acid, and wanted to make a movie about it.

Gleason sees God on a screw

Gleason sees God on a screw

The most notable scenes in Skidoo, and really the only ones that make it worth watching (for the cinematically obsessed only, mind you), are 1) Jackie Gleason is accidentally dosed with LSD in his jail cell, and has a trip aided by visuals I’m guessing cost someone maybe five or six dollars to create, and 2) Gleason and his jailbird buddies dose the entire jail, cons and guards alike, with LSD, and everyone flips out all night long. The best part of which sequence is when two guards, one played by Harry Nilsson, hallucinate a trash bin dance number.

Wanting his actors to understand his motivations, Preminger had Gleason and Marx try LSD themselves. If only more directors today showed this kind of foresight and commitment to excellence.

Dancing trash

Dancing trash

As for the story, it’s mostly absent. Gleason plays Tony, an ex-mobster called back into service by his boss, God (Marx), to whack a guy in prison. Meanwhile, Tony’s wife (Channing) and daughter (Alexandra Hay) are beset by a traveling troupe of hippies who frolic and/or pontificate hippie-ishly as needed.

Needed to do what? Beats me. I think Skidoo is maybe supposed to have something to say about youth culture? And boring adults? And maybe how one is good and one less so? Well, it would make sense. If you’re going to make a pro-drug, pro-hippie youth movie in ’68, you’re going to cast Gleason, Marx, and Rooney, am I right?

Movie hippies

Movie hippies

Or, if you’re Roger Corman, you’ll have Jack Nicholson write your LSD movie and cast Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Bruce Dern, and Susan Strasberg. That one’s called The Trip, it came out in ’67, and if you’re looking for a ‘60s flick with trippy LSD antics, it’s a must see.

Skidoo is more like a must-run-from-in-a-mad-panic-lest-an-all-too-enthusiastic-film-nerd-convinces-me-it’s-a-lost-classic. Like a sunken ship collects barnacles, a movie this bad collects cultish followers. But as much of a curiosity as Skidoo surely is, one viewing is plenty, if not one too many. Not even a handful of flippant pop tunes by Harry Nilsson saves it.

Next time I want to watch a comedy, I’ll stick to someone funnier than Preminger. Like Spielberg. Or Christopher Nolan. Or Tarkovsky.

Drugs are bad.

Drugs are bad.

7 responses on “Skidoo To You Too

    • I was hoping for something outrageously bad yet wonderful, like Candy. Of course it’s been many a year since I saw Candy. Dare I watch it again?

  1. The debate here seems to rage between those who find SKIDOO a great cult film, and those who simply agree with the consensus of critics at the time of it’s release – a bomb. Cult films are, by their very nature, a tricky thing. One person’s trash, is very much another’s treasure. I consider myself a veritable Fred Sanford of cinema junk. But, SKIDOO defies even such a seemingly obvious explanation. It is both good-bad and just bad-bad, often at the same time.

    Certain sequences, mainly those involving the hippies and the infamous LSD scenes, are truly screwy in a manner that is truly inspired in a perverse way that only a talented filmmaker like Otto Preminger could deliver. But, when Preminger tries to deliver the plot about an organized crime figure (Jackie Gleason) who gets “pulled in one more time” by the mob boss “God” (Groucho), it’s mainly tedious and flat-footed. Gleason, Groucho, Mickey Rooney et al try their best, but, too often, they feel forced and labored to try and enliven dull material. Groucho’s appearance is partly redeemed by a truly terrific finale on a boat (and stay tuned for the closing credits!!).

    • I’m glad someone got something out of Skidoo… try as I did to find something loveable, it’s as Montano says–weirdly sad. I mean sure, the LSD scenes are certainly odd–but good? Inspired? I don’t know…”sad” comes to mind yet again.

      True, the end credits are sung–all of them–by Nilsson. Which is nice. If just as inexplicable as the rest of the movie.

  2. Good point. There is a little bit of good-bad here. All the stuff in the jail, with Jackie Gleason tripping balls, is hard not to love. And the attempt at portraying hippies is typically hilarious. But Carol Channing, Oy! She is unwatchable. Oh, and the whole Frankie Avalon love nest scene is pretty awesome. But as a whole, it makes one weirdly sad.
    Supreme Being, I sure hope Candy holds up. I even own it, but I haven’t seen it in years. I think I’m afraid to watch it again too.

    • Right, the love nest scene. Yikes. I did not need to see Carol Channing strip. It’s like it’s not even a movie where you say all the actors seem to be acting in different movies… it’s a movie where none of the actors are even acting, they’re all just kind of standing around going, ‘you want me to do what? Well okay, you’re writing the checks…”

      Candy. Yeah. I don’t know. Someone should watch it and report back. Evil Genius? We have a movie for you to watch…

Yeah, well, you know, that's just, like, your opinion, man.