By Richard Winters
My Rating: 5 out of 10
4-Word Review: They were on LSD.
Jackie Gleason plays family man Tony Banks with mob past who is now trying to go straight yet gets sucked back in by a gangster leader named God (Groucho Marx). He orders Tony to disguise himself as a prisoner so he can infiltrate a prison system and knock off another prisoner and rival named George ‘Blue Chips’ Packard (Mickey Rooney). While in prison Tony mistakenly takes some LSD and goes on a wild drug induced trip.
Story wise it is limp. The humor is weird, but not altogether funny. It tries to satirize a lot of things yet none of it comes together. There is no singular voice or vision let alone cohesion. The pacing is poor and haphazard. It becomes so sloppy and nonsensical that you almost wonder if renowned director Otto Preminger was the one taking the LSD stuff.
The idea of mixing old school comedy with the mod hipness of the day was not new. Many films (and TV shows) of that period tried it with limited success. Yet few went to the extremes as this one. It is still a complete disaster yet odd enough to grab your attention and hold it. In some ways it’s enjoyable and even entertaining if viewed as an oddity and relic of its era.
There are a few good scenes. One involves a weird hippie speech by actor John Phillip Law where he professes a need to be ‘nothing’ which will somehow make him ‘everything’ and ‘anything’. There are also some quirky commercial spoofs at the beginning, a brief glimpse of Packard’s prison cell ‘office’, and the ‘the family tree’ of a crime syndicate. Gleason’s LSD trip really isn’t that funny, but it is still weird enough to stand out.
A lot of talented character actors are wasted with boring bit parts. Gleason though still comes through as his bombastic self. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for Groucho. He looks old and well past his prime. He mouths his lines with little or no energy. His conversation with actress Alexandra Hay seems particularly strange as he ‘talks to her’ but never once actually looks at her. Instead he looks off into another direction in a not so subtle attempt to read his cue cards. He does this in other scenes too. Some may still get a kick out of his presence because at the end he dresses as a hippie and even takes a puff of the weed. You also gotta love his mistress and her very low cut dress.
Austin Pendleton gives the best all- around performance playing the first in what has become a long line of nebbish, bookworm type characters. Carol Channing is a real surprise. She sings and even gives each one of the hippies a shampoo in her kitchen sink. There is also a freaky scene where she does a striptease and then lies half naked on Frankie Avalon’s bed. Her presence also gives Gleason a chance to write her a little love letter where states that how he misses her “even that voice of yours”.
Harry Nilsson’s music in Midnight Cowboy was perfect, but all wrong here. However hearing him sing EACH AND EVERYONE of the credits at the end is a goofy delight.
My Rating: 5 out of 10
Released: December 19, 1968
Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes
Director: Otto Preminger