Sunday, July 24, 2011

Skidoo DVD

OliveFilms) (Guest Review by Gentleman John Battles) I said Hell had frozen over when The Phil Silvers Show and Car 54, Where are You? finally got the DVD treatment, but, this time, the impossible has happened. Skidoo, one of the most enjoyed, and openly reviled psychotronic films of the late 60s, can be had, without a prescription, and without a letter of apology from Paramount, who have withheld the movie's commercial release since the dawning of the video age. It did turn up on late night TV in the 80s (I still have my SLP, censored copy with commercials intact, on VHS, from well over 20 years ago) garnering a small cult following. Director, Otto Preminger's biographer made it clear that a very rare screening of the film in Chicago a few years ago would, most likely, be our last chance to see it at all.  Russ Meyer once stated that 20th Century Fox swore they would never release two movies to home video, his own Beyond The Valley of The Dolls and the seldom seen Myra Breckinridge. They're both available now, and Paramount too, finally caved to public demand, it seems.
Skidoo, released without fanfare to DVD recently, has to be seen to be believed. (MORE HARD-TO-BELIEVE SPOILERS THAN IMAGINABLE FOLLOW!!!) It's the only Gangster/LSD/Comedy with a soundtrack by Harry Nilsson, most of the supporting cast of Batman, and not one, but two "Great Ones," Jackie Gleason and Groucho Marx (in his final movie appearance), and that's just a start. OK, a lot of actors in this movie are well past their prime, but, it doesn’t affect the "What The Fuck..." factor one iota. I showed my VHS copy to a friend once, noting that the frequent lack of natural structure and hilarious LSD imagery made it comparable to Head. My friend told me Head couldn’t touch Skidoo for madcap psychedelic hijinks. It's always good to get a second opinion.
The plot (You mean there IS one?) involves Jackie Gleason (whom Mad Magazine once called, with stinging accuracy, "Former Funnyman," just as Dan Akyroyd and Eddie Murphy have been for years, now) as Tough Tony, a retired gangster, who's called by "God," the head of The Syndicate, played by Groucho Marx (who was still funny), to put the hit on his former best friend (Mickey Rooney), as he's about to turn state's evidence, and, in so doing, blow their whole operation.  Gleason tells "God's" Messengers (played by Caesar Romero and Frankie Avalon, in Halloween color-coded Italian suits) to go screw . He then gets a call to his "Office", a car wash, where he finds his buddy, Arnold Stang, the Nebbish King, with a bullet in his head. Knowing he and his family would be next, Gleason changes his mind . No one can get to Rooney, who's in a maximum security prison cell, so Gleason has to commit a crime (represented by a fast- moving 1920s "Keystone Kops"-style sequence) and be sent to prison to attempt contact with the rapidly aging (but, as of 1:28AM June 26, 2011, still living) former Andy Hardy star. He's quickly met by wiseguy Frank Gorshin, and uber-thug, Richard Kiel. Gorshin could have had more screen time, which goes double for Burgess Meredith as The Warden. A plan is quickly laid out for Gleason to get to the untouchable Rooney and take his life ("Hey, Kramden, I survived 17 wives. Good luck to ya!). Gleason's new cellmate, a draft dodger, turns out to be an electronic genius, capable of contacting Rooney from their cell, but, not so smart that he can tell Gleason that his stationary is soaked in LSD before Jackie licks the envelope.
If nothing else, the payoff in the movie comes early. Seeing Jackie Gleason "Tripping Out" is almost as hilarious as the time Ralph Kramden tried to recapture his youth by dressing as a 1920s Joe College in the 50s ("This is what ALL us cats are wearin', Alice!”). But, there's a poignant moment, too. Tough Tony has a revelation, and decides not to kill his old friend. He also seems to come to terms with a lingering doubt (joked about early in the film, amidst outrageous commercial pariodies) that his beautiful daughter (Alexandra Hall, who unceremoniously becomes an item with hippie, John Phillip Law, who's actually  very funny, here) is really his. His Wife is played by Carol Channing, so, I'm sorry, he should have been wondering whether or not his Daughter was HERS. He hallucinates Channing telling him that their daughter has his ears, making her his natural child. It doesn’t matter, as Rooney is wise to his plans, and Gleason is looking at a longer sentence than planned. BUT…he and his cellmates hit on an escape plan, burn the LSD-laden stationary in the incinerator, and let the smoke waft throughout the prison. Soon, the entire prison is laughing hysterically, including a guard played by Nilsson and a switchboard operator played by an underused Slim Pickens. Meanwhile, back on the oceanfront, John Phillip Law and his hippie friends plan a strike against God (the one played by Groucho). God has been hiding for 20 years on a yacht in a secluded position (future Real-Life Convict George Raft, plays his First Mate). He's not hurting for company, though, as the beautiful, though impossibly thin, Luna (also seen in Playboy and The Rolling Stones' Rock'n'Roll Circus), is his mistress and general caretaker. She makes an easy meal of John Phillip Law (who doesn’t mind) as well as Frankie Avalon (ditto), while Alexandra Hall tries to get Groucho to spill the beans about her missing father. Soon, unbeknownst to her, her father is high as a kite…sailin' a makeshift balloon, leaving the prison grounds. Will the escape attempt fail? Will the Hippies figure out what to do with God, now that they've found him? Will John Phillip Law sell out to the corporate business regime? Will Mickey Rooney live to topple The Enterprise? And will Nilsson go on to a successful solo recording career?  You can find out for yourself, I've told you too much. 

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