Friday, October 24, 2014


I suppose there's a kind of tinpot triumph in making a film about the dark underbelly of human sexuality which 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 Happened to Baby Jane? "hag horror" sweepstakes, but is, in fact, an example of what I call "cesspool cinema." Cesspool cinema is a '60s exploitation sub-genre of low-rent, reactionary, social-commentary films preoccupied with the alleged rise in sexual degeneracy. These films dedicate themselves to exposing (in as prurient a way possible) the threat that 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—the latter being something of a motif in this movielocked 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. Uncut copies can be distinguished by unblurred original title sequences (top screencap). Edited versions (there are several of varying lengths) blur the bodies behind the credits. 

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-oldinquiring 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 neglectas a then-underage boy surrendering to the seduction of an unidentified "sexually experienced older woman"—that 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 that 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 that seeks to suppress her natural (sexual) maturation. As for that lost teddy beara lingering symbol of his guiltLawrence tells Edie that it has been killed in an accident when, in actuality, he has secreted it away.
Clearly, Edie wasn't the only one damaged that night.

What's also clear 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 issue 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 at the hands of an older woman (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 of them being voyeurism, making obscene phone calls, stalking (another word they didn't use back then), scopophilia, and sex attraction/repulsion. When not engaged in one of these extracurricular pursuits, he 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 introduced to Norah at precisely 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 her usual personality or the result of suddenly finding herself one of New York's premiere perv 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 her virginity status become the central topic of conversation: "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, coded lesbian) manager of a discothèque that seems to do a pretty decent business given they only have three records. Marian is a brassy, seen-it-all, calls-‘em-like-she-sees-'em, survivor type whose weakness for furliteral and figurative ("I dig soft things… don't you?"), plays a significant role 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, the phone-sex junkie. 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 that 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 repeated in Madden's daughter falling asleep each night to the sound of her father listening to his collection of police interview audio tapes of sexual assault victims. Talk about your grim fairy tales.
"She's very she a hooker?"
Decades before this became a common question posed by pre-teens about their favorite pop stars,
little Pam Madden's presumptive appraisal of house-guest Norah Dain betrays early 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 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 bouncer with piercing eyes; the cop who takes a too-personal interest in her casebut 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 never comes up for air. Were it a better-made film, it would probably be unwatchable.
Corruption of Innocence
In parallelling the home lives of Lawrence and Lt. Madden, Who Killed Teddy Bear?
 alludes to how dissimilar circumstances can create similar psychological damage

Imagine John Waters making one of those overheated erotic thrillers from the '80s and '90s. Films with sound-alike titles along the lines of: Body of Evidence, Guilty as Sin, Crimes of Passion, and Fatal Attraction. Imagine Waters' absurdist brand of debauched urban squalor played straight, 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 was 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. 
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, sister 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
And speaking of toughness, in a film as focused on female victimization as this, I really appreciate that personal fave Juliet Prowse radiates so much brassiness behind her good-postured air of self-reliance. I don't know that I can say much about her performance, which feels surface and superficial. But I like that her character is depicted as independent-minded and worldly. Indeed, Norah often comes across as more pissed-off than frightened by what's happening to her. Hers is a huge, welcome departure from the usual cowering, helpless leading ladies common to women-in-jeopardy films (for example: Doris Day in 1961's Midnight Lace).

As public tastes in movies changed, many '50s boy-next-door types sought to extend their careers by taking on roles that challenged their squeaky-clean images, such as: James Darren in Venus in Furs and Troy Donahue in My Blood Runs ColdWho Killed Teddy Bear? is structured as an against-type breakout role for former teen heartthrob and two-time Oscar-nominee (Rebel Without a CauseExodus) Sal Mineo. But the truth is that, while Mineo gives as good a performance as possible given how sketchily the character is conceived, the actor allows himself to be consistently upstaged by his physique. You'd have to look to a Raquel Welch movie to see a film where the human form's display and exposure are favored so deferentially over a performance.
For a movie marketed to the heteronormative exploitation market,
no physique in the film comes under quite the same degree of ogling,
close-up camera scrutiny as Mineo's. Not that I'm complaining, mind you.

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 imagine we are supposed to glean that Lawrence channels his sexual repression into a fetishistic preoccupation with his appearance and working out. But Mineo's body and shrink-wrap wardrobe seem to encase and inhibit him. He seems overly aware of his muscles and moves about stiffly, like someone getting used to wearing a new garment. 
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?

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 at the discotheque doing The Watusi and 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 that offers fans of '60s go-go dancing an ample opportunity to see it in action.
Who Killed Teddy Bear? has a single erotic set-piece. One precipitated by Lawrence's observation that the way people dance at the discotheque is "Very suggestive!" It's a two-minute dance-off by the statuesque Prowse and slim-hipped Mineo that is, at once, both unintentionally 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. The latter, a two-time Best Song Oscar winner for The Towering Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure.

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 Late, Late, Late Show, and I was excited at the prospect of staying up late and seeing what I thought would be 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 head trip of a film disturbed the hell out of me at that age. It actually gave me nightmares. For the longest time, Who Killed Teddy Bear? occupied the place in my psyche reserved for kindertrauma.
Mineo, with his magic pants and action torso, played no small part in my inability to shake this movie, but the film's ending, particularly, bothered me the most. Shot in grainy black and white and utilizing freeze frame, it simultaneously looked like a documentary and a dream. The combination struck means being every eerie and macabre. 
Though not easy to make out in this image, that's Mineo languishing on his side by the phone in his tighty-whiteys. Prohibited from simulating masturbation onscreen back in 1965, Mineo is instead 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 shorts

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 flesh and blood monsters that look just like everyone 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 endingis particularly disturbing because it's just too real. A big-budget picture's technical gloss can keep what's happening onscreen at a safe and comfortable remove. The low-budget black and white of Who Killed Teddy Bear? looked ominous, making this one of the earliest films I can remember that made me feel 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. I don't even know if it ever had a VHSrelease. But sometime in the mid-90s, it resurfaced at a local revival theater in LA, allowing me to see it on the big screen and with an audience for the first time.
With time, what I'd once thought of as disturbing looked almost quaint and reactionary, but the film hadn't lost its edge (it was banned in the UK until very recently). After all these years, Who Killed Teddy Bear? holds up as very enjoyable sleaze and stands out 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

Sal Mineo made a personal appearance and signed autographs when the film premiered at
The Golden Gate Theater in San Francisco on Wednesday, November 3rd, 1965.

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 first telltale sign of an edited copy is that during the title sequence, the caressing bodies behind the credits appear blurred & fully obscured. In the uncut version, the intertwined bodies in the title sequence are clear and visible.
2. The scene with Stritch and Prowse in her apartment is lengthier in the uncut version, 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. A flashback sequence featuring Mineo being seduced by an older woman is longer and slightly more explicit (his body, not hers) in the uncut version.
4. The scenes of Mineo at Times Square porn shops and in front of the porno theater are longer.
5. The uncut version features a brief moment when Mineo kisses and embraces Stritch after killing her in the alley.
6. The uncut version features a brief deleted scene where Mineo is seen humping his bed in his BVDs.
7. Final assault on Prowse is slightly more explicit in the uncut version.

Who Killed Teddy Bear? detective Bruce Glover (l.) can be seen exercising a similar smirk nearly ten years later as Jack Nicholson's associate in Roman Polanski's Chinatown (1974).  

Depending on the source, the voice singing the title song over the film's opening credits is attributed to either Rita Dyson or Claire Francis (Mikki Young). *Update: In 2016, a reader found that both Variety and Billboard credited singer Vi Velasco with singing the title song.

Here are a couple of the cover versions of the title song floating around the net;

Hear Leslie Uggams sing the haunting theme to Who Killed Teddy Bear? (1965)

Hear 80s pop singer Josie Cotton sing the haunting theme to Who Killed Teddy Bear? (2007)

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 2009 - 2014


  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.

    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!

  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!

    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::

      As always, I appreciate your kind comments, Max!

    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

    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.

  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.

    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!

  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!

    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!

  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!

    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!

  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!

  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 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!

    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!

  8. PS, Ken--
    You can also watch Twisted Nerve on YouTube ;)

    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!

  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:

    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.

  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.

    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!

  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.

    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.

    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.

    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!

  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.

  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.

    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.

  14. Concerning the title song I found this over at FSM (Film Score Monthly):

    Who Killed Teddy Bear? - mystery SOLVED!

    Posted: Aug 24, 2016 - 9:14 PM By: acshore86 (Member)

    Hi Folks,

    My first posting, but happy that it is one of merit... Much speculation has surround the Sal Mineo/Juliet Prowse cult vehicle, "Who Killed Teddy Bear?". Upon its limited release in 1965, the original 94-minute and some-odd-second film has suffered two edits; one being 90 minutes, the other at 87 minutes. Due to its low budget, credits for the vocalists in the film are for the most part a mystery. That is, up until now!

    I contacted Al Kasha a week ago. He was so kind to me; his reputation as a devoted man to his craft and utmost kindness is, I assure you, of full truth. There are several different female vocalists who recorded the title song. The one used in the film - as documented back in 1965 and confirmed by Kasha in our conversation a week or so ago - was Rita Dyson. Dyson apparently was a performer at the Apollo with acts such as Jerry Butler and Lionel Hampton; even cutting an album with Hampton which may or may not have been released. I have a feeling she might have performed under a different name during her live act. She ended up operating a multicultural bookstore in the Los Angeles area of Pasadena but it folded in 1993. I finally tracked her down but she did not reply to my inquiry. Still, Kasha did confirm Rita as the singer in the film. Singer Mikki Young (more-often known as Claire Francis) who performed with Herbie Hancock recorded a cover for Polydor, as well as Leslie Uggams on Atlantic. When I worked for a radio station some odd years ago, I had the question posed to Uggams when she was our guest, and she stated she only did the song as a cover recording.

    The three other songs in the film, "Born to Be Bad", "It Could Have Been Me", "Toothbrush and Comb", were sung by Al Kasha himself. Google some of his 45's, same voice. Kasha said he still has all the recordings done for the film and I suggested he release them. He told me he thought it was a good idea and was going to talk with his secretary.

    Three other B&W, 60s films that show off NYC to good effect are:

    Blast of Silence (3/61) (Director and lead - Allen Baron as a hitman (looking
    like George C. Scott).

    Mirage (5/65) (Gregory Peck as an amnesiac)

    Mister Buddwing (7/66) (James Garner as an amnesiac)

    1. Marvelously informative! Can't thank you enough for finding this Film Score Monthly contribution and being considerate enough to post it here, solving at last the mystery of who sang the theme to this film. Much appreciated!

    2. Thanks Anonymous for confirming some of those musical details. I do hope that Al Kasha does release any and music from the movie. And as there's never been a soundtrack release, at least not on CD, it may sell briskly-especially if mastered and issued by a quality label like La La Land, Kritzerland or Intrada. BTW, during my read of the wiki report on Laura Nyro's stunning musical output, I found the man who wrote most if not all of the film's music.

  15. Having finally seen the remastered UK Blu-ray version of this, one of my all-time favorite movies, now that it's available on YouTube, I was disappointed that it was the cut-down 91-minute version of the movie and went searching the internet to see what information I could find about the uncut version (and what scenes were missing from the version available now). That led me to this outstanding article - one of the best assessments I've read of an incredible movie that helped inform my teenage years in the 1960s.

    I was 16 years old when I first saw Teddy Bear in its first-run theatrical release in a movie theater in Oakland, California, and it made an indelible impression on me. I was already obsessively enamored of Sal Mineo by that age but was not remotely prepared for this blatant exhibition of his physicality and sexuality. The scenes of Times Square thrilled me and paralleled so much my own experience of living a double life at the time, spending my nights and week-ends trawling Market Street and other parts of downtown San Francisco as a teen hustler, while living my week-days as a perfectly respectable, middle-class high school student in suburban Oakland.

    Many of the comments here have compared Teddy Bear to a number of similar movies from the same decade, such as A Cold Wind in August (which I only saw for the first time recently) but what I find interesting is the omission of any mention of two other films (also favorites of mine which I saw in their initial theatrical releases) that strike me as perfect companion pieces to Teddy Bear - those would be Kitten with a Whip, with Ann-Margret, and Lady in a Cage, with James Caan in his first leading role. Having been released only a few months prior to Teddy Bear (to the most scathing reviews imaginable by critics bemoaning them both as unspeakable blights on Hollywood's reputation) both films can be viewed today as near masterpieces of subversive film making, right along with Who Killed Teddy Bear. The carnal sexuality, and its equation to violence, of both Ann-Margret's and Jimmy Caan's characters in these two movies are brilliant comments on the cynicism and nihilism bubbling under the surface of the mid-1960s.

    Unlike Teddy Bear, the other two films emanated from major Hollywood studios (Universal and Paramount, respectively) yet both stood out as blatantly anti-establishment slaps in the face to the false-front illusion of America, and Hollywood, in the '60s being the reflection of all that was good and right with the world. The Sound of Music may have still been raking it in at the box office but there were some film makers at work who could not ignore the fact that we had just lived through three devastating, shocking assassinations that had tilted our world on edge and saw just how bleak things were becoming in the USA. The Viet Nam War and the Manson killings would soon open our eyes the rest of the way.

    1. Hello, Pbear.SF
      What a marvelous contribution to this post your comment is! Someone who actually saw this in a theater at the time of release! And at an impressionable age, yet. I can only imagine how raw this film must have seemed at the time.
      We even seem to share similar stomping grounds, being that when my family moved from San Francisco, it was to the Oakland hills. I, too, would go to San Francisco every weekend, but only to go to the movies ( I would have loved to have had the nerve and self-possession to try hustling!)
      It's also remarkable...and very cool...that you saw both Kitten Wit a Whip and Lady in a Cage on first release. You are so right in citing them as tonal and cultural companion-pieces to TEDDY BEAR. I make mention of Lady in the Cage in my essay, but I totally overlooked the aptly compared KITTEN.
      It's informative to know what old-guard Hollywood and film critics felt about that trend in moviemaking, and interesting to contemplate what you reference in there being a revolution underway in cinema. One that would erupt with the flood of Foreign films, the loosening of censorship, and the wave of New Hollywood filmmakers.
      I'm glad you happened upon my bog and I can't thank you enough for sharing such absorbing and thoughtful comments here. Much appreciated!.

  16. I enjoyed reading your review and responses, Ken. I had the pleasure of meeting Elaine Stritch when she attended the 2013 MKE Film Festival to present her documentary 'Shoot Me'. She also participated in a Q&A with audience members when the film ended. I'm attaching a link to the interview audio I recorded on my phone along with some pics of her at the event. I also took along a promo photo from 'Who Killed Teddy Bear' that features Elaine and Sal Mineo. I approached her just before the film began and asked if she'd be willing to autograph it for me. When I handed her the photo, her response was "Ohhh Sal....he was SUCH a sweetheart. This was the film where I got to play a dyke nightclub owner who gets murdered. How could I I pass up a role like that?" I included the autographed photo at the end of the interview. A short, but very memorable encounter with Ms. Stritch!

    1. Hello, Greg, and thank you!
      I just took a look at the YouTube clip and zipped to the end to see the signed photo! Such a wonderful keepsake! And I love the quote and her reaction to your showig her the photo.
      I saw that documentary, but never had the pleasure of seeing Stritch live. That must have been a very memorable occasion for you, The photos you feature of the screening event certainly make it appear so. Thanks for thinking to record it and sharing it with us all via YouTube. Her type we're not likely to see again so it's great to have a record of her humor and unforgettable anecdotes.
      Your contribution of the link and your comments here are a valuable addition for others who enjoy reading the comment sections of this blog. I know I certainly loved getting the opportunity to hear Elaine Stritch again. Much appreciated!

  17. No matter how much funding he gets or how much effort he puts into his films and TV shows (which is considerable), Lynch can't capture the raw, lurid weirdness of WKTB? I'm sure he saw it early on. It was constantly on television.

    1. I'd have to agree with you on that! This film is 55-years-old and I think it still out-weirds the best of them. As I've grown older and look back on just how uniquely strange exploitation and Drive-In films of the '60s and '70s were, the studied oddness of David Lynch and Tim Burton and their ilk, strikes me as just that: studied.
      The cathartic cultural reaction to years of conformist repression feels like society's id unleashed...not just cinematic style. Thanks for commenting!