I finally got my hands on a copy of Skidoo, Otto Preminger's 1968 acid movie (and Groucho Marx' last.) You cannot believe how incredibly happy I was to finally see this film. It is terrible. It stars Jackie Gleason, Carol Channing, Mickey Rooney, Frankie Avalon, Austin Pendleton ("Max" from The Muppet Movie) and, as I mentioned before, the one, the only Groucho as a crime lord named God.
Cesar Romero, Burgess Meredith and Frank Gorshin even get in on the film. It's like a Batman villain reunion, and with crazy-ass colors to boot!
You can't get this film on DVD for many reasons, the least of which is that it's just plain awful. It's a late-60s Hollywood mishmosh, big-name stars with a thin excuse for a plot and the even thinner excuse that the more incomprehensible it is, the more "the kids" are gonna dig it. The result is an attempt at a head film, Hollywood establishment-style, though it is surprisingly very kind to the freaks and not so kind to the establishment. Heck, the trailer (conveniently found on YouTube) even has the good doctor Timothy Leary advising kids to "turn on their parents" by taking them to this film. I don't think many parents would've turned on quite as Dr. Leary had hoped.
And yes, the film ends with Groucho Marx smoking pot.
Let's take a look at some screenshots, shall we?
We start the film in Suburbia, USA, with Jackie Gleason and Carol Channing fighting over a TV set with a remote control. With them this evening is Gleason's best friend Arnold Stang, the best adenoidal character actor ever to grace the screen. We learn that Gleason and Stang once worked in organized crime, but Gleason's character "got out" 17 years ago, married Carol Channing's character, had a daughter, and live peacefully with horrible curtains.
Gleason's daughter returns from a date with a hippie named Stash (played by the same guy who played the blind angel in Barbarella) but before Jackie can get all mad about it, he's called out of retirement by Cesar Romero et al to do "one last job" for God. Gleason will have to infiltrate a prison and kill a mobster, played by Mickey Rooney, who's now in maximum solitary confinement and about to turn state's evidence. Gleason was Rooney's best friend during their crazy crime-doing days, so it's a sure bet Rooney will allow Gleason to visit him.
Oh, and in the gangster lingo of this film, "kiss" is the codeword for "kill." So you get a lot of lines like "You want me to kiss Blue Chips?" or "When are you gonna kiss him?" or "He's not gonna kiss him!" and I'm sure only half of the meaning here is for a cheap homoerotic laugh; the other half is an obvious statement a la George Carlin about replacing a word of hate with one of love.
Got all that? Okay, but it really doesn't matter.
As Gleason prepares to go to prison, his daughter goes to hang out with her hippie friends and gets herself body-painted just like Goldie Hawn in Laugh-In, while the Joan Baez wanna-be on the left sings some Irish-sounding dirge about ending war and all that good stuff.
But what's this? Those mean cops are gonna hassle the beautiful people just because they're having a love-in on the street (and, as one points out, they're legally parked there with 20 minutes left on the meter!) The two kids lying down have this great exchange:
HIPPIE ON LEFT: I think I love you! Are you a boy or a girl?Oh, those wacky days of gender confusion.
HIPPIE ON RIGHT: I'm a girl!
HIPPIE ON LEFT: Great! I'm a boy!
COP: Come on, you! Get up and go to jail!
And speaking of gender confusion, the mayor of the city is showing the results of her latest beautifying campaign, which will make for some real dandy billboards and possibly some LJ icons if you'd like to stitch the two shots together. The hippies are brought in before the mayor and she has a bit of a tussle with 'em all...
...but not before someone goes and sticks a flower in Governor Reagan's mouth. While not exactly the final insult, it is nonetheless an act of insubordination, so the hippies are ordered to leave the city and never come back. They're strangely compliant with this.
Carol Channing, who was on the city's Beautifying Committee and in the mayor's office at the time of the hippie-in, recognizes her daughter in the dirty rabble and runs out to confront her. Rather than have her daughter leave with all the hippies, Channing invites them all back to stay at their suburban house. Why? Who the hell knows? Also please note that she is the most outlandishly dressed of all of them.
After this fine problem is solved, both Channing and daughter realize they have no idea where Jackie Gleason disappeared to. But Frankie Avalon, playing one of the current crime lords, may have a clue. So to glean the information from him, Channing decides to pay him a visit. Avalon is in the midst of getting his swanky Austin Powers wet dream bachelor pad ready for a hot date with a redhead, and when Channing realizes he's not going to give him the information she wants, she decides to stick around and ruin Avalon's date. And it just may work, for her seductive dance number could possibly ruin Avalon on women altogether:
I stopped taking screenshots before Carol Channing took her blouse off and ran around in a granny brassiere.
Jackie Gleason, meanwhile, has found his way into the prison, posing as a prisoner, and sharing a cell with two prisoners; one is "The Professor", played by Austin Pendleton. He's a real head himself, in for burning his draft card. Apparently this prison is permissive enough that they let him bring in his own stationery, posters, and electronic equipment. They rig up a two-way radio to Mickey Rooney's cell.
Rooney's cell is no torture chamber, either; he gets a television, newspaper delivery, and a ticker-tape machine so he can keep track of the latest stocks.
Rooney tells Gleason "Uh uh, no way are you gonna visit me, I know you wanna kiss me" (hurr hurr hurr) so that plan is foiled. Gleason uses some of The Professor's stationery to write a letter home to his wife, explaining that he'll be away for a while. He licks the envelope shut and ...
The Professor had laced all his stationery with LSD!
Jackie Gleason trips on out, baby!
There's eyeballs in the ceiling...
...a machine gun that fires numbers instead of bullets, prompting Gleason to chortle, "I SEE MATHEMATICS!"
...and, as the piece de resistance, Groucho Marx's head floating around on top of a screw.
Eventually "finding himself" in the sink, Gleason decides this killin' thing just ain't his bag anymore, and refuses to go along with the plan any further.
Groucho, who runs his criminal empire from a yacht somewhere off the coast of "The Ex Pier 17", does not like this news. He takes both Gleason's daughter and Stash the hippie on his boat as prisoners.
Gleason and The Professor plan their escape. Using the rest of the Professor's acid-laced stationery, they infiltrate the kitchen and dose the entire prison and EVERYBODY GOES KOO-KOO!
Here's Frank Gorshin looking at himself as an angel. "Look at me!" he hollers. "I'm an angel! HALLELUIA!"
It's also a lucky break that the prison warden, played by Burgess Meredith, and a state senator, played by Peter Lawford, have decided to dine with the prisoners and guards on this fine occasion (Meredith gives some excuse about "I want to show them that if it's good enough for me, it's good enough for them.") Here they are trippin' balls, in today's modern parlance. Meredith is having a great time imagining the new prison he'll design, while Lawford... well, he just looks and acts like Peter Lawford. The dude was perpetually pickled since 1962, you know.
Gleason and Pendleton sneak out to the prison yard in garbage cans. The two tower guards, high as kites themselves, are then witness to a lovely song and dance number featuring dancing garbage cans and some Harry Nilsson lyrics about discarded trash that falls in love.
One of the prison guards also hallucinates a line of naked Green Bay Packers. YOU'RE WELCOME. Except for you, and you, and maybe you; I'm sorry. But don't feel bad, you only see some butts.
Then there's an EXCITING HOT AIR BALLOON ESCAPE! The writing on the balloon reads "REDDY FREDDY", being the name of the company what distributed the food to the prison.
Meanwhile, Stash the hippie makes a call from the boat to his pals at the Channing home, and in a specially coded message, lets them know exactly where the boat is, using coded words like "Hey man, Spirit of St. Louis, yeah, and Horace Greeley, two or three Windsors, X marks the spot." The hippies, of course, know exactly where he is, using logic not seen since in the 1968 Batman film. That's the part where Batman and Robin realize Catwoman is part of an insidious plot, because "they're really out to sea" on this one... and CATWOMAN BEGINS WITH "C"!
And as Gleason and Pendleton land on Groucho's yacht in their balloon, Carol Channing and the hippies make their seagoing invasion.
Yes, that's a George Washington getup that Carol is wearing. With hot pants.
As the hippies cavort around the boat and Groucho, thoroughly defeated, makes his escape, Channing sings the title song which has lyrics like
Skidoo, skidooThis coming from the songwriter who gave us The Point. PLEASE COME BACK, HARRY NILSSON; ALL IS FORGIVEN.
The only thing that matters is with who you do!
Between a one and three there is a two!
Eventually all is well, everybody lives, Frankie Avalon marries the Grace Jones lookalike who was Groucho's mistress in a shipboard ceremony (what) and Groucho and Austin Pendleton make their escape on a little psychedelic sailboat.
And now, the moment you've all been waiting for, Groucho Marx toking up, and getting the best line in the entire film:
That's how it ends -- but vait! Otto Preminger himself stops the film and says, with his heavy Teutonic accent: "Beforr you skidoo, ve'd like to intrroduce our kast undt krew!"
And then Harry Nilsson sings the entire closing credits. That part, at least, was actually rather inspired.
Otto Preminger actually dropped to gain insight for the film, which was done partly because of his own son's misadventures in Greenwich Village. And if you'll believe Paul Krassner's 1981 article in High Times, so did Groucho, who gave Paul some neat quotes during his psychedelic experience. I particularly like this dissertation on duality and conscience:
"Everybody has their own Laurel and Hardy," [Groucho] mused. "A miniature Laurel and Hardy, one on each shoulder. Your little Oliver Hardy bawls you out-he says, 'Well, this is a fine mess you've gotten us into.' And your little Stan Laurel gets all weepy -"Oh, Ollie, I couldn't help it, I'm sorry, I did the best I could. . . '"And speaking of Timothy Leary, Krassner reports that Leary later told him "I was fooled by Otto Preminger. He was much hipper than me."
Skidoo is probably the most curious artifact of the late 60s that I have seen. Even at a time when nonsense was celebrated and the phrase "too much" really meant something good, this nonsensical film really was too much. And since then, many other movies have been made about, and under, the influence of LSD. Many of them are better than Skidoo. But at least Skidoo doesn't end with a few redneck crackers giving Jackie Gleason and Groucho Marx facefuls of buckshot.