Director: Joseph Cates
Script: Leon Tokatyan & Arnold Drake
Cast: Sal Mineo, Juliet Prowse, Jan Murray, Elaine Stritch, Margot Bennett, Diana Moore, Bruce Glover
Running time: 90.5 minutes
Very much ahead of its time Who Killed Teddy Bear disappeared almost without trace after it was released, and, until Network’s recent rerelease, it was very hard to see. I’d read about it in cult film publications so was keen to take a look when I heard it was up for review.
Nora (Juliet Prowse) is a young DJ working late nights at a private club for her sharp-tongued boss, Marian (Elaine Stritch). Being an extremely attractive woman, she gets more than her fair share of male (and female) admirers, and one, in particular, starts making unsolicited phone calls at all times of the day, declaring his unbridled desire for her, and describing, in detail, what she’s wearing and what he wants to do to her etc. Her boss encourages her to speak to the police, especially after the staff of the club are all interviewed, as witnesses, following an attack on a bouncer there. This brings her to the attention of Lt Dave Madden who is obsessed with better understanding sexual predators after his own wife was killed, and then raped, by one a few years before.
As the level of the phone calls increases in frequency and intensity Nora and Dave become closer and begin to hang out together, much to the annoyance of her disturbed admirer. After her boss is murdered, when our friendly neighbourhood pervert chases her, thinking she’s Nora, (because she was wearing Nora’s fur coat at the time), tensions are racked up and the shit really does hit the proverbial fan.
Who Killed Teddy Bear, as you might have gleaned from my brief plot description is quite a disturbing and sleazy film. Pretty much everyone in it has some kind of sexual hang-up or perversion, and the film confronts sexism full-on. Indeed, it’s still a very pertinent film, probably more so nowadays than when it was made.
If the obscene phone call bits – all heavy breathing and self-fondling – don’t make you want to take a cold shower there’s plenty of others that might, including: a scene involving a retarded kid sister locked in the closet, or scenes where the copper, Dave, obsessively plays audio tapes of various victims’ interview statements while his young daughter listens in, wide-eyed and somewhat disturbed? The film is a smorgasbord of Hollywood taboos, including incest, masturbation, transvestism, lesbianism, child abuse, necrophilia and rape.
The film was shot in New York City, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Martin Scorsese hadn’t seen it before he made Taxi Driver. One of the central characters, Lawrence, a barman at the club, goes walking the city at night, looking for filth and sexual gratification, which is somewhat similar to good old Travis Bickle’s own prowlings around NYC.
The black and white photography is nice and crisp, the soundtrack, by Charles Calello, quite funky in places, and the acting uniformly excellent. In fact, I have to say that Juliet Prowse is quite electrifying on screen, you just can’t keep your eyes off her; an excellent piece of casting. And Sal Mineo is fantastic as one of her equally ‘complex’ co-workers.
The film is full of interesting moving shots, although some stray into pervy voyeurism at times, with quite a few up-skirt shots as couples are dancing, and some of the prolonged party scenes, and shots of kids at a zoo, almost make for quite an interesting side documentary on the fashions and life-styles of the day.
I have to admit the film didn’t end the way I thought it would, or the way I wanted it to, and the filmmakers should be commended for sticking to their guns and giving us a non-typical Hollywood ending, although, I guess, I shouldn’t have been too surprised since there’s nothing ‘typical’ about this film!
Network Distributing are distributing Who Killed Teddy Bear on Blu-ray. Special features include:
Image Gallery of 20 stills from the film and some publicity materials.
Trailer (2.10 mins)
Court Martial (48 mins) – A short feature, or episode of a TV series, which features Who Killed Teddy Bear star, Sal Mineo. Here he plays a soldier who refuses to carry out a sensitive mission during WWII, behind enemy lines in Italy, and is therefore tried, in a kangaroo court, for treason. This also features the likes of Peter Graves, Anthony Quayle and Bradford Dillman. It’s a compelling watch.
LSD – Insight or Insanity? (18 mins) – A documentary on the use and misuse of LSD, which became very popular for a time during the late sixties and early seventies. It’s quite interesting, although very biased (against taking the drug) in its approach.