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teaser Skidoo (1968)

When sixty-three year old film director Otto Preminger set out to make what would become the most disastrous film of his career and even more maligned than his megabomb Saint Joan (1957), he had good intentions. Preminger had read Doran William Cannon's script Skidoo about the culture clash between the Establishment (who, in this case, were represented by The Mafia) and the youth culture of the late 1960's, and enjoyed the irreverent vibe. Preminger himself had always scoffed at conservatism and was known for breaking the rules in his previous work: from tackling taboo themes such as rape and drug addiction to employing all African American casts in the 1950's to hiring blacklisted talent during the height of McCarthyism. Cannon's script was, in fact, written in earnest. (Cannon would pen another "head" film just a few years later, 1970's Brewster McCloud.) At the time, Cannon thought Skidoo, "delivered an important message of peace and love at a time when America was engaged with the war in Vietnam." Preminger's desire to take on his screenplay was also sincere. At the time he was itching to make a comedy and had grown interested in the counterculture - most importantly, with LSD. Preminger was at the time dabbling with acid himself, and in 1968, he was not alone. Acid had become the drug of choice among the nation's youth, and its popularity was beginning to make its way to the big screen. Preminger no doubt wanted to ride the wave.

1968 in fact was a big year for acid movies. Psych-Out, Wild in the Streets, Alice in Acidland, Mantis in Lace and others were released in the wake of Roger Corman's The Trip (1967) and Easy Rider (1969) was just around the corner . Preminger's unique arrangement with Paramount allowed him the freedom to tackle the modern subject material; his record of always delivering on schedule or under budget didn't hurt either. However, the always-efficient director found himself butting heads with screenwriter Cannon. The writer wanted the mafia to be depicted in a serious manner; Preminger saw them as comical cartoon figures. Preminger wanted Cannon to write in more violence; Cannon, a pacifist, refused. Soon others were brought in for rewrites (including Elliott Baker, author of A Fine Madness) and the script further deviated from Cannon's original vision. After the final and most absurd draft of the film was delivered, it was quickly cast with an equally bizarre group of old and young Hollywood talent: Jackie Gleason, Frankie Avalon, Carol Channing, Mickey Rooney, John Phillip Law, Peter Lawford, Burgess Meredith, Austin Pendleton and perhaps most strangely, Groucho Marx (it was the comedian's final film role).

As filming began on Skidoo, some cast and crew members immediately sensed that the story might be too bizarre for its own good: A retired mobster named Tony (Gleason) is called upon by his former Mafia boss (Marx, simply referred to as "God") to make one last hit. His one time friend Blue Chips Packard (Rooney) was sitting pretty in solitary confinement in Alcatraz after being busted, but has since become an informer against his old gang. Tony is instructed to sneak into the jail and eliminate Packer.

Meanwhile, Tony's teenage daughter Darlene is in dubious company herself, hanging out with members of San Francisco's hippie community. She starts dating a tuned-out long hair (John Phillip Law) and espouses the ideals of peace and love. Tony's wife Flo (Channing), the more sympathetic of the couple, feels for her daughter and invites the whole psychedelic clan back to their house to live. Tony is none too happy about this new crowd, yet befriends a hippie in the clink known as "The Professor" (Austin Pendleton, the unsung hero of the film). He turns Tony onto acid accidentally one day, and during his trip, Tony begins to understand the pitfalls of his violent past. He decides to "make love, not war" against ol' Blue Chips.

With Tony now enlightened, he wishes to make his final exit from mob life. Unfortunately he must "take it up with God" and "The Professor" orchestrates a dramatic escape from the jail for the both of them, which includes spiking the kitchen soup with LSD. As the inmates and hacks are floating on Cloud Nine, Tony and Professor do a little floating themselves: namely, they fly a homemade hot air balloon, made out of bags and garbage cans up, up, and away right out of Alcatraz and onto God's yacht, where the hippies have already made their ambush. In the end, God himself is not immune to the tenants of peace of love, and is seen on a sailboat in the distance with "The Professor," smoking a joint merrily.

Even though it looked like Skidoo was quickly turning into some strange absurdist play, Preminger stood by his new film and presented the film to Paramount with a straight face; studio heads were more than unimpressed. He had attempted a fun, topical comedy but was too removed from what he was satirizing due to his age and life experience. As a result, Skidoo appealed to no one in 1968. Older audiences found its celebration of drugs offensive and younger viewers thought it was akin to your grandfather asking to borrow your records. The film was contrived and overbearing. The hippies seem stilted and forced while the older cast members overact and ham it up, often resorting to broad slapstick. The film moved from scene to scene without any real sense of direction and sometimes relied on weird, sped-up flashback sequences. At the end of the day the critics and the cinema-going public scoffed at this sixty-three year old man's pathetic acid trip. It was in theaters a week before it was pulled, and then Skidoo was buried in film history as a bad mistake; To this day, the film has not been released on home video.

Ironically, it is the "bad mistake", the overcalculation of Skidoo that makes watching it such a fun, enjoyable experience today. Much like the accidental hilariousness of a 1950's education filmstrip, the notion of Skidoo being made in earnest, that Preminger filmed acid trip sequences the exact way he experienced them himself, gives the film a strange staying power. A simple viewing of it will make you think you're on an acid trip of your own. The LSD sequences are truly bizarre; a surreal mix of muted audio and mind-warping visuals (the movie's most trippy moment has to be what Preminger himself called "The Dance of The Garbage Cans"). Most unbelievable however, is the cast that Preminger assembled for this one-of-a-kind oddity. It's hard to believe that Jackie Gleason was ever talked into acting out an acid trip. And between seeing Carol Channing in only a bra and tights and Groucho Marx's head on a cartoon depiction of a screw, you truly feel like you've stepped into another dimension. And just when you think you've seen it all, the ending is interrupted by Preminger himself imploring you to stay through the credits as 60's folk troubadour Nilsson actually sings the entire list of cast and crew.

While Preminger and his cast and crew may have created box office poison with Skidoo in 1968, it is simply too unique to be ignored any longer. It's become a hilarious relic of the time period. Consistent bootlegging of the film has introduced Skidoo to a new generation of viewers, who celebrate it as a garish clusterf*ck. In fact, Skidoo is the true essence of a cult film: made with love, immediately reviled and buried, and subsequently rediscovered by a new audience, basking in its strange, hypnotic allure

Producer: Otto Preminger
Director: Otto Preminger
Screenplay: Doran William Cannon
Cinematography: Leon Shamroy
Film Editing: George R. Rohrs
Art Direction: Robert Emmet Smith
Music: Harry Nilsson
Cast: Jackie Gleason (Tony Banks), Carol Channing (Flo Banks), Frankie Avalon (Angie), Fred Clark (Tower Guard), Michael Constantine (Leech), Frank Gorshin (The Man), John Phillip Law (Stash), Peter Lawford (The Senator), Burgess Meredith (The Warden), George Raft (Captain Garbaldo), Cesar Romero (Hechy).

by Millie de Chirico

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Skidoo (1968)

Faye Dunaway, under contract to Otto Preminger at the time, refused to appear in Skidoo after she scored a huge success in Bonnie and Clyde (1967). She was sued by Preminger but it was settled out of court.

Skidoo screenwriter Doran William Cannon was first hired for the Preminger film Too Far To Walk. Cannon's agent was a former secretary for Preminger and had sent him the Skidoo screenplay as a writing sample to get Cannon hired for Too Far To Walk.

The director admired the anti-establishment tone of the Skidoo script and the fact that Cannon pitted the hippies against the mafia so Cannon asked, "Why not just make Skidoo?" And since Preminger thought he would be able to make it cheaply, he agreed to do it.

Preminger had already done research on the drug scene for Too Far To Walk.

Cannon and Preminger butted heads over how the Mafia would be portrayed in Skidoo. Cannon wanted them to be realistic and played straight; Preminger wanted them to be cartoonish with the comedy played broadly. Cannon remembers, "I told Otto from the start that if he directed Skidoo the way he directed In Harm's Way [1965], it would be funny." Preminger also thought the mafia members should be violent a suggestion that Cannon was vehemently against, as he claimed his screenplay was about "the powers of nonviolence".

Preminger initially asked Mel Brooks to help with the rewrite, although he told Cannon later, "I am not going to hire [Brooks]. Between you and him I would go crazy." Instead Cannon suggested Elliott Baker (author of A Fine Madness).

TV screenwriter Stanley Ralph Ross (The Monkees, Batman) was also brought in to rescue the script, although by the time Ross was called in Skidoo was halfway done and all the scenes Ross suggested be cut were already shot and edited into the film. Preminger still paid Ross anyway.

Cannon's friend Austin Pendleton (the Professor) tried out for the film by taking a drive with Preminger around San Francisco. They didn't speak of the movie at all during their drive and instead discussed politics. Right as he dropped him off at the airport, Preminger told Pendleton, "I like talking to you; you don't need to do the test because the part is yours." Pendleton sensed that the movie would probably fail and had initially turned him down. After offering him a little more money, Pendleton reluctantly agreed to do Skidoo.

After Pendleton's first scene (the jail scene in which the new recruits are asked to strip down naked and answer questions about their lives on a computer), he begged his agent to be released from Skidoo, although Preminger liked Pendleton immensely and wanted to expand his part. Soon after on set, Pendleton missed his marks and Preminger exploded, calling him "an amateur" and claimed he "didn't know how to behave on camera". Pendleton agreed with the director and asked, "Mr. Preminger, can you help me?" and Preminger melted. From that point on he gave Pendleton more coaching than anyone else on set.

Jackie Gleason and Preminger reportedly didn't communicate at all on set, and Pendleton observed that Gleason was "not hostile but depressed". Gleason never wanted to rehearse and had no humor offstage. Pendleton said he was a "prima donna who made his wardrobe man kneel down to tie his shoes."

Cannon initially wanted Preminger to play the God character but he refused, so instead Cannon suggested Groucho Marx. Preminger claimed Marx was too old but hired him anyway.

Reportedly when Groucho showed up on the set, he asked Preminger if he was drunk. Preminger resented the comment and would yell at Marx continuously through the shoot. A person on set claimed that there were "many tense moments with Groucho, who was gross, uncouth, and extremely unpleasant to everyone." Preminger reported picked on Groucho so much during the filming that Gleason physically threatened Preminger to never try the same bully stuff with him.

Preminger forced Groucho to wear his trademark mustache for the film.

Carol Channing claimed Preminger, "was a wonderful producer but I didn't like working with him. He enjoyed beating me up in front of the company."

Preminger's film In Harm's Way is seen during the opening sequence where Tony and Flo are watching television. Preminger always complained that his films were edited after being shown on television, and in the sequence Flo is heard saying, "I never watch films on TV...they always cut them to pieces."

Preminger reportedly wanted Bob Dylan to score Skidoo. He invited Dylan and his wife to a screening of the movie in his mansion. After the screening Dylan wanted to see the film again (much to everyone's surprise in the room, who had thought it was terrible) but under one condition: he wanted to see it alone with his wife in the house while it was playing. Dylan ended up not scoring the movie and later admitted the only reason he requested a private second screening was because he was fascinated by the dcor in Preminger's house and wanted to use some of the ideas for his own house.

The Skidoo wrap party was at The Factory, a hip disco in Los Angeles. Preminger wore a Nehru suit and was seen having a great time.

Director Peter Bogdanovich was present when Preminger screened Skidoo for Paramount executives (including head Robert Evans). Bogdanovich said, "There wasn't one laugh or titter the entire film."

Preminger arranged for the Skidoo premiere to be in Miami as a fundraiser for the not-yet-built Miami Arts Center. Pendleton recalls it being, "...beautifully orchestrated...a feeling of a big, important premiere you'd have thought it was the Atlanta opening of Gone with the Wind [1939]...but twenty minutes after the film started there began an ever gathering parade of rich people exiting. I knew then that we were in trouble."

Skidoo opened in Los Angeles on December 18th, 1968, to qualify for Academy Award consideration.

Skidoo opened in New York on March 5th, 1969.

Groucho Marx, who reportedly took LSD at the time of Skidoo, was profiled in an article by Yippie founder and publisher of The Realist, Paul Krassner. It was titled "My Acid Trip With Groucho".

Compiled by Millie de Chirico

The Cinema of Otto Preminger by Gerald Pratlow
Otto Preminger: The Man Who Would Be King by Foster Hirsch
The Worst Movies Of All Time or What Were They Thinking? by Michael Sauter
Psychotronic Magazine Number 12

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Skidoo (1968)

Skidoo was filmed in San Francisco, California.

Shooting began on March 18th, 1968 and wrapped no less than two months later on May 17th. It was released on December 19th, 1968.

The tagline for Skidoo was: "It takes two to Skidoo."

Doran William Cannon also wrote the screenplays for Brewster McCloud (1970) and the supernatural thriller Hex (1973) starring Keith and John Carradine.

Skidoo was Groucho Marx's last film.

John Phillip Law was brought in to play the main hippie, Stash. His brother Tom was also hired, who was at that time a real hippie.

Skidoo was referenced in the Rob Zombie movie The Devil's Rejects (2005).

LSD guru Timothy Leary appears in the Skidoo trailer.

The outside scenes of the prison were filmed at Alcatraz in San Francisco. Most of the other scenes were also filmed in real places, including the house of Gleason and his wife. The only set that appeared in the film was Frankie Avalon's bachelor pad.

God (Groucho Marx)'s yacht actually belonged to John Wayne. (Preminger had previously directed him in In Harm's Way, 1965).

In the marriage sequence towards the end of the film when God's yacht is overtaken by the hippies, George Raft is holding a book called The Death of God.

Singer Harry Nilsson wrote and sang the closing credits to the film, along with some of the other songs in the film such as "Living in a Garbage Can" and "I Will Take You There."

John Phillip Law turned down Midnight Cowboy (1969) to be in Skidoo.

Preminger played Mr. Freeze in the Batman television series and employed other Batman-regulars such as Frank Gorshin, Cesar Romero, and Burgess Meredith for the film.

A young Richard Kiel (Eegah, 1962) also appears as a prisoner in Skidoo.

The naked Green Bay Packers that were seen in one of the acid trip sequences were actually members of a local college team dressed in Packers uniforms.

Compiled by Millie de Chirico

The Cinema of Otto Preminger by Gerald Pratlow
Otto Preminger: The Man Who Would Be King by Foster Hirsch
The Worst Movies Of All Time or What Were They Thinking? by Michael Sauter
Psychotronic Magazine Number 12

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Skidoo (1968)

"Skidoo is something only for Preminger-watchers or for people whose minds need pressing by a heavy object...the movie has the form of comedy, but its almost complete lack of humor, its retarded contemporaneousness...its sometimes beautiful and expensive looking San Francisco locations; and its indomitable denial that disaster is at hand (apparent from almost the opening sequence) - all give the film an almost undeniable Preminger stamp."
Vincent Canby, New York Times

"Otto Preminger's Skidoo fails mostly because it lacks spirit...Preminger seems unable to invest his film with any lightness or spontaneity."
Roger Ebert, December 27th, 1968

"Skidoo opens and closes in clever fashion, but in between, Otto Preminger's film is a dreary, unfunny attempt at contemporary comedy. Screenplay is a sort of updated Damon Runyon plot, in which allegedly loveable, old-time gangster types are foiled by hippies. Static photography and tame editing compound a weak script."
Variety, January 1st, 1968

"Making Zabriskie Point [1970] look like Easy Rider [1969], Preminger and screenwriter Doran William Cannon (also responsible for Robert Altman's Brewster McCloud, 1970) misconceived a story involving a mob hit man who is recalled from retirement to take out a jailed ex-colleague....With his unerring feel for the taste of stoned teenagers, Preminger loaded up his cast with a bevy of bloated B-list stars, from Carol Channing to Cesar Romero to Frank Gorshin, not to mention a loony Mickey Rooney, whose lysergic dance number is one of the movie's "highlights." The movie's total unavailability has turned it into a cult object, a status it hardly deserves, although its mind-boggling ineptness is impossible to tear your eyes away from.
- Sam Adams, Philadelphia City Paper

" my view, Skidoo offers irrefutable proof that not only was Preminger capable of making a comedy, but that he was years ahead of his time with that wonderfully loopy and much-maligned creation...Skidoo is such a wild assault on the sense that it's hard to imagine the film was ever made. Under Preminger's direction, LSD is a liberating and empowering tool...It also allows an astonishing number of guest stars in the Alcatraz sequences (including Rooney, Peter Lawford, Richard Kiel, Burgess Meredith and Frank Gorshin) to pretend they are tripping on acid. The last two actors are especially fun imagine the Penguin and Riddler on acid!"
- Phil Hall, Film Threat

"This is one of my favorite celluloid misfires of all time! A 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 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.
- Steven Puchalski, Shock Cinema

"Skidoo is certainly more eccentric than Preminger's more acclaimed, conservative films (Laura [1944], The Man with the Golden Arm [1955], or Anatomy of a Murder [1959]). The narrative is sometimes too 60s, being irritatingly kooky, but as a fine comedic treatment of drug-taking, this is a real treat."

"Abysmal mishmash with top talent abused; clearly intended as satirical farce, but in fact one of the most woebegone movies ever made."
- Halliwell's Film Guide

" Unspeakable..."
- Illustrated London News

Compiled by Millie de Chirico

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Skidoo (1968)

The Professor: "Have you ever heard of acid?"
Tony: "Acid?"
The Professor: "LSD. It's a drug. It's odorless, tasteless, and colorless. And it makes you hallucinate."
Tony: "What are you getting at?"
The Professor: "Acid is soaked into my stationary."

The Professor: "You are going on a trip. If you fight it, it can be a bad trip. If you ride with the waves, it will be a good trip."

God: "You're a hippie, ain't you?"
Stash: "If labeling is your thing, yes."
God: "And what does a hippie want from God?"

Tower Guard: (looking at a hot-air balloon) It's a great, big, beautiful blob of nothing!
Tower Guard: Yeah!
Tower Guard: It wants me. It wants me. It loves me... but why is it going away?

Tony (during his acid trip): "I want a flower!"

Man (after taking LSD): "I'm an angel! I'm a goddamn angel! Hallelujah!"

Tower Guard One (while tripping): "Hey, you look like a flower!"
Tower Guard Two (also tripping): "That's funny. I feel like a flower!"

God (smoking pot): "Mmm, pumpkin!"

Leech (talking about acid): "Hey, maybe if I took some of that stuff I wouldn't have to rape anybody no more!"

Tower Guard Two: "I see the Green Bay Packers...and they're all naked!"

God: Garbaldo! Garbaldo! What the hell's goin' on up there?
Captain Garbaldo: There's a stiff wind from the east, sir.
God: I don't care where it's comin' from! Stop it!

Compiled by Millie de Chirico

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