Friday, October 24, 2014

WHO KILLED TEDDY BEAR? 1965

I suppose there’s a kind of tinpot triumph in making a film about the dark underbelly of human sexuality that succeeds in being, in itself, a work of astounding sleaze and prurience. Such is Who Killed Teddy Bear?; a high-pedigreed 60s exploitationer whose interrogative title suggests another entry in the Whatever Happend to Baby Jane? “hag horror” sweepstakes, but is, in fact, an example of what I call “cesspool cinema.”: A '60s exploitation sub-genre of low-rent, reactionary, social-commentary films preoccupied with the alleged rise in sexual degeneracy and dedicated to exposing the threat drugs, pornography, and delinquency pose to a civilized society.

Tackling the kind of material David Lynch would later build an entire career upon, these movies sought to lift the sewer lid off of life, offering a dark, bleakly nihilistic glimpse into the twilight world of depravity and violence seething below the surface of so-called normalcy. Posing ostensibly as tell-it-like-it-is cautionary tales warning against the dangers of unchecked morality and wanton sexual license, “cesspool cinema” films tend to tip their sincerity hand by actually being every bit as skeevy as the world their narratives purport to condemn. A good example of cesspool cinema that runs a close second to Who Killed Teddy Bear? on the sleaze-o-meter is the sensationalistic 1964 Olivia de Havilland shocker, Lady in a Cage.
Sal Mineo as Lawrence Sherman
Juliet Prowse as Norah Dain
Elaine Stritch as Marian Freeman
Jan Murray as Lt. Dave Madden
Who Killed Teddy Bear? is first posed as a musical question crooned melodramatically (not to mention, over-eloquently, given the character whose thoughts its lyrics are meant to convey) over the film’s tantalizingly lurid title sequence. A sequence which, depending on the copy you see, features a woman in bra and half-slip and a man in incredibly tight, white underwear – something of a motif in this movie – locked together in an impassioned, touchy-feely embrace. Bearing witness to all this in the bedroom’s doorway is an understandably wide-eyed little girl clutching a teddy bear. A little girl who, upon fleeing the scene too swiftly, loses her balance and tumbles down a flight of stairs. Cue the psychosexual dysfunction and guilt.
The original, uncut version of Who Killed Teddy Bear? runs 94 minutes and can be distinguished from slightly truncated copies by the unblurred imagery shown in the title sequence
When Who Killed Teddy Bear? is posed as a question a second time, it’s by the inconsolable Edie (Margot Bennett): the hapless little girl on the stairs, now a brain-damaged 19-year-old – inquiring of her older brother, Lawrence (Mineo), the fate of her beloved lost childhood toy. You see, the sordid events unfolding under the film’s opening credits turn out to be Lawrence’s guilt-ridden nightmare/flashback to the time when Edie was left in his charge.
The pair are orphaned (there being a brief allusion made to their parents’ deaths, with Edie going so far as to call her brother, “mommy-daddy”) and his momentary neglect – as a then-underage boy surrendering to the seduction of an unidentified “sexually-experienced older woman” – resulted in Edie suffering the starcase accident which left her mentally and emotionally frozen at roughly the age of her trauma.
Margot Bennett as Edie Sherman
Bennett (former wife of personal crushes Keir Dullea AND Malcolm McDowell) is very good
in a role that foreshadows Taliah Shire's Adrian in Rocky

Jump ahead several years: Lawrence is an adult with a crippling attraction/repulsion attitude toward sex. The silent recrimination of his sister's unblaming, childlike dependency inflaming in him a neurotic prudishness which seeks to suppress her natural maturation. As for the lost teddy bear, a symbol of Lawrence's guilt, he tells Edie that it has been killed in an accident, when in actuality, he has secreted it away.
Obviously, Edie wasn't the only one damaged that night.

Also obvious is the fact that Who Killed Teddy Bear?, in being a film exhaustively preoccupied with presenting sex in only its most tawdry and squalid contexts, has a sizable attraction/repulsion problem of its own. Like a movie adapted from Travis Bickle fan fiction, Who Killed Teddy Bear? paints a picture of New York as a singularly seedy hotbed of latent and manifest degeneracy. There's scarcely a character in the film left unslimed by its sewer-eye-view of humanity.

CASE #1 Lawrence
A waiter at a NYC discothèque, Lawrence’s sexual molestation (that’s what it was, although they didn’t call it that back then) leaves him with a staggering catalog of sexual hang-ups  –  not the least being voyeurism, obscene phone calling, stalking, scopophilia, and sex attraction/repulsion. When not engaged in one of the above-stated pursuits, Lawrence spends his time dry-humping his pillow, thumbing through his extensive porn collection (French Frills, When She Was Bad), trolling Time Square, or homoerotically working out at the gym. 
Where should I be looking?
Sal Mineo's toned, always-on-display body does most of  his acting in Who Killed Teddy Bear? Right now I'd say it's acting like a compass needle pointing north, subtly(?) identifying the guilty party
CASE #2 Norah
Since we’re first introduced to Norah the moment she’s at the business end of a dirty phone call, there’s no way of telling how much of her frosty demeanor and almost paranoid level of apprehension is business as usual, or the result of suddenly finding herself one of New York’s premiere creep magnets. An aspiring actress and part-time DJ at the very same dance club where Lawrence lurks...I mean, works...Norah can barely get through a day without being hit on by randy patrons (“You hungry? Let me buy you a frankfurter.”) or having the status of her virginity come into question (“Every scrawny broad thinks she’s the only one entrusted with the crown jewels, and then she’ll die if she loses them!”).
"Who is this? Who IS this?"
For films like this to work, it's necessary for it never to occur to the recipient
of an obscene phone call to merely hang up.
CASE #3 Marian
Tough-as-nails (aka lesbian) manager of a discothèque which seems to do a pretty decent business given they only have three records. Marian’s a brassy, calls-‘em-like-she-sees-‘em, survivor type whose weakness for fur, literal and figurative  (“I dig soft things…don’t you?”), plays a significant part in her propriety-mandated, horizontal early departure from the film.
Being just a simple girl from Rochester, NY, Norah can't be faulted for mistaking 
Marian's offer of succor to be as dirty as it sounds
CASE #4 Lt. Madden
Striving for hard-boiled but landing at Borscht Belt, police Lt. Madden is every bit the sex-obsessed porn junkie as Lawrence, but fiery moral rectitude over the loss of his wife to violent assault has allowed this self-styled expert on deviant sex to place his own behavior above the pale. Behavior which includes working clinically gruesome details of sex crimes into the most casual of conversations, and turning the apartment he shares with his 10-year-old daughter, Pam (Diane Moore, comedian Jan Murray’s real-life daughter) into a virtual vice squad reading room. Who Killed Teddy Bear?’s themes of innocence corrupted are echoed in Madden’s daughter falling asleep each night to the sound of graphic audio tapes of her father interviewing sex assault victims. Talk about your grim fairy tales.
"She's very pretty...is she a hooker?"
Decades before this became a common question posed by pre-teens of their favorite pop stars,
little Pam Madden's (Diane Moore) presumptive appraisal of house-guest Norah Dain betrays signs of a troubling sexual precocity 
These are the players in Who Killed Teddy Bear?; less a cast of characters than a police blotter of victims and would-be assailants in service of a familiar, somewhat rote, woman-in-peril crime thriller. The plot is simple: someone has their eyes on Norah and embarks on an escalating campaign of harassment. It's a race with the clock as to whether or not the police can find the caller before he makes good on his many threats.
The film takes a weak stab at trying to drum up a little suspense as to the identity of Norah's peeping tom/stalker by casting a wide net of suspicion over everyone in her skeevy circle (a lecherous maître d', a young Daniel J. Travanti as a deaf-mute mute bouncer with piercing eyes, the cop who takes a personal interest in her case), but the choice to shoot the caller from the neck down, calling attention to his impossibly taut backside and wasp waist, swiftly narrows the field of probable suspects to a comical degree. 
No, what truly distinguishes Who Killed Teddy Bear? is its lewd-yet-arty exploration of aberrant sexual development; its overheated, almost documentary look at New York's seamy side (it could pass for an anti-pornography propaganda film); and a tone of suffocating bleakness that feels positively surreal when one realizes this film was made the same year as The Sound of Music.
Honestly, Who Killed Teddy Bear? is a dark film that takes a head-first dive into the sewer and doesn't come up for air. Were it a better film, it would probably be unwatchable
Corruption of Innocence
In profiling the home lives of Lawrence and Lt. Madden, Who Killed Teddy Bear? parallels the
similar damage that can arise from dissimilar obsessions

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS FILM
Imagine John Waters making one of those overheated erotic thrillers from the 80s and 90s (films with sound-alike titles like: Body of Evidence, Guilty as Sin, Crimes of Passion, and Fatal Attraction) and you’ve got a pretty good idea of what Who Killed Teddy Bear? is like. As twisted a work of mid-century pseudo-mainstream cinema as ever screened at a Times Square grindhouse theater. 
Hollywood’s hypocritical nature is rarely shown to such brilliant advantage as when it has worked itself into a sanctimonious lather over some social-ill it wishes to expose. The makers of Who Killed Teddy Bear? (director Joeseph Cates [Phoebe’s father] and writer Arnold Drake) obviously decided that the best way to comment on the pernicious threat of degeneracy is to make a film any self-respecting degenerate would love. 
Let's Go to the Movies!
Lawrence treats himself to a picture show. Who Killed Teddy Bear? is worth checking out
for its scenes of '60s-era Times Square alone. Amusingly, this dive of a theater has a uniformed doorman! 
As a fan of '60s go-go movies, I love all the scenes set in the discothèque (seedy dance club, really), but it blows my mind that a hunk of sleaze this oily could have been made at a time when Hullabaloo, Shindig, and The Patty Duke Show were all over the airwaves.  Nostalgia fans love to think of the '60s as this kinder, gentler era, but a movie like Who Killed Teddy Bear? hints that decade was perhaps merely skillful in sweeping its social debris under the rug.
"You look like a whore!"
Incredibly, this line of dialog isn't delivered by Edie to her brother

PERFORMANCES
I haven't seen the-late Elaine Stritch in many films, and I'm not sure her range extended far beyond some variation of the tough-old-broad type; but within that range, she is untouchable. She gives the best performance in the film (arguably the only performance in the film), turning a "type" into a complex, fleshed-out character. She enlivens the proceedings and raises the film's quality bar each and every moment she appears.
A young Daniel J. Travanti (Hill St. Blues) appears as Carlo, the bouncer
And speaking of tough, personal fave Juliet Prowse is perhaps one of the least-helpless looking women I've ever seen, but her innate brassiness is a major asset in a film as focused on female victimization as this. I can't really vouch for her performance, which seems a little superficial, but I like that her character is depicted as independent-minded and often more pissed-off than scared by what's happening to her. Her's is a huge departure from the kind of cowering, passive women common to those aforementioned 80s thrillers (the whimpering Morgan Fairchild in 1982s The Seduction comes to mind).

As public tastes changed, many '50s boy-next-door types sought to extend their careers by taking on roles which challenged their squeaky clean images (James Darren - Venus in Furs, Troy Donahue - My Blood Runs Cold). Who Killed Teddy Bear? is structured as an against-type breakout role for teen heartthrob and two-time Oscar-nominee (Rebel Without a CauseExodus) Sal Mineo, but the truth is that, while  fine in the part, the actor is consistently upstaged by his physique. You'd have to watch a Raquel Welch movie to see a film where the exposure of a physique is favored so deferentially over a performance.
For a film marketed to the heteronormative exploitation market, no physique in the film comes under quite the same degree of close-up camera scrutiny as Mineo's. Not that I'm complaining.

An actor’s body is their instrument, but when that instrument is puffed out with ornamental muscles, it runs the risk of actually inhibiting expression, not assisting (think Channing Tatum’s neck). Such is the case with Mineo in Who Killed Teddy Bear?; as appealing and eye-catching as his body is, it begins a performance a good 30 seconds before he does. And worse, it seems to encase Mineo emotionally...HE seems as distracted by it as we are.
A few of the shows running on Broadway at the time 
For many, a question far more pressing than Who Killed Teddy Bear? is how did the careers of Mineo (a talented actor) and Prowse (a talented dancer and singer) sink to this level of grindhouse sleaze?

THE STUFF OF FANTASY
Who Killed Teddy Bear? would have a running time of 60-minutes if it excised all the scenes of discotheque dancers doing The Watusi and the The Frug. Happily, along with being a perfect time-capsule of New York at its grimiest, this film offers fans of '60s wiggling plentiful opportunities to feel less superior about how kids dance today.
The film's erotic set-piece, one precipitated by Lawrence's observation that the way people dance is "Very suggestive!" is a two-minute dance-off by the statuesque Prowse and slim-hipped Mineo that is both hilarious and terribly, terribly sexy. Suggestive, indeed!
The songs used in the film (all three of them) are composed by Bob Gaudino (of The Four Seasons) and Al Kasha (Best Song Oscar winner for The Towering Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure)


THE STUFF OF DREAMS 
I saw Who Killed Teddy Bear? for the first time when I was about nine or ten. Bad idea. It aired on TV in the wee small hours of the morning on something like the The Late, Late, Late Show, and I was excited at the prospect of staying up late and seeing a fun/scary B-movie like Die! Die! My Darling! or Whatever Happened to Aunt Alice? (the latter, playing in the theaters at the time). Of course, what I got was this weird, terribly dark movie about depravity, porn, rape, and murder. Needless to say, this heaptrip of a movie disturbed the hell out of me (Mineo with his magic pants and action torso played no small part), and for the longest time Who Killed Teddy Bear? occupied a place in my psyche reserved for kindertrauma.  The ending in particular gave me nightmares.
Unable to simulate masturbation onscreen back in 1965, Mineo is shown stroking his thighs while making an obscene phone call. According to Mineo, this was the first American film to feature a man in jockey shots
It’s a curious thing, kids and scary movies. Monsters and ghouls engaged in simplistic struggles of good vs. evil played out against low-budget backdrops of drafty castles and decaying mansions have a strangely comforting, distancing artificiality. The scares they supply are fun because the worlds depicted are so reassuringly false.
Less easy to shake off is a grim treatise on the corruptibility of innocence shot in grainy, news-bulletin black and white, set in a grimy, claustrophobic New York teeming not with easy-to-identify monsters, but the flesh and blood kind that look just like everybody else. For a young person, a movie like Who Killed Teddy Bear? – a film that offers few likable characters, little in the way of hope, and no happy ending – is particularly disturbing because it’s just too real. I recall it was one of the earliest films to give me the feeling that the world wasn't a safe place.
Who Killed Teddy Bear? popped up frequently on TV when I was young, then just seemed to disappear. Sometime in the '90s it resurfaced at a local revival theater here in LA, allowing me the opportunity to see it with an audience for the first time. By now what I once thought disturbing looked hopelessly camp, overwrought, and overemphatic, but the film somehow retained all of its edge (it was banned in the UK until very recently). After all these years Who Killed Teddy Bear? holds up as one of the strangest films to come out of the so-called swinging '60s. And that’s saying something.
This Teddy Bear's No Picnic


BONUS MATERIAL
The version of Who Killed Teddy Bear? available on DVD overseas is a slightly edited version from the 94-minute original. Here is what can be found in the uncut version (spoilers):
1. The bodies in the title sequence are visible.
2. Scene with Stritch and Prowse in her apartment is lengthier, including Stritch relaying this information: “I never wore a bra until I was 28. And then for a fast ten minutes. Some quack convinced me it helped firm the muscles. I don’t like being fenced in. It’s a hang-up of mine.”
3. Flashback of Mineo's seduction by older woman is longer and slightly more explicit (his body, not hers).
4. Scenes of Mineo at Times Square porn shops and in front of porno theater are longer.
5. Mineo kisses and embraces Stritch after killing her in the alley.
6. There's a brief scene of Mineo humping his bed in his BVDs.
7. Final assault is slightly more explicit

The full (edited) version of Who Killed Teddy Bear? is available on YouTube.

Depending on the source the voice singing the title song over the film's opening credits has been attributed to either Rita Dyson or Claire Francis (Mikki Young). Until that mystery is cleared up, there are several cover versions floating around the net;

Hear Leslie Uggams sing the haunting theme to Who Killed Teddy Bear?

Hear 80s pop singer Josie Cotton sing the haunting theme to Who Killed Teddy Bear?

In 1965, the same year Who Killed Teddy Bear? was released, Juliet Prowse debuted in her own TV sitcom, the short-lived (and rather terrible, as I recall) Mona McCluskey. Sal Mineo appeared as a guest on an episode. See Mona McCluskey opening credits on YouTube.
Copyright © Ken Anderson

28 comments:

  1. Ken, what a great line this is, "a 60s exploitation sub-genre of low-rent, reactionary, social-commentary films preoccupied with the alleged rise in sexual degeneracy and dedicated to exposing the threat drugs, pornography, and delinquency pose to a civilized society." I just had to acknowledge it.

    Having watched Crimes of Passion when it first came out and you saying that this movie is in that genre has made me run.

    The comment about Hollywood “sweeping its social debris under the rug” regarding the 60’s tells me that people didn’t walk through the Height-Asbury district or the pan handle of Golden Gate Park at the height of the 60’s with open eyes, because the underbelly was there for everyone to see. I watched that era being treated as something that was so special and full of love, but my parents showed us the people laid out on the streets, filthy, hungry, strung out and girls that looked like my sisters being used by men for a place to sleep; the ugly was there, but I’m guessing, as you said, nobody wants to see it.

    This was a powerful read and a movie I’ll never see. Thank you for the detailed warning.

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    1. Cathy, what a compliment! To say you enjoyed reading about a film that doesn't interest you in pretty high praise!
      I have to say "Crimes of Passion" is one of my least favorite Ken Russell films, and that whole erotic-thriller genre of the 80s was considerably less interesting than what was being explored in the 60s.
      I'm a big nostalgia buff, but I'm not fond of the way old movies have become almost real windows into the past for some people. They look at the artificial worlds created by Doris Day and Annette Funicello and bemoan current times as if those oppressive restrictive, hate-filled times were all sunshine and rainbows. I like to see the balance...the "best of times, worst of times" reality.

      I love the glow that nostalgia puts on the past, but a movie like this as sordid (as it is) is a good reminder that at the exact same time Julie Andrews was climbing every Austrian mountain, somewhere there was a guy buying a copy of "Teenage Nudists" (one of the magazines shown in the film).
      Thanks for reading this post, virtually hot off the press!

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  2. I'm so glad you're covering this! Sordid is such a perfect word to describe it. It's really one of a kind and in every interview I've ever read/seen with Elaine Stritch no one has ever asked her about it. Now, sadly, it's too late.

    I too saw it on a local Saturday night late late show we had in Ohio in the 60s--ours was called "Adults Only". Talk about "kindertrauma"! I mean what kid wouldn't stay up to watch? I was sure this was how adults must have behaved in New York City.

    I also think Teddy Bear would make a nice double bill with A Cold Wind in August. As always, a swell job Ken!

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    1. Hi Max
      Thanks very much! I love that you saw this film as a child, too. Kind of the best way to experience this kind of 60s weirdness I think...being very young is as close as one is likely to get to appreciating the shock value of this film on par with what 60s audiences may have felt.
      I don't know about you, but I didn't really understand much of what was going on, but that only added to the sense that I was REALLY watching an adult movie.
      I have never seen "A Cold Wind in August" and someone once recommended it to me. I have to search it out.
      Oh, and the only time I ever read of Stritch ever commenting on her work in this film is in a 2010 interview she gave to The Village Voice. Here's the link::
      http://www.villagevoice.com/2010-01-19/film/who-killed-teddy-bear-a-fascinating-chronicle-of-wagner-era-times-square/full/

      As always, I appreciate your kind comments, Max!

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    2. Thanks for the link! "A lesbian who runs a discotheque [and has a crush on] Juliet Prowse and is strangled with a silk stocking by Sal Mineo on East End Avenue." Nobody turns a part like that down.

      That quote is a keeper

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    3. You're welcome! You did indeed pick THE best quote in the entire interview. Leave it Stritch to sum up her participation in "Teddy Bear" in such a way as to make it sound like a "must see" for her fans.

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  3. Great post, and I love your perceptions on what is truly scary - fake Transylvania castles or dubious individuals hiding in doorways. I think Who Killed Teddy Bear does answer that. I saw WKTB at the Film Forum in NYC, where the audience laughed (uneasily), mainly at Jan Murray's over-the-top performance as the cop (who exhibited obsessions probably real cops do have). The film is distasteful to watch; I left the theater with the feeling of needing a shower. But Mineo's degenerate is terrifying because he's real, he's the smiling pervert that mothers always warn about accepting a car ride from (and like you, I always wonder why obscene-phone-call recipients in movies just don't hang up). Interesting point you make about 60s movies being associated with The Sound of Music (which was the highest-grossing film of that decade), whereas reality at the time was utterly the opposite. Although the 60s also had movies like The Boston Strangler and Midnight Cowboy (the at-the-time X-rated film that won an Oscar), the 70s seems to have been the catch-up era to that earlier malaise---that's where you get films like The Honeymoon Killers and Taxi Driver and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the birth of the slasher genre; plus mainstream, big-screen porn. In retrospect, WKTB's cesspool factor, as you aptly name it, may have had a bigger influence on later cinema than Julie Andrews's singing nun. I don't know if that's a boon or a curse.

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    1. Hi GOM!
      I am so in agreement that aspects of this film are rather distasteful. Camp covers a percentage of it, but some of the dialog (like some of Murray's speeches and the guy detailing how he can tell when women are "asking for it") always undercuts the laughs with (as you so aptly put it) a feeling like you'd like to take a shower after spending a few minutes with these people.
      The sharp observations you make about latter-decade films and how they were eeking their way toward a new realism - light years away from the Pollyanna escapism of early 60s films, highlight precisely why the films of the 60s and 70s have much such an impression on me: my formative years/film's formative years.
      Great to hear from you and I'm glad you enjoyed the post!

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  4. Great review of a movie I don't think I've ever heard of...although now I'd like to see it--as a sociological artifact of course! The movie that chilled and unsettled me as this movie did to you (although I was somewhat older when I first saw it--possibly 13 or so) was the rather notorious "Peeping Tom," an English film from the same duo who made classics such as "Black Narcissus." "Peeping Tom" was shocking to me--lurid and seemingly without much socially-redeeming material (apparently local censorship boards agreed, the movie was banned for years). I know it's undergone a critical reevaluation in the last few years, but I don't know if I could bring myself to see it again. Perhaps not kinder trauma, but definitely teen trauma!

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    1. Hi Deb
      I first saw "Peeping Tom" when I was well into adulthood when they screened it on TCM. I was so impressed that such a twisted theme could come out of a time so repressed. Had I seen it as a child I certainly would have been traumatized. Although glossier and considerably better acted, it would make a great (read: creepy) double feature with "Teddy Bear."
      I don't know that I've ever seen a film about voyeurism than didn't intentionally ("Rear Window") or intentionally ("...Teddy Bear") make us complicit participants.
      Thanks for stopping by again, Deb!

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  5. Hi Ken - love your take on this very seamy, very squalid, very (homeoerotically) sexy movie. Though I appreciate the objectification of Mr. Mineo's glorious bod a bit more than you seem to...but agreed that does not necessarily a movie make!

    As a big fan of exploitation, sexploitation, blaxploitation or ploitation of any kind, I just love films that push the envelope in some ways, making us use our critical faculties to think, decide and judge for ourselves. Causing controversy is essential in art...or pseudo-art ("Art films?" Neely O'Hara asks rhetorically. "Nudies!!") ...or even an artless film like this one. For me, like many films of my collection, this one's so bad it's good.

    You are really cookin' with gas lately, Mr. Anderson. I am so enjoying the films you're writing about and what you're saying. This blog is a joy to the hardcore film fanatic!
    -Chris

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    1. Hi Chris
      Thank you! I'm actually all for the objectification of the male body, and in fact, in the context of this movie, which posits the female form as the often homicidal object of the male gaze, the over-emphasis on and exposure of "the voyeur" of the piece is one of the subversive bits of genius of this odd film.
      I don't think this film would be one of my favorites were it like those films of Brian De Palma...(and most directors of erotic thrillers) where the male is always discreetly clothed while the woman is made vulnerable by her nudity which is always on display and objectified.
      In this film (although it's hard to think it was intentional) I think it's very provocative that the "looker" is turned into the object of our gaze.
      In fact, I wonder what 60s male audiences, coming to this film hoping to see a lot of female flesh on display, thought when they were treated to so much Mineo?
      Movies about sexual predators always make a mistake (in the interest of cramming as much sex and violence into a film as they can) by having the audience share the villain's POV so much. it benumbs us to the plight of the victim and make us complicit in the stalker's sickness.


      As you point out, exploitation films (in not having to appeal to such a broad audience) habitually first venture where mainstream Hollywood feels comfortable going several years later.
      Glad to hear you are a fan of this film which has much to recommend it in camp and sleaze.
      Again, thanks for always being such an enthusiastic visitor to this site, Chris!

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  6. Apart from greatly enjoying your take on this film (which I have yet to see), I love, love, LOVE the way Elaine Stritch looks in it! In that interview link, it was interesting to see the affection she had for Selznick, Jones and "A Farewell to Arms," which was quite a flop. I'll have to check this movie out, though I think I'd prefer the less-edited version. Thanks!

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  7. I just watched the "Teddy Bear" version on YouTube recently and your sentiments on this fascinating sleazefest pretty much express mine ; )

    I have a soft spot for angel-faced, hard-bodied Sal Mineo. I think he would have had a much easier time today becoming an adult movie star...by adult I mean as a grown-up! I don't even want to see James Franco's take on "Sal," which is badly cast, for starters.

    I am not that familiar with Juliette Prowse, except that she was a dancer who dated Sinatra. Her odd features and expressions were off-putting...the scene where slight Sal and towering Juliette start dancing enthusiastically...with Sal's short shirt riding up, seemed ludicrous. The peeps in this flick with the hots for Prowse were a mixed bag: psycho Sal, tough broad Stritch, and Hollywood Squares regular Jan Murray!

    What a time capsule for what was really going on in the world circa 1965, it wasn't all "That Girl!"

    This is quite the follow-up to "The Trouble With Angels," Ken! Perhaps you need to cover Hayley Mills' foray with a pervy stalker, "Twisted Nerve," next!

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    1. Hi Rico
      I had no idea the ever-annoying James Franco was going to do a movie about Sal Mineo. I haven't seen him in many things, but he always impressed me as being pretty good. The word on the vine is that his boyishness was fine when he was a boy, but as he grew older, his small build and almost too-cute face didn't scream "adult man" so much as "gay man", and Hollywood wasn't having any of it.

      i enjoyed reading your take on the movie, especially your reaction to the dance sequence. 60s go-go dancing is always good for a giggle, and when I saw this with an audience, waves of laughter filled the theater the longer the scene went on As shot, the camera gives your eyes no escape, so all that mutual jiggling eventually gets the better of you.
      And yes, after Willy Wonka and The Trouble with Angels, I thought I'd best get back to the kind of darker film that is really closer to my heart. (Never saw "Twisted Nerve" always wanted to...time to do a search). Good to hear from you, Rico!

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  8. PS, Ken--
    You can also watch Twisted Nerve on YouTube ;)
    Rico
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JlDVy1nkQVI

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    1. Wow! Thank you so much, Rico!
      After I saw Mills in the decidedly oddball thriller "Deadly Strangers" a few months back, it whetted my appetite for finding this film again. So pleased it's available. Knowing YouTube, i'd better watch it immediately! Thanks a heap for further contributing to my cesspool cinema delinquency!

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  9. Ken, Here's another. I'm sure you've seen the Halloween howler "I Saw What You Did." Have you ever written about it? This wacky William Castle thriller just screams for your thorough thoughts!

    Just writing about aging cougar Joan Crawford's "hair" and Wilma Flinstone necklace and schizo performance could fill a column! Rico

    Here it is on Vimeo: http://vimeo.com/55473227

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    1. Hi Rico
      I was going to write another comment above because my partner and I watched "Twisted Nerve" on Halloween. What a terrifically sleazy kind of movie! We loved it. Especially Billie Whitelaw, who is a favorite and was quite marvelous. In fact, the film was considerably better than I'd been led to believe over the years, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and must thank you for the link.
      And yes, I am a big fan of "I Saw What You Did" and have seen it more times than i can count. I do plan on writing about it sometime. I love the description: "Wilma Flintstone necklace!," and yes that mound of hair is something. Crawford is Crawford in this and that's a very very good thing. Thank for keeping in the cesspool loop, Rico.

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  10. Hi Ken,

    I had heard of this over the years but never saw it available anywhere and for some reason didn't think of that treasure trove of the obscure, Youtube. I waited to read your take on it until I had a chance to watch and now that I have pretty much all I can say is "Well that was something!"

    It would be overreaching to say it was anywhere near a good film but mixed in with the sleaze were some real points of interest, aside from the cast of course which will always be it's main fascination.

    I loved the harsh verite style photography of the street scenes, it was very much of its time but that made it more evocative. Then when Juliet was heading through the theatre district and they showed all the playbills for current productions, which in itself was very cool, for some reason that and a few other shots, mostly some of the dance sequences, reminded me of a short film they show from time to time on TCM, All Eyes on Sharon Tate. Have you ever seen it? It's a promotional short made at the time she was filming "Eye of the Devil" to give her the big push that was probably like many others but because of her awful fate has remained in view. Anyway it was made about the same time as Teddy Bear and has the same texture to it's look.

    Elaine Stritch unsurprisingly did the best work and she looked amazing in those hairstyles and beaded clothing. Her tough growl wasn't quite so cigarette and whiskey soaked but she was well on her way, I hated to see her go. Daniel J. Travanti was a surprise to see pop up as the mute bouncer, I checked and this was his big screen bow-auspicious!

    About our main duo, I had read that Sal had hoped that this would open a whole new avenue of gritter parts to him but it looks like it more or less killed his film career for a while. He did Fortune and Men's Eyes on stage shortly after and perhaps this lead to that. He was certainly fit, as the film almost fetishistically showed, especially for that period. As I said I didn't look through the article before viewing so when he came out in those swim trunks I almost did a spit take!! No way was it accidental that Sal Jr. was on such prominent display, talk about owning a scene!

    I've always found Juliet Prowse, exotic and fetching. That slight clipped cadence to her speech, her unusually shaped eyes and dancer's grace, which when she and Sal were frugging saved the scene from being even more awkward than it already was, made her stand out from the crowd. Unfortunately this cinematic calamity would have defeated even the greatest actress and meaning no offense to Miss Prowse that wasn't her.

    All in all I'm glad I caught up with the film at last, thanks for that!, but can't imagine ever returning to the well.

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    1. Hi Joel
      Terrific assessment of this curio of a film! I have seen that Sharon Tate documentary, and indeed the look of it us very similar to "Teddy Bear"; a look that seems to come with its own grit.
      This film seems to be one of those cases (like the horror film "Carnival of Souls" where a certain low-rent visual quality actually adds to a film.

      Stritch is really great in this, and I've always like Prowse a great deal.
      Mineo is good, but I can see how this film didn't really expand a perception of his range. In fact, it most likely contributed to his ostracism, as he appears too baby-faced and tiny for a workable lead (as a commenter noted, Prowse seems to tower over him in the dance scene), and his matured muscular physique only made him look less like a leading man and more like a model for Bruce of Los Angeles.
      Very glad you saw the film and shared with us all your impressions of it, always great to read what things stood out for you (insert Mineo-in-bathing suit joke here).. Thanks, Joel!

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  11. According to two tidbits, Variety (7/7/65) and Billboard (7/17/65) the title song was done for the film by Vi Velasco and was to be released on a United Artist 45 as well as be included in the film soundtrack. Not sure if the 45 ever has appeared.

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    1. Thanks so much for that bit of sleuthing and research! Perhaps like when Aretha Franklin recorded the songs for the film "Sparkle" and the studio shelved all ideas for an original cast album, maybe having more name singers like Leslie Uggams cover the song put the kill on a 45 of Vi Velasco singing the title song.

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    2. I only recently saw this film and totally loved it -- and your accurate review. It's kind of a "B-noir" and bears all the scars of a low budget. Yet it has a chutzpah that makes it work.... I actually think it's a bit better than anyone dare say it is, and yet every criticism one can dump on it seems equally true. The cast is goodish, the direction taut, the club vibe and tunes are perfectly "to period" -- but I love most the street scenes (e.g., Prowse trolling for work, Sal trolling for porn). There's no period like the mid-'60s for films to capture that hollow, angst-ridden urban bustle on the cusp of the two halves of that volatile, resonant decade, but most studio pictures wouldn't touch such things with a 10 foot pole, preferring their sanitized fantasy to the encroaching shabbiness of the cities occurring in the wake of JFK's murder and the middleclass flight to the suburbs, when in-town "bookstores" with their wares fully on display in shop windows popped up beside, maybe, Tiffany's. It revealed a schism at the heart of the decaded that was disturbing, repulsive yet fascinating, hypnotic... And talk about being both uncannily OF its time and simultaneously AHEAD of its time, dragging out sordid taboos STILL taboo for the most part... TEDDY BEAR is so weird and ballsy, it warrants re-discovery if only because of the jarring time capulse it is -- part PSYCHO and part TAXI DRIVER, but squarely on that haunting, uncomfortable dividing line at the center of the '60s.

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    3. Glad to hear you liked this film. Indeed, it really is such a revealing curiosity of its time. Far more honest about the 60s (what they really really were- a kind of "best of times, worst of times" mix).
      Comparisons to Psycho and Taxi Driver are very apt, I think.
      Distanced from the sensationalism and shock value of the time, I think "Teddy Bear" really is a valuable little time piece, not the least being its scenes of a New York that was taking shape to become Travis Bickle's nightmare.
      Thanks so much for sharing your incisive observations on the film, and especially for stopping by to read my blog. Much appreciated!

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  12. Who could not stay glued to the screen for the next glimpse of Sal's good looks? I think his acting was incredible as well. The film's direction and lighting created the intended effect. I think that the superficial, creepy, erotic, and uncomfortable emotions that the viewers experience were the result of the craftwork and talent of all. It is very interesting to see the fashion, street scenes, automobiles, even the framed artwork hanging on the wall - all of a past NYC, one before the WTC was even built. The movie, Rosemary's Baby evoked the same fascination with a historical glimpse into the past look of the big city. This movie is haunting and disturbing but truly worth watching. RIP Sal Mineo.

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  13. Who could not stay glued to the screen for the next glimpse of Sal's good looks? I think his acting was incredible as well. The film's direction and lighting created the intended effect. I think that the superficial, creepy, erotic, and uncomfortable emotions that the viewers experience were the result of the craftwork and talent of all. It is very interesting to see the fashion, street scenes, automobiles, even the framed artwork hanging on the wall - all of a past NYC, one before the WTC was even built. The movie, Rosemary's Baby evoked the same fascination with a historical glimpse into the past look of the big city. This movie is haunting and disturbing but truly worth watching. RIP Sal Mineo.

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    1. Yes, I think this film benefits from it's low budget and lack of visual polish (which may well have been intentional).
      Mineo is credible in the role, his youth and good looks creating a nice counterpoint for the depraved nature of the character he plays.
      Like you, I get a big kick out of seeing NYC in 1965. The years have made the film something of a one-of-a-kind time capsule of mid-60s New York.
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the film and your appreciation of Sal Mineo. He really died much too soon.

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