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SKIDOO (1968).

This is one of my favorite celluloid misfires of all time! A super-hip, fab, counterculture wannabee, featuring a severely-screwball line-up of Hollywood cronies, all trying to keep their careers afloat by jumping blindly onto the '60s bandwagon of groovy hippies, free love and hallucinogenic chemicals. While doing research on this flick, director Otto Preminger dosed up with acid guru Timothy Leary, and it certainly shows on the screen. Unfortunately, this all-star embarrassment sank without a trace after playing the second half of one-week-only double bills, plus this work of wrongheaded genius is still unavailable on video!... Jackie Gleason stars as ex-mobster Tough Tony Banks and Carol Channing is his long-suffering wife, and after a lifetime of crime, the mountainously obese Gleason just wants some peace 'n' quiet during his retirement. Unfortunately, there are rival hoods and federal agents on his ass, plus his daughter has invited a pack of body-painted hippies onto his front lawn -- of course, in an effort not to offend Middle-American morons, these hippies are presented as harmless pumpkin-smoking (?) peaceniks who all look like Crispin Glover at the height of his geekdom. It's a pop art assault, funnelled through a studio sensibility, but what makes the film fly is its supporting cast. Since Otto played Mr. Freeze in the BATMAN series, he was able to pull other Bat-Villains outta the Bat-Unemployment Line such as Frank Gorshin, Cesar Romero and Burgess Meredith. Add extended cameos by Mickey Rooney, George Raft, Peter Lawford, Slim Pickins, Arnold Stang, and Groucho Marx as an omnipresent crook named God. Amongst the under-ancient crowd, there's a young (but still huge) Richard Kiel, Frankie Avalon as a slimy Guido and John Phillip Law (DANGER: DIABOLIK, BARBARELLA), who's nearly unrecognizable as a hairball flower child. The story gets substantially subversive when Gleason winds up in prison and meets genius/anarchist Austin Pendleton, who has smuggled L.S.D. into his cell via laced stationary paper. And when Gleason accidentally writes a letter, he suddenly turns into the ultimate tripping, babbling, fat fuck. I LOVED IT! I'm always a sucker for cheapjack drug visuals, but when it's happening to Ralph Cramden, it's a cause celebre! First off, Pendleton shrinks to Lilliputian size and lectures about Existence while standing inside a glowing, purple pyramid, plus cool eyeball imagery and floating carpentry screws with Groucho heads. When Jackie finally returns to this galaxy, he's a changed man -- refusing to kill and giving up his old, criminal habits (says one cellmate: "Maybe if I took some of that stuff I wouldn't have to rape anyone anymore"). Still, he's not adverse to dosing the entire prison in order to escape via a hot air balloon, with the guards totally brain-fried as they stare at the solarized, dancing garbage cans (abetted by Harry Nilsson's "Trash Can Love Theme"). The brain-numbing finale has Gleason, Channing and all the spaced-out hippies rallying to stop God (Sounds symbolic? It ain't) by "loving him to death" as Carol groans the title song, "Skidoo" (thanks again, Nilsson). The most terrifying, cornea-damaging moments involve Channing's mini-skirts and her hideous, scrawny, withered legs -- she even resorts to a striptease at one point, which probably sent audience members running for the nearest vomitorium. Preminger certainly had a lot of guts (or blind clout) to get this mess made, and though I admire its surprisingly positive view of L.S.D. and inspired moments of drug-induced madness, it's still just a faddy gimmick for this Rat Pack-esque caper. But how can you NOT love a movie that ends with Groucho and Austin toking a roach as all the end credits are SUNG!? I guess it all seemed like a good idea at the time -- and while under the influence, it still is. Truly, this is a movie to be cherished by Badfilm Aficionados for centuries to come.

© 1994 by Steven Puchalski.