Skidoo is a cult film… and a mess

I’m a reasonably smart person. I graduated college, I have a job that requires decision making and creative thought. I have, as Liam Neeson famously said, a particular set of skills. And yet…

I have no idea what is going on in the 1968 film Skidoo.

I’ll relay what I know and can understand, in bullet form.

  • Skidoo stars Jackie Gleason and Carol Channing.
  • It was directed by Otto Preminger.
  • The music was by a personal favorite of mine, Harry Nilsson.
  • Groucho Marx plays God… no, not that one, a hypochondriac gangster who is so afraid of both germs and assassins he lives in isolation on a yacht who’s named God. That “means” something… I guess.
  • At one point, Jackie Gleason’s gangster character takes LSD… Which means there is a scene where we get to see Ralph Kramden experience psychedelic visions. For eight minutes.
  • Carol Channing takes off most of her clothes in one scene.
  • So does the Green bay Packers.
  • Hippies smoke pumpkin joints in another scene.
  • Half of the villains from the Batman TV show (Cesar Romero, Burgess Meredeth, Frank Gorshin) appear in supporting roles. Too bad they couldn’t wear their costumes…
  • Richard Kiel (Jaws from the James Bond films) is in it, too. And Mickey Rooney!
  • There’s a musical number featuring dancing trash cans.
  • Nilsson sings the end credits. Yes, you read that right… he sings them. Including the copyright date (in roman numerals) and legal disclaimer.

I’ve heard that Skidoo was one of those movies that had to be seen to be believed, and now… I believe it. It is a film that attempts to be “cool” and “hip”, made by middle-age men who have never even met any real “hippies” (and would brush them away when they did). It’s tone is… well, I can’t identify what the tone is. Is it a parody? A crime film? A comedy? I don’t think anyone involved in making this movie had any clue as to what the tone or what the movie they were making was… and didn’t care.

This movie was – and is – a cult film, and frankly… the cult can have it. It’s a hot mess, an incoherent film that has no reason to exist… and shouldn’t. It’s a chore to sit through, and I regretted my commitment to do so almost immediately after the movie began. When you look at all the talent in front of and behind the camera, the fact that this movie fails so completely as an enterprise is stunning.

There is one good thing that came out of this, and it’s that I can finally say I’ve seen (and lived through) it. Also, when I argue about how hard it is to pull all the moving parts together and make a good movie, I now have the perfect case study to cite.