Review: Skidoo DVD

Skidoo DVD boxSTUDIO: Olive Films | DIRECTOR: Otto Preminger | STARS: Jackie Gleason, Carol Channing, Frankie Avalon, Groucho Marx, Peter Lawford, John Phillip Law
7/19/11 | PRICE: DVD $24.95
SPECS: NR | 97 min. | Comedy | 2.35:1 widescreen | mono

RATINGS (out of 5): Movie  | Audio  | Video  | Overall

Some late 1960s box-office flops hold no allure for the modern viewer. Skidoo, however, is a legendary cult movie that never loses its power to both amaze and amuse. A bizarre misfire from renegade Hollywood filmmaker Otto Preminger (Hurry Sundcown), Skidoo is, along with Myra Breckenridge, the single best example of a major studio film trying to tap into the “youth market” and failing in a spectacular fashion.

Skidoo movie scene

Groucho Marx takes a toke as "God" in the cult favorite Skidoo.

Preminger was a singularly stubborn, trailblazing filmmaker whose best films — Laura, Anatomy of a Murder — never tarnish. His decision to venture into “acid cinema” was a bold and wildly misguided one, as he decided to aim his drug comedy at middle America by gathering a cast of beloved “straight” stars (Jackie Gleason, Carol Channing, Frankie Avalon). To further muddy the waters, he made what is essentially a sitcom — or more properly a prolonged Gleason sketch (think the “color Honeymooners” years) with LSD as a central catalyst.

Olive’s release of the 1968 film is thus invaluable, because it has long been one of those cult movies that is talked about more than seen (a recent airing on TCM was the first TV showing since the 1980s). Once viewed, though, Skidoo can never be forgotten. Its camp joys range from Gleason’s surreal acid-trip sequence (with a singing and dancing Mickey Rooney!), to Channing performing in a top that is way too form-fitting, to Groucho sleepwalking through his part as a Mob boss known only as “God,” and a prison sequence that finds Batman villains (Burgess “The Penguin” Meredith, Frank “The Riddler” Gorshin) tripping on LSD.

Preminger made many odd choices in putting the film together, but his soundest decision was employing singer-songwriter Harry Nilsson to compose the score. Nilsson’s knack for catchy, hook-driven melodies serves the picture well — and makes scenes like a trash-can “ballet” sequence make sense (nearly).

Preminger also did something that has never been repeated in a major-studio picture: He had Nilsson sing the end credits, right down to the copyright and legal notices, thus supplying a suitably perverse ending to a most perverse movie.

The Olive DVD release contains no extras. But the film itself is an essential buy for those whose taste runs to the outré and the campy, “incredibly strange” items that emerged from Hollywood as it tried in vain, pre-Easy Rider, to figure out how to satisfy its regular audience while also grabbing the burgeoning youth demographic.


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About Ed

Ed Grant has written about film for a wide range of periodicals, books and websites. He edited the reference book The Motion Picture Guide Annual and, since 1993, has produced and hosted the weekly cable program Media Funhouse, which Time magazine called “the most eclectic and useful movie show on TV.”