11/30/07

THE GOOFY PREMINGER

skidoocredits

So much of Otto Preminger's persona was severe and forbidding--the shiny bald skull, the tantrums, the thick Vienesse accent, the unrelenting work ethic--that I can't help but put him in the Jack Webb bin, which is to say that the more I think of it, the more Preminger's act seems to be a highly evolved form of comedy. Otto the Terrible was, in fact, a warm-hearted family man who clearly enjoyed his own persona and didn't mind sending it up here and there. I'm not saying that he wasn't really monstrous--clearly he could reduce co-workers to a dithering shambles of their former selves--but merely that he was his own best creation.

Comedy is noticebly absent from his canon--his one straight up attempt, "Skidoo", was a notorious flop when it was released in 1968. The film is a collision course between old Hollywood (Preminger and his stars, who include Jackie Gleason, Carol Channing, George Raft, Groucho Marx, Peter Lawford, Mickey Rooney) and the hippie counter-culture (the music is by the very young Harry Nillson, Frankie Avalon is in it, etc.) Though long deplored as one of mainstream Hollywood's worst movies ever, "Skidoo" turned up at a film festival in Hollywood last summer and seemed to provoke an affectionate response. An ambitious youtuber named Mrberger (I think) has actually posted the entire film in ten parts.( I must confess to having started out watching it with great enthusiasm only to turn it off at the end of part two). Clearly Preminger meant well by doing the film--it seemed, to the screenwriter Doran Canon, that the material spoke to the gentle and humorous Otto that was buried beneath the formal and cool exterior. You can't possibly go out and make a film with Groucho Marx playing a gangster named "God" and not, underneath it all, be something of a renegade yourself. Below I've posted a clip from "Skidoo"--an entirely inncuous bit of late sixties "Laugh-In" style cheesecake humor, as well as a guest appearence by Preminger on the soap opera "Ryan's Hope". The latter was shot in 1980, after Preminger's career as a filmmaker was over, but it gives a nice glimpse of the man sending himself up, albeit lightly, and enjoying being "OTTO PREMINGER" in quotes.



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