Cast & Crew
Robert F. Lyons
In the Southwestern town of Darlington, Steven "Skipper" Todd, a twenty-three-year-old would-be songwriter, is the leader of the community's disillusioned, thrill-seeking teenagers. Unknown to the adolescents who idolize him, the arrogant, intelligent Skipper has murdered teenager Sue Ellen Mack and, with the help of friends Norma and Andy, has buried her body in the desert. While Skipper and his accomplices flee the scene, they pick up a hitchhiker, Billy Roy, a friend who has just been released from reform school. As Skipper drives Billy to town, Mrs. Mack reports her daughter's disappearance to the police, including Detective Shaw, but they maintain that Sue Ellen is just another runaway. Although Skipper brags to Billy that he is a "professional killer," the emotionally stunted Billy dismisses his claim. At a local club, numerous girls welcome Skipper, including Amata, a former classmate of Billy's to whom he is still attracted, although she is interested only in Skipper. Soon after, Skipper shows Billy his small house, at which he hosts parties and dispenses drugs. Skipper repeats his claim that he is a murderer then takes Billy to the retirement home run by his mother, from whom he demands his weekly allowance. Although Mrs. Todd urges her son to get a job and asks him to help out, he violently rejects the idea, as he hates how the elderly men there have been abandoned by their families. Mrs. Todd caustically reminds him that by taking money from her, he makes his living off the retirees, after which he leaves and takes Billy home. Although Billy's parents are glad to see him, he is embarrassed by their emotions and quickly leaves with Skipper. The philosophizing Skipper tells Billy that his parents are trapped with "stale dreams," but admits that his parents are no better, adding that present-day society is riddled with lying and selfishness. The pair then go to the swimming pool, a popular hangout, where Skipper tries to interest Amata in Billy. Skipper is intrigued by sixteen-year-old Roberta, a wealthy, cynical girl, but she initially refuses his attentions. Later, Skipper goes to Roberta's posh house, where she is alone with her younger sister, Jackie. Roberta taunts Skipper about his seduction of teenaged girls and states that she believes Mrs. Mack's claim that Skipper is responsible for Sue Ellen's disappearance. Despite her belligerence, Roberta is attracted to Skipper and he responds to her flirtatiousness. Soon after, Skipper is questioned by the police about Sue Ellen, and as he always does around authority figures, Skipper puts on an act of sincerity and politeness, although Shaw sees through his flattery. Skipper wins their verbal sparring match, however, when he realizes that the investigators are lying to him about Norma confessing her part in the crime. Without the evidence to hold him, the police are forced to let Skipper go, and soon after, he gets Amata to come to his house. After leaving Amata with Billy, Skipper takes Roberta to the desert to have sex, but her lackluster response and jibes about his lifestyle infuriate him. Returning to his home, Skipper forces Amata to take an incapacitating drug and orders Billy to have sex with her. Later, Skipper slips into Roberta's bedroom and attacks her. As he is raping her, Roberta submits, declaring her love for him. Later, Skipper and Roberta have become romantically involved, much to the dismay of both Norma, who still loves Skipper, and Mrs. Todd, who despairs that Roberta has a bad reputation. One afternoon, Skipper stops by the high school to pick up some girls and is berated for wasting his life by teacher Sam Goodman. At a party soon after, Skipper regales his friends with the tale of how he eluded the draft by tricking a military psychiatrist into believing that he was a homosexual with violent feelings toward women. Billy shows Skipper an engagement ring that he has bought for Amata, with whom he is obsessed even though she does not return his feelings. Skipper disparages Billy then grows enraged when a guest plays a recording of Skipper's song about murdering Sue Ellen. Upset by the song and Skipper's reaction, Roberta leaves, and when she quarrels with Skipper over his lack of ambition and affection, he declares that their relationship is over. Soon after, Skipper again encounters Sam, who dismisses him as the epitome of everything he claims to be rebelling against. Skipper is angered by Sam's accusations that he is more pathetic than the housewives he despises and, still upset, encourages a friend to take out Roberta, instructing his friend to take her to a prearranged location in the desert that night. In the desert, Skipper ambushes Roberta and slaps her, but in the heat of the moment, the couple reconciles. As they kiss, the rest of the gang arrives and commence to carouse, taking drugs, drinking and having sex. Jealous, Norma confronts Skipper, and Roberta overhears as they discuss Sue Ellen. Later, even though Roberta's parents have forbidden her to see Skipper, she arranges a date with him by pretending to go to the drive-in with Jackie. After sending Jackie off to see the movie, Roberta goes with Skipper to his house, where she asks him why he killed Sue Ellen. Skipper admits that he wanted to see what it felt like to murder someone, and that he wanted to exercise his power over the local teens. Crying, Roberta asks if he could kill her now that she knows about his crime, and Skipper, overwhelmed, strangles her to death. Jackie enters as Skipper is standing over Roberta's body, and Skipper kills her, too. The next day, Skipper picks up Billy, but before they can bury the bodies, they are abducted by two thugs and taken to Fred Reardon, a gangster and friend of Roberta's father. Reardon threatens Skipper, who lies, telling him that another boyfriend of Roberta's must be responsible for her disappearance. That night, Skipper takes Billy to the desert and forces him to help bury Roberta's and Jackie's bodies. Later, Billy, fearing that Skipper will harm Amata, continuously prowls the sidewalk in front of her house, terrifying her family. When they confront him, Billy confesses that he was trying to protect Amata from the murderous Skipper, and Skipper is soon arrested. Billy attempts to lead the police to the corpses but cannot find them, although the search attracts a huge crowd. When Skipper's lawyer counsels him to confess, Skipper refuses, but the lawyer states that with Skipper's acting abilities, he can claim that he was misled by drugs and will become a national hero and role model. Soon after, Skipper takes Shaw and the police to Roberta's and Jackie's bodies, and they are followed by a group of stunned teenagers and news photographers. Crushed that they have lost their leader, the adolescents panic and one boy asks, "What are we going to do without Skipper?"
Robert F. Lyons
Sandy Brown Wyeth
Sherry Lynn Diamant
Sugar Ray Robinson
Barbara Bel Geddes
John H. Roe
Jerome M. Siegel
Harold E. Stine
Jack P. Wilson
The working titles of this film were Pied Piper of Tucson, The Pied Piper, Running Scared, Skipper, Skipper and Billy Roy and What Are We Going to Do Without Skipper?. In 1978, the picture was re-released as A Dangerous Friend. Except for the title, all of the credits appear at the end of the picture. Although the onscreen credits include a 1970 copyright statement for National General Productions, Inc., the film was not registered until December 15, 1998, when it was given the number RE-791-634. In the opening sequence, the burial of the dead girl's body by "Steven `Skipper' Todd," "Norma" and "Andy" is intercut with "Mrs. Roy's" reporting the disappearance of her daughter to the police. After Skipper and his friends run away from the burial site, the following written statement appears: "The story you are about to see is a fictionalized dramatization of actual case histories. The names & certain characterizations & incidents have been changed to protect the innocent-and, in some cases, to protect the guilty."
During the film, sequences of Skipper being interviewed by a military psychiatrist are intercut with the main action without explanation until the party during which Skipper tells his friends that he tricked the man into declaring him unfit for service. In the end credits, the names of cast members Robert F. Lyons, Richard Thomas, Belinda Montgomery, Sherry Miles, Joyce Ames, Holly Near, James Broderick, Gloria Grahame, Fay Spain, Edward Asner and Michael Conrad appear before a repeat of the title.
The film was based on the real-life murders committed by Charles E. "Smitty" Schmid, Jr. (1942-1975) in Tucson, AZ. Schmid, a would-be musician, murdered one teenage girl in May 1964 and two others in August 1965. As depicted in the film, two of Schmid's friends helped him bury his first victim, fifteen-year-old Alleen Rowe. The character "Billy Roy" was based on Richie Bruns, a friend of Schmid whose obsession with a local girl helped lead police to Schmid as the killer of Rowe and his next two victims, Gretchen Fritz and her younger sister Wendy. Embroiled in a turbulent romance with the sixteen-year-old Gretchen, Schmid killed her and Wendy out of fear that they would reveal his complicity in Rowe's death, which he had confessed to Gretchen.
In August 1966, Schmid was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death for killing the Fritz sisters. His May 1967 trial for Rowe's murder was terminated when he pled guilty to second-degree murder, even though the girl's body had not been recovered. Schmid led police to her body in June 1967, but always maintained that he was innocent of the murders. His case became famous nationwide and was highly publicized due to his popularity with and influence over a large number of local teenagers. Schmid died in March 1975 after being attacked by two other inmates in the Arizona State Penitentiary.
In June 1967, both Hollywood Reporter and Daily Variety announced that National General Productions (NGP) would be producing a film about Schmid's crimes, with the screenplay, to be written by Mann Rubin, based on The Tucson Murders, John Gilmore's recently published true-crime exposé. The news items reported that the story acquisition included clearances from Schmid and Bruns, with Daily Variety stating that Bruns would "be associated with" the picture. No other contemporary sources confirm Bruns's involvement in the project, however, or that the finished screenplay was based on Gilmore's book.
In July 1968, Variety reported that NGP had "shelved" the project for over a year but was considering going ahead with it, despite the misgivings of Tucson community leaders who feared that the film would bring more notoriety to the area. The item stated that the film would be based on Don Moser's book The Pied Piper of Tucson. Moser, who had written a March 1966 article about the killings for Life magazine, co-wrote the 1967 book with Jerry Cohen, but neither he nor Cohen is listed in the onscreen credits as contributing to the final picture. The SAB, contained in the film's clippings file at the AMPAS Library, lists the basis for Dennis Murphy and Joel Oliansky's screenplay solely as a story by Rubin.
By March 1970, British director Alastair Reid was scheduled to make his American feature-film debut with the project. On March 30, 1970, however, Hollywood Reporter announced that Reid had left the production due to "differences of concept and approach" with NGP and had been replaced by Barry Shear. At that point Abby Mann was scheduled to write the screenplay and produce the film, although, according to Filmfacts, Mann left the production after "a dispute" with NGP, and Shear took over as the producer. Filmfacts noted that after Mann's departure, "the script was rewritten and Mann received no mention in the final credits." Throughout its filming, The Todd Killings was listed on Hollywood Reporter production charts as an "Abby Mann production for National General."
A April 15, 1970 Daily Variety news item reported that theatrical actress Harriet Karr, Mann's wife, had been signed to make her motion picture debut in the film as the "femme lead," but she does not appear in the final film. A January 1970 Variety article stated that Karr was "topcast" in the film with actor Richard Summers, who eventually was replaced by Robert F. Lyons, and that it would be shot in the Las Cruces area of New Mexico. The April 29, 1970 Hollywood Reporter article listed Jo Van Fleet as a cast member, but she also does not appear in the film. Although Kevin Coughlin is included in the cast by Hollywood Reporter production charts, his appearance in the completed picture has not been confirmed. As noted by the onscreen credits and contemporary sources, the film's interiors were shot at the Samuel Goldwyn Studios, with some interiors shot at the Lincoln Heights Jail in downtown Los Angeles. According to the pressbook, exteriors were shot throughout the Sunland-Tujunga area, the Upper Tujunga Canyon and in Westwood, CA.
Several post-production news items reported that the film's music had been composed by Billy Goldenberg, although only Leonard Rosenman is credited onscreen. A September 2, 1970 Hollywood Reporter news item announced that four songs written by Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn would be featured in the film, but they were not used for the final release. In early September 1970, news items reported that the Writers Guild of America viewed a rough cut of the film and determined that it did not represent Mann's work as a screenwriter and that his name could be withdrawn from the credits, as he requested.
The film marked the motion picture debuts of television actresses and real-life sisters Belinda and Tanis Montgomery, who played sisters "Roberta" and "Jackie." The picture also marked the last film of longtime character actor Guy Wilkerson (1899-1971). According to Filmfacts, The Todd Killings was the last film made by NGP, which soon after ceased active production, although it continued to buy and distribute motion pictures.
"Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?," Joyce Carol Oates's 1966, critically acclaimed short story, was inspired by Schmid's crimes and Don Moser's Life article, and was told from the point of view of one of his young victims. Her story became the basis of the 1986 film Smooth Talk, directed by Joyce Chopra and starring Treat Williams as the killer and Laura Dern as the girl he entraps. Another film based on Schmid's life was the 1994 release Dead Beat, directed by Adam Dubov and starring Balthazar Getty as the Schmid character.
Released in United States 1971
Released in United States on Video December 14, 1988
Released in United States 1971
Released in United States on Video December 14, 1988