WHO KILLED TEDDY BEAR
Author and critic Kim Newman explores the dark corners of cinema
THIS ROUGH-HEWN, black-andwhite New York City psycho-thriller was scripted by comics legend Arnold Drake (co-creator of Deadman and Doom Patrol for DC) and directed by Joseph Cates. Drake also wrote the wonderfully lurid ‘microscopic monster’ movie The Flesh Eaters, but Cates spent his career on unexceptional television variety and awards shows. Just this once, almost at random, they turned out something extraordinary. Once refused a UK certificate for general moral unhealthiness, it still feels seamy — not quite porn, but 17 city blocks away from being proper. It’s blunt, crude, poetic and oddly truthful, in the American tabloid tradition of Sam Fuller or James Ellroy.
Single girl Norah (Juliet Prowse), who spins seriously groovy records in a tiny disco-club, receives anonymous, obscene calls from co-worker Lawrence (Sal Mineo). The heavy breather seems to be working his way up from pest to rapist, but also gives off sexually mixed signals. A babyfaced gym rat, Lawrence caresses his own naked body while making his calls and wears a succession of tight, packed, white Tom Of Finland outfits. Norah also catches the eye of Marian (Elaine Stritch), the protective but predatory lesbian club manager, and Dave Madden (Jan Murray), a single-father cop whose wife was raped and killed on the way home from a movie and is coping with grief by putting in overtime on pervert cases. Dave and Lawrence, for different reasons, have desks full of kink books, which the camera lingers on. This is a valuable document of what passed for smut in 1965, with slow pans across Times Square shop-windows full of lurid paperbacks and Beat literature, revealing underwear and pin-ups.
Oddly artless but compelling, it offers long scenes of extras jiving wildly to great tunes, equal-time ogling for male and female leads, and a police plot which advances by fits and starts.
It’s raw stuff, with an array of seedy or strange supporting characters and kick-in-the-teeth moments like Dave’s daughter (Diane Moore) lying awake in bed listening to his taped notes on the obscene calls playing back in the next room, or Lawrence’s child-woman sister (Margot Bennett) found hiding in a wardrobe. The weird, whiny theme song is an earworm too — “Who killed Teddy Bear, doesn’t anybody care… that I neeeeed him…”
At the climax, three damaged people collide in unexpected ways — starting with Norah showing the uptight Lawrence how to dance, and Mineo strutting some demented moves, ending with a cinévérité chase through the early morning city streets and a Nouvelle Vague freeze-frame. It’s extraordinary stuff.
WHO KILLED TEDDY BEAR IS OUT NOW ON DVD, BLU-RAY AND DOWNLOAD
Above: Sal Mineo’s Lawrence makes a move on and Juliet Prowse’s Norah.Below: Sexually ambiguous Lawrence in a fully clothed scene.