|Sal Mineo as Lawrence Sherman|
|Juliet Prowse as Norah Dain|
|Elaine Stritch as Marian Freeman|
|Jan Murray as Lt. Dave Madden|
|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 have been Lawrence’s guilt-ridden nightmare/flashback to the time when Edie was left in his charge.
The siblings 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 it was Lawrence's momentary neglect—as a then-underage boy surrendering to the seduction of an unidentified “sexually-experienced older woman”—which resulted in Edie suffering the staircase 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 which appears to have inspired both Taliah Shire's costuming and performance 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 blameless, childlike dependency inflaming in him a neurotic prudishness which seeks to suppress her natural (sexual) maturation. As for that lost teddy bear—a lingering symbol of his guilt—Lawrence tells Edie that it has been killed in an accident, when in actuality, he has secreted it away.
CASE #1 Lawrence
|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
|"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.
|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
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 to get her attention. 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 bouncer with piercing eyes; the cop who takes a too-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.
Honestly, Who Killed Teddy Bear? is a dark film that takes a head-first dive into the sewer and never comes 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
Movies Are Your Best Entertainment
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? suggests that the decade was perhaps just more skillful in sweeping its social debris under the rug.
|"You look like a whore!"|
Remarkably, Edie isn't the character delivering this line
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 she plays here, 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 dimensional, fleshed-out character. She enlivens the proceedings and raises the film's quality bar each and every moment she appears.
|Daniel J. Travanti of Hill St. Blues appears as Carlo, the bouncer|
|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 obviously 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?. I image we are supposed to glean that Lawrence channels his sexual repression into a fetishistic preoccupation with working out, but Mineo's body and shrink-wrap wardrobe seem to encase and inhibit him. He seems overly aware of his muscles, as though he were getting used to wearing a new garment, resulting in his pants beginning his performance a good 30 seconds before he does.
|A few of the shows running on Broadway at the time|
THE STUFF OF FANTASY
Who Killed Teddy Bear? would be a feature film with a running time of 60-minutes if it excised all the footage devoted to filming the dancers of discotheque doing The Watusi and the The Frug. Serious padding there. But happily, along with this film being a perfect time-capsule of New York at its grimiest, it's also a movie which offers fans of '60s go-go, ample opportunity to see it in action.
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 Towering Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure.
|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.
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. The technical gloss of a big-budget picture can actually held keep what's happening onscreen at a safe and comfortable remove. The low-budget black and white of Who Killed Teddy Bear? looks disconcertingly like reality as depicted in documentary. I recall it was one of the earliest films to give me the feeling that the world wasn't a safe place.
BONUS MATERIAL (Spoilers)
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.