(Air Date: Week Of 6/5/96)
The recent precode festival at the Roxie Cinema was a forcible reminder of just how much we missed onscreen between 1934 and 1969 when the Production Code had a stranglehold on major studio releases. But occasionally, "B" movie makers were able to slip a little something extra into their pictures that sailed clean past the censors. While moral guardians remained fixated on Anita Ekberg's neckline in 1958's "Screaming Mimi", for example, Columbia director Gerd Oswald revealed a straightforward lesbian relationship in an entirely unstressed manner: it was just there.
Seven years later, and also at Columbia, Phoebe Cates' father Joseph turned out an arty low budget study of a Peeping Tom called "Who Killed Teddy Bear?" The star was 26-year-old Sal Mineo, on the verge of a ten-year career slide, despite winning two Oscar nominations by the time he was 21. This grim little story is crammed with homoerotic and autoerotic references throughout, but they're grafted onto a traditional boy-stalks-girl plotline. THAT the censors got and since the outcome satisfied all the code requirements, they let everything else go. Castro Theatre audiences should have a field day with this one: most of Mineo's wardrobe consists of smug underwear, skimpy swim briefs or form-fitting tee shirts and skin-tight jeans.
He's a shirtless body builder and porno book browser, too. In contrast, the object of is attentions is almost demure. Athletic Juliet Prowse, long past her glory days in Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley musicals, only gels one dance number with Mineo, but most of the time she's bundled up in nightgowns, bathrobes, godawful coats and other terrible fashions and hairstyles of the mid-sixties. (Except she has a full length mirror in her bedroom reflecting onto the street and she doesn't hang up when she hears heavy breathing on her telephone line.)
Cates occasionally strays from the seamy side of obsession with lyrical visual interludes, suggesting the child-like innocence that is destroyed by twisted fantasies. Maybe these efforts are to distract us from the cheaper than cheap nightclub where Mineo and Prowse work as well as the wretched soundtrack. (They couldn't afford real 1965 chart-toppers, so they hired a couple of guys to write some inadequate approximations.) But for blatant marginal subversions of the dying Code, you can't beat "Teddy Bear": detective Jan Murray listens to recorded conversations of perverts while his real-life daughter Diane Moore tries to sleep in the next room. Nightclub owner Elaine Stritch protests too much when Prowse accuses her of a lesbian advance. And then there's the definitely weird relationship Mineo has with his sister. For a catalogue of sexual paranoia circa 1965, "Who Killed Teddy Bear?" has it all. Don't miss it if you can!
Copyright 1996 Monica Sullivan
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