WHO KILLED TEDDY BEAR
(director: Joseph Cates; screenwriters: story by Arnold Drake/Arnold Drake/Leon Tokatyan; cinematographer: Joseph Brun; editor: Angelo Ross; music: Charles Calello; cast: Sal Mineo (Larry Sherman), Juliet Prowse (Norah Dain), Jan Murray (Lt. Dave Madden), Elaine Stritch (Marian Freeman), Margot Bennett (Edie), Daniel J. Travanti (Carlo), Diane Moore (Pam Madden), Tom Aldredge (Adler), Rex Everhart (Rude Customer), Casey Townsend (Ms. Nielsen); Runtime: 87; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Everett Rosenthal; Network – Region 15 PAL; 1965)
“It wasn’t so bad that it can’t be appreciated as a curio.“
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Joseph Cates (“Fat Spy”/”Girl of the Night”), father of film star Phoebe Cates, directs this lurid B-film, but fails to have it live up to its catchy title or its promising start to be another sordid but classy Peeping Tom (1960). Instead it flounders as sleaze trying to find a way to be arty, but under Cates’s pedestrian direction the best it can do is set a perverse city mood that gives one the creeps that a sex maniac is hidden behind every shadow.Ace cinematographer Joseph Brun gets the foreboding atmosphere for the black and white film just right, giving it a dark film noir look (which, when done right, seems to elevate even weak films). It’s based on the story by Arnold Drake, and is cowritten by Drake and Leon Tokatyan.
The film was banned in the United Kingdom for its lurid subject matter, and not until recently was the ban removed.
Norah Dain (Juliet Prowse) is an aspiring dancer who recently moved to NYC from upstate NY and works as a deejay and hostess at a sleazy midtown discothèque. She starts to receive obscene phone calls, and gruff vice squad detective Lt. Dave Madden (Jan Murray, stand up comedian) takes a personal interest in tracking down the pervert caller. We soon learn that three years ago Madden’s wife was raped and mutilated and her sex maniac killer was never caught, which explains his obsession with studying perverts and his reaching out to victims. We also learn that the disturbed caller is the lonely bus boy in Norah’s club, Larry Sherman (Sal Mineo), who lives with his sweet mentally retarded 19-year-old sister Edie (Margot Bennett), brain damaged because of a childhood spill down the stairs, who is upset her dear teddy bear is missing. Larry regularly spies on Norah’s tenement apartment through binoculars, from his place across the courtyard. Norah doesn’t suspect Lawrence because he acts nice to her at work, nor does she realize that he’s her neighbor.
When the obscene calls begin to unnerve Norah, she’s persuaded to move into the Manhattan apartment with her detective protector and his young daughter Pam. Things become more threatening when someone has broken into Norah’s apartment and left a teddy bear with its head almost cut off. The tension increases when Norah’s boss, the manager of the club, Marian Freeman (Elaine Stritch), was seen outside of Norah’s East End place wearing her employee’s coat and the psychopath mistaking her for Norah proceeded to rape and strangle her to death with a silk stocking. Norah rejected staying with Marian because her lesbian manager was trying to make a play for her, and the manager was only calling on her to make sure she was okay and that things were still okay between them.
Warning: spoiler in the next paragraph.
The story dulls out with a pat television like crime story ending, that has Norah teaching Larry how to dance disco after work and with him reciprocating the favor by assaulting her on the dance floor. But to the rescue comes our Sir Galahad detective, who chases the sicko out into the street where the cops shoot him down like a dog while he’s running away.
This tawdry depressing flick is no pulp masterpiece (you can bet a bagel on that), but it wasn’t so bad that it can’t be appreciated as a curio, a nostalgic look at Manhattan before the seedy Times Square area was cleaned-up and a chance to see the ill-fated 26-year-old baby-faced Mineo act. Mineo achieved two Oscars nominations before he reached 21, but was never thought of by many critics as a great actor.After this flick, Mineo’s career was all downhill, as he took this part hoping to revive his already flagging career (damaged more by rumors of his homosexuality, than because of bad acting).This low budget pic never had a chance at the box office and too many critics dismissed it as trash, but Mineo did a good job portraying a dangerous sicko–in a film that was somehow more compelling than it had a right to be (which I credit to the fine performances by Mineo, Prowse and Stritch).
REVIEWED ON 2/28/2011 GRADE: B