Imagine the following cast in a single film: Jackie Gleason, Carol Channing, Frankie Avalon, Frank Gorshin, John Phillip Law, Peter Lawford, Burgess Meredith, George Raft, Cesar Romero, Austin Pendleton, Mickey Rooney and Groucho Marx. Now imagine such a film being directed by the legendary Otto Preminger . . .
The logical conclusion is that for such a film to not be widely known it would have to be a disaster. It was.
It is also reasonable to assume that when colossal talent fails, it fails colossally. It did.
What can you say about a film whose final credits are sung? (that’s every credit, right down to ‘Gaffer’). A film where Groucho Marx (in his last screen appearance and sporting a jet black toupee) plays a reclusive mafia head called ‘God’? or a film where Jackie Gleason has an acid trip in prison?
Gleason plays Tony Banks, a retired mobster whittling away his days in luxurious boredom with his sexually restless wife Flo (Carol Channing). Their monotony is interrupted when a crime kingpin called God (Marx) recruits Tony to kill stool pigeon ‘Blue Chips’ Packard (Mickey Rooney), who is about to testify before a Senator.
Unfortunately, Packard is currently serving a life sentence – and the fact that Packard and Tony are lifelong friends complicates the assignment further.
This being 1968, the hippy counterculture is represented – right down to body paint – by Banks’ daughter Darlene (Alexandra Hay) and her friends. Darlene’s boyfriend (John Phillip Law in a role that proves his emotionally blank angel in Barbarella (1967) was not an artistic choice) explains that they are “not digging the nine-to-five bag”.
Through a series of incidents, Tony manages to get himself locked up in a fully automated prison. His intellectual peacenik cellmate (Austin Pendleton) accidentally introduces Tony to LSD, which leads to a legendary sequence in which Jackie Gleason is sent on an acid trip of bizarre animation and terrified reaction shots.
Meanwhile, in a sequence combining farce, disturbing menopausal aggression and a futuristic bachelor pad, Flo attempts to seduce Marx’s henchman Angie (Frankie Avalon). It is more unsettling still that Angie seems genuinely aroused . . .
Fortunately, they are interrupted in order to track down God on the Howard Hughes-esque hermetically-sealed yacht out in international waters where the mob boss lives in limbo.
Tony and his cellmate escape by slipping LSD into the prison cafeteria food, consumed by all inmates, guards, the warden (Burgess Meredith) and the visiting Senator (Peter Lawford).
A particular pair of guards (Fred Clark and singer/songwriter Harry Nilsson, who also composed the soundtrack) hallucinate a musical number involving perfectly choreographed garbage cans while the two prisoners escape by home-made balloon.
They all converge on Groucho’s ship for a final musical number in which Carol Channing sings the Skidoo theme song dressed in a naval motif.
It seems that everyone involved with this film sobered up and decided to quietly bury the evidence. For many years Preminger’s daughter sat on the negative to protect her father’s reputation and even today, few bad movie fans know of Skidoo.
John Phillip Law
George ‘Blue Chips’ Packard
Fred the Professor