‘Skidoo’: when the Hollywood old guard tried to get hip

The Otto Preminger film “Skidoo” flopped upon opening in late 1968 and then became a minor cult film after it vanished in a way that few big budget Hollywood films ever do.

For more than 40 years, the picture was much sought after by bad movie cultists who had a hell of a time tracking it down.

“Skidoo” rarely turned up on television and it stayed off the video market even at the height of the VCR boom.

Everyone interested in movie lore heard about “Skidoo”s combination of LSD and Jackie Gleason and musical numbers by Harry Nilsson — along with a nightmarish ensemble that included Carol Channing, Groucho Marx, George Raft and Peter Lawford — but few had seen it.

Well, thanks to Olive Films “Skidoo” debuted on DVD last year and the bad news is that this is one of those famously terrible films that is more fun to talk about than to watch. It’s not so-bad-that-it’s-good in the vein of “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls”; it’s just so bad as to be nearly unwatchable (like “Myra Breckinridge,” another film from the same period that didn’t get a legitimate video release for more than 30 years).

The director of “Skidoo,” Otto Preminger, was a member of the old guard who scored major hits from the 1940s through the mid-1960s but like such fellow pillars of the establishment as Stanley Kramer and Billy Wilder, Preminger’s clout began to drift away in the late 1960s as a result of such New Hollywood landmarks as “The Graduate” and “Bonnie & Clyde.”

Desperate to appear with-it, these dinosaurs made “topical” pictures that were hooted off the screen by the very small audiences who saw them. Stanley Kramer’s “R.P.M.” is perhaps the worst of the bunch — a 1970 college protest drama starring Ann-Margret as a campus radical (!)

“Skidoo” is bizarre enough to hold a viewer until the end — you don’t want to miss Carol Channing performing the title number in Sgt. Pepper-style duds with a chorus of Hollywood hippies — but the mixture of gangster comedy and LSD trip farce is painful to watch.

According to the Foster Hirsch biography of Preminger, Gleason loathed his director and it’s no wonder that he did — the star looks embarrassed by the movie around him and is subjected to a “trip” sequence that seems designed to make him look like a fool.

The only semi-redeeming feature of “Skidoo” is the song score by then-unknown Nilsson (six months later he would have a top ten hit with “Everybody’s Talkin’” from “Midnight Cowboy”). The songwriter contributed several hummable tunes and then the best sequence in the picture — the merciful closing credits which are all sung by Nilsson (from top-billed actors to the copyright information).