Wednesday, May 21, 2014

A Peek Back at the Sixties Promise of Peace Through Drugs, Or Forgettable Mickey Rooney Films

The other night I watched a movie from the sixties which despite the fact that it was star filled, and in spite of the fact that it was directed by Otto Preminger, has been largely forgotten.

Here is a list of some of the stars in the cast,
  • Jackie Gleason
  • Carol Channing
  • Frankie Avalon 
  • Frank Gorshin
  • Peter Lawford
  • Burgess Meredith
  • George Raft
  • Cesar Romero
  • Mickey Rooney
  • Groucho Marx
  • Slim Pickens
  • Roman Gabriel
Okay, maybe Roman Gabriel was better at throwing a football than he was at acting, but the rest of the cast should have made a for winning team.

Still trying to guess the name of the movie?

It was "Skidoo" from 1968. I watched it on TCM despite it being rated a generous 2 stars (out of 5). As a film, it probably deserved 1 star, but for its historical significance, I would give it a 5 star rating.

Only in 1968 could a star like Jackie Gleason get away with using the word, "Fag".

Today, such language would have him blacklisted for life.

Let me give you a brief synopsis of the plot.

Ex-gangster Jackie Gleason is called out of retirement by Mr. Big, A.K.A. "God" (Groucho Marx), to kill stool pigeon Mickey Rooney who is in Alcatraz running a highly successful business (I guess he was cutting into God's action).  God arranges for Jackie Gleason to be put into prison so he can pull off the hit, but Jackie doesn't tell his wife (Carol Channing who knows he is an ex-gangster), or daughter (who never knew the truth about daddy) where he has disappeared to. Daughter starts hunting for her father along with her new found hippie friends. Wife hunts for Jackie too and gets involved with gangsters and the hippies. Jackie Gleason can't get close enough to Mickey Rooney to kill him and accidentally goes on an LSD trip thanks to LSD that his cellmate, "the Professor," had stashed in the glue of an envelope Jackie licked after penning a letter to his wife. After having his mind expanded, Jackie Gleason decides that he doesn't want to kill anybody anymore. He has found PEACE.  Jackie Gleason and his cell mates then break into the prison kitchen and lace everyone's food with LSD. The entire population of Alcatraz including the Warden, the Governor (who is visiting), the telephone operator (Slim Pickens), and the guards all start tripping out which allows Jackie Gleason and the Professor to escape in a balloon fabricated from wrapping material taken from the kitchen freezer. The hippies mobilize a flotilla to find God who is holding Jackie Gleason's daughter and hippie boyfriend on a yacht off the coast. The hippies storm the yacht about the time Jackie Gleason and his balloon  crash down on top of the scene. Carol Channing sings "Skidoo" as peace reigns (see video below). God escapes on a small sail boat with the Professor. The final scenes show God and the Professor smoking a joint and sailing away with the mainsail colorfully painted with flowers and a large "LOVE" sign and the jib equally dressed with "PEACE."


This movie explains in its own foggy way how we got to where we are today with the marijuana movement, and maybe it helps to show where we are going. As the legalization of marijuana presses forward, the message we are hearing from our children, the media, and politicians is that marijuana is more than harmless, it is medicinal, and it is good for you despite the growing evidence that the opposite is true, that the brain itself may be altered structurally by even "casual" use, and that it may increase the risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease. Much in the same way, the positive benefits of "mind altering" drugs was the message Otto Preminger and his mentor, Timothy Leary were trying to push in 1968 with regards to the "recreational" drug use of the day with little concern for the potential downsides.

And all that makes for a scary, but important picture of the both the past and for the future.

Just see if this video clip from Skidoo scares the heck out of you as much as it scares me.

Don't you just love the guys playing the electric guitars that aren't plugged in?  

1 comment:

  1. Slim Pickens was my favorite on this list. He was mostly a sidekick in westerns. Here is my take on this issue.