Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Carol Channing Finds Her Groove in Skidoo


Partaking of 1968’s Skidoo, which has maintained a reputation for being one of filmdom’s biggest travesties, while also forming a strong cult fan base (for good reason), had me pondering anew the entertainment value of bad films which have their own unique flavor and style, in comparison to movies considered superior to these unforgettable train-wreck endeavors. Skidoo inarguably struggles to find an appropriate tone, but as it flails about from scene-to-scene in an attempt to be far-out and groovy circa the Summer of Love, under the direction of the simultaneously conventional and daring Otto Preminger, it proves to be a more fascinating watch than many a better movie, with an eclectic ensemble cast that bears repeat viewings, just to see if one movie really does contain Slim Pickens on an acid trip singing “Home on the Range,” Groucho Marx as mafia leader 'God' on board his ship tossing lines at his Amazonian henchwoman/mistress, Jackie Gleason as Tony Banks, the former mob member who incurs God’s wrath, barreling through his scenes as fast as possible with the hope Art Carney or Audrey Meadows will show up and save him, especially the moment when a group of extras come close to tossing Gleason in the drink during the movie’s chaotic wrap-up at sea, and the site of Carol Channing, playing Gleason’s uninhibited wife Flo, peeling out of a dress in an attempt to arouse the unimpressed Frankie Avalon (and the dress really does peel- it’s constructed to come off just like an orange rind).


 Thank God (the other one) for Carol Channing in this film, particularly near the conclusion when, wearing a long silver wig which I swear makes her resemble a googly-eyed Gwyneth Paltrow at one point, one of theater history’s most irrepressible performers climbs onboard Marx/God’s yacht along with her merry contingency of swinging flower children and subsequently traipses around the ship, shrugging and frugging with gleeful abandon while belting the title song and, depending on a viewer’s taste, in the process she either shoots the movie into the stratosphere and provides the psychedelic trip it has been attempting in vain to obtain for ninety minutes, or represents the most unwelcome boat guest since the Creature met Julie Adams on deck before carrying her away to the lower depths many believe Skidoo also inhabits. For one enchanted viewer it was a beautiful moment, one of those sweet memories that initially turns a person into a film fanatic, good taste or the opinion of other more discerning viewers be damned.


Although Otto Preminger’s reputation of directing actors in a manner akin to a human blowtorch supposedly remained during the filming of Skidoo, the supremely self-confident Carol Channing appears impervious to any form of intimidation; with eyes bulging and a smile that couldn’t be removed with a hurricane, adorned in white go-go boots, red short-shorts, a Revolutionary jacket she must have borrowed from Paul Revere and the Raiders and that indestructible wig, she’s a hip Baby Jane Hudson, determined to perform with avid panache and a healthy dose of dementia no matter what surrounds her, while lost in a love of performing and perhaps in another dimension; not only does Channing avoid going down with the ship while costars Jackie Gleason and Groucho Marx understandably and maybe even admirably appear to want to fire their agents, then kill themselves but, armed with a verve that would cause both Carmen Miranda and Betty Hutton to blush, she single-handedly keeps this cinematic Titanic afloat during its mind-blogging finale- sure, there are greater movies, and maybe nearly any movie can be counted among them, but Lawrence of Arabia doesn’t have the riveting Channing with her crazed sensibility sashaying through the desert chiming “Skidoo!! Skidoo!! Between the one and three there is a two!!” even if it should have. Although if as a small child I’d seen the shot of Channing somewhere near an orgasmic state while sitting in a vibrating chair warbling away, the result most likely would’ve been my parents not sleeping alone for many nights and deep emotional scars thereafter, her enthusiasm and professionalism in bringing joy and a measure of entertainment to Skidoo in the face of catastrophe surroundings warrants a viewer's admiration; like all works of art (good or bad), you have to see the film and Channing’s mind-bending performance of “Skidoo” because it's there.