BluRay/DVD Reviews

SKIDOO

By • Jul 28th, 2011 •

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There is a special place for the Worst Films Ever Made in my 4000+ collection of DVDs, BluRays and Laser Discs. I’m happy to have them, and on occasion (but it must be just the right occasion) I bring them out for an airing. Such monumentally abysmal titles as MACKENNA’S GOLD, CANDY, MYRA BRECKENRIDGE, THE CONQUERER, and PARIS WHEN IT SIZZLES are now joined by one of their long-missing-in-action soul-mates, SKIDOO.

I should mention before going further that there are two tiers of Truly Bad Films. Those referenced above are major productions in which everything is dreadfully misconceived, and everything went terribly wrong. You can’t compare Ed Wood’s work with these monstrosities – Wood and his ilk never had the resources or the opportunities that these mega-films had. So a second list must co-exist for such mind-bogglers as Wood’s, and others such as ATTACK OF THE GIANT LEECHES, THE GIANT CLAW, BLAZE STARR GOES NUDIST, etc.

Now…where to start. In Foster Hirsch’s excellent bio of Preminger, it says that he directed his last film, THE HUMAN FACTOR, suffering from Parkinson’s Disease and, it is speculated, possibly the early stages of Alzheimer’s. Were that SKIDOO could be written off to the diseases. But THE HUMAN FACTOR is a decent film, all the more impressive considering that he did it under debilitating conditions. No such defense here, I’m afraid. This is a stupendous act of aesthetic malfeasance, abetted by many who worked with the director before, all of whom share in the guilt, even if only peripherally.

Let’s start with Leon Shamroy, my least favorite DP. He shot STORMY WEATHER, LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN, DAISY KENYON, THE ROBE, THE KING AND I, CLEOPATRA, NORTH TO ALASKA, PLANET OF THE APES, and WHAT A WAY TO GO among many others, some of them lovely to look at, a few of them important or watershed films. And, previous to SKIDOO, he shot PORGY AND BESS and THE CARDINAL for Preminger. But he’s also the man who made the most agonizingly wrong-headed decision any cinematographer has ever made in my estimation – using those asinine color filters on the set of SOUTH PACIFIC. Not leaving it for post production to experiment with altering the tone of the scenes by distorting them with overpowering single colors, but doing it on set so that there would be no way to fully correct the scenes if it turned out to be a miscalculation…which it did.

Shamroy’s work on SKIDOO is in character with the rest of the film’s qualities – harsh, clumsy, humorless and off-putting. None of Preminger’s past skill at creating deft and poetic camera movement is in evidence here. The scenes just sit in front of you and rot, like a wide-screen TV show, overlit and flaccid, with the exceptional decent shot every now and then.

On an IMBD ‘list’ Shamroy makes the cut of 14 great cinematographers alongside Gordon Willis and Vittorio Storaro. Gregg Toland (CITIZEN KANE), Billy Bitzer (ORPHANS OF THE STORM), Henri Alekan (BEAUTY AND THE BEAST), Nicholas Musuraca (OUT OF THE PAST), and Darius Khondji (CITY OF LOST CHILDREN), among countless others of greater talent, are not on the list, but Shamroy is. I have to move on…

The plot (I’m doing it far greater justice than it deserves by calling it ‘plot’) involves a retired mobster being called back into service to the dreaded crime boss “God”, to rub out a snitch. Don’t expect what you see on your home monitor screens to resemble this neatly compressed explanation. And don’t expect the assemblage of comic talents to be funny, either, although I did laugh out loud at Fred Clark doing an LSD-induced dance on the guard’s parapet during a prison escape. Apparently Doran William Cannon, the main screenwriter, urged Preminger to direct the film realistically, as he had done with IN HARM’S WAY, and that this would make the comedy work. It might have improved things somewhat, but Preminger went for over-the-top, and he got nothing in return.

Jackie Gleason as a retired mob hitman, Groucho Marx as a germ-phobic mafia kingpin, Mickey Rooney as a mob informant, and Carol Channing as Carol Channing in the extreme, are good in their roles, just not funny. It’s the roles that aren’t any good. The writing, the lunatic direction – little of it is amusing and none of it is logical. I was most staggered by Channing, who throws her riveting, toothpick-thin body into her role with utter, meaningless abandon. She even does (and I’ve been told this isn’t visible on VHS copies) a strip tease which flaunts her nipples right through her transparent bra, not to mention the crack of her ass through her panties. Bad as this film is, it’s probably a keeper for this scene alone. But I challenge you to ever watch it straight through to get to that scene a second time. She also performs the title song at the end, and it’s so bad. It really makes such abominations of musical taste as THE APPLE and XANADU seem like AN AMERICAN IN PARIS or THE RED SHOES. Ms. Channing has said in print that she has never, and will never, watch the film, and I applaud her decision.

The editing, which apparently is trying to do two things at once – make sense of the scenes and pick up the pace – succeeds in neither. As an exemplary display of atrocious editorial work, SKIDOO should be used as a teaching tool. George Rohrs also edited A BIG HAND FOR THE LITTLE LADY, THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES TV Series, and a made-for-tv feature called DR. SCORPION.

In addition to Ms. Channing’s compelling presence and desperate flailing, perhaps the topics of Hippies and LSD are of lasting interest. Gleason takes a ‘trip,’ and the effects are fun but hardly capture the experience.

I must single out another pencil-thin performer in SKIDOO – 6’2″ Luna, the first black model to appear on the cover of Vogue, who plays ‘God’s mysterious muse, fawning over him, then slinking around the yacht he inhabits, pouncing sexually on visitors and constantly showing us the top of her derriere. I was mesmerized by her. She died eleven years later, aged 34, of a drug overdose.

1968 was the centerpiece year for bloated miscarriages of cinema. CANDY, CASINO ROYALE, and MYRA BRECKINRIDGE were other ventures deformed by acromegaly of their celluloid souls. Mix in SKIDOO and you have an unholy cadre that captured the misguided zeitgeist that was afflicting Hollywood, and which would allow the indies to burst upon the scene for a scant four years with such monikers as EASY RIDER, DRIVE HE SAID, THE LAST MOVIE, THE PROJECTIONIST, FIVE EASY PIECES and THE HIRED HAND.

Preminger’s widow, Hope, voiced the opinion that her husband “…knew the film didn’t work. He really hated it, as I do still. I wish people would just forget about it.” But I don’t know if that’s possible. In fact, with Olive’s handsome DVD and BluRay releases, it’s liable to find a whole new audience that will appreciate it for what it was, what it wasn’t, and what time will determine it to be.

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