Who Killed Teddy Bear?

Hanker for a hunk of beefcake?
Joseph Cates
Sal Mineo, Juliet Prowse, Jan Murray, Elaine Stritch
The Setup: 
Busboy at a dance hall is obsessed over a DJ there.

A nice reader who shares my enthusiasm for the visual embodiment of male reproductive offerings when viewed from beneath a scrim of strained sheer or clingy garments—which is a nice way of saying "cock bulges"—wrote me, and after a little back-and-forth on the vital role of the bulge in cinema, generously offered to make me DVDs of some out-of-print movies of gay interest, and this one interested me right away, as it figures prominently in the biography of Sal Mineo, famed for his role in Rebel Without a Cause. Sal was a huge pretty boy hunk after that film, but found himself typecast and after a few years, suddenly no one was interested. During this time he also came out, to himself and his friends if not the public, and began to take strange roles like this one in order to expand his range. Mineo is famous for, a few years later, being killed in an alley in what looks like a jealous/psycho lover situation. So a lot of what was happening around this movie is at least as interesting as what’s in it.

We open with close-ups of two people in a sexual embrace—or at least as sexual as you could show at the time. The title appears in the film without a question mark, creating some controversy over what is the REAL name of the film. Since the question mark is there in promotional material of the time, I’m going to leave it on. During this time we also have a FABULOUS 60s theme song, that goes “Who killed teddy bear? And does anybody care?” We also find out that the “disco” songs are co-written by Bob Gaudio, legendary pop songwriter who wrote many of The Four Seasons big hits.

Anyway, as the credits end, we see a young girl come in the room and see these two people in the act, then running away, only to fall down the stairs! Oh dear! Then we join the movie proper. We see the muscular torso of a young man wearing tight white underwear. This, by the way, was apparently the first movie to show men wearing tighty-whiteys, as previous to this men were required to wear loose-fitting boxers. This guy calls up Juliet Prowse, a dancer in real life with incredibly clear skin, and makes an obsessive call about how he wants to be close to her, you know, like THAT. She is freaked out.

She works at a disco, but by this they mean something we might think of as “dance hall,” as it bears very little relation to what we know from Saturday Night Fever and suchlike. Her boss is Marian, played by Elaine Stritch as a tough broad. “It’s your turn in the barrel, cookie,” Marian says to Norah [that’s Juliet], telling her to get out there and get those men dancing. Also working at the place is Mineo as Lawrence, who soon throws suspicion off himself by answering the phone in front of her and pretending the person hung up, i.e. it was the stalker. In here, some random guy gets stabbed in the neck. In retrospect, I really don’t know what that had to do with.

Anyway, Norah gets another call. We see someone [WHO could it be??] caress their own chiseled torso as he calls. Soon Norah has met Dave, this detective who finds out about her call and is interested. He makes a seemingly joking comment that she doesn’t know that the caller ISN’T him. We then have a silent musical montage as Norah tries to find work as an actress, then hear some recorded tapes of patients as Dave, at home, works. The camera pans around all the S&M, porn, and fetish material as we hear the quite scandalous—for the time—voice on the tape. Then we see that Dave’s 12-year-old daughter, lying in bed in the next room, can clearly hear all of this, and by the way, all the books and magazines Dave has at home are just laying out in plain view.

Norah comes home to find: a decapitated teddy bear! She’s freaked, calls the cops, and Dave shows up. There’s a small, chilling detail: Dave has been “working on the case” but hasn’t alerted his fellow cops that he has; he’s “handling it privately.” He’s increasingly threatening to Norah, hinting again that she doesn’t know he’s NOT the caller, until she tells him to get out. At that he starts getting REALLY too close and threatening, as he demands she explain to him why she could possibly want him out, especially when he’s trying to HELP her. He finally explains that his wife was killed by a “sex pervert,” and he has devoted his life to studying this phenomena and putting those sickos behind bars!

Now Norah gets another call—it’s a bit hilarious as you hear her begging the guy to hang up and stop talking to her, without it ever seeming to cross her mind that she could just hang up herself. Now we see the identity of the caller, and you’re not going to believe this, but it’s Lawrence! He’s lounging around in his skin-tight white tank and skin-tight white pants [as my friend was heard to say: “He looks naked!”] when his sister comes in. She is maybe in her twenties, but it soon becomes apparent that she has the mind of an eight-year-old, and it’s a little perverse when her brother holds and comforts her while wearing his skimpy attire—especially when she’s coming in to model her clingy new dress. He tells her not to dress like that, and she wails “You promised me a new teddy bear!” It seems she hasn’t faced the fact that her teddy died in the accident so long ago… and apparently Lawrence has been holding it all this time to deliver to his stalking victim? Suppose so. Anyway, now we have a flashback. Lawrence was playing with his young sister, even then dressed like a hustler, when his mother gazed down at him with some lusty glances. Lawrence went upstairs and got busy with his mom [although from the movie it seems like they just engaged in some sensual massage]. Soon his little sister came up, witnessed the scene, and ran off to fall down the stairs, leaving her retarded and Lawrence with some serious psychosexual issues. You never read about this part in Family Tales magazine.

Then, off to the zoo! Norah has gone with Dave and his young daughter, and they run into Lawrence and his sister. Lawrence seems distinctly uncomfortable and embarrassed to be seen with his lil sis, and quickly makes to take off. One thing you’ll notice in this scene is that, in the establishing footage of kids at the zoo, it’s almost entirely filled with girls looking at COCKS! I mean roosters, you sicko, what did you think?

Now Lawrence is feeling all pent up—and certainly looking pent-up in those tiny pants—and goes out walking in Times Square. He is fascinated by all the sleaze of display, and we see him gazing excitedly at a pair of crotchless panties. Meanwhile, Marian is staying over at Norah’s, trying to avoid being home alone. They both strip down to their nightgowns, and soon Marian is wanting to comfort the upset Norah. Only she starts holding her a little too close, and telling her what a good baby she is, and how mommy is going to protect her, and she should just go ahead and cry like a good baby. Norah starts to freak, and pulls away, saying “Get out of here, please.” Marian doesn’t see what’s wrong, and starts getting a little belligerent and angry, finally saying “Look doll baby, I think there’s something the matter with you.” Mmm yeah, because she doesn’t want all that creepy mommy lovin’? Yeah, she sure has a problem. Now, Marian had slipped Norah’s fur-lined coat on before the creepy incident, and she doesn’t seem to notice as she’s on her way out [leaving my friend and me saying “Get that coat back!”] but it turns out to serve a story purpose: she leaves and is soon attacked in an alley by Lawrence. Since she resists him, he does the rational thing and strangles her in order to “calm her down,” only later realizing that he got the wrong woman. Oops. We all make those little mistakes.

In here now is a nice little performance by this character Adler, who gives a funny little monologue about how unfair it is that the police round up all the known perverts whenever someone gets killed. Meanwhile Lawrence is home humping his pillow, then decides it’s time to hit the gym. He works out on this machine with a disturbingly phallic pole, then goes into the pool, where who should he find, but Norah. Lawrence stands there in his tiny white Speedo and leaves no doubt as to what he has to offer the world—and I’m not talking about his positive outlook. After a little dip, they repair back to the dance hall where Lawrence lets on that he doesn’t dance. Norah puts on a record—a very catchy tune called “It Could Have Been Me” that we’ve heard a few times now—and they dance. This is where you suddenly remember that Juliet Prowse is a dancer, as she can really move.

He suddenly breaks off. She asks him what’s wrong, and he starts talking to her in that familiar voice she knows from the phone. She freaks, and he wants to know “Why everyone else but me?” He kind of half-rapes her, then Dave shows up. You’ll notice that Dave doesn’t so much beat Lawrence as slap him and punish him like a stern father might.

Lawrence goes running out through Times Square—you get some good Times Square of 1965 footage—then we have this strobing effect, and he is in a graveyard. After a little more strobing he sees Norah in the graveyard, which implied to me that he saw her as his mother or she looked like his mother. And, well, that’s the end!

I liked it! It’s definitely the kind of crazy grindhouse midnight movie you want to see with a group of people who will be ready to laugh, whoop and react with shock to what unfolds before you. I was really sorry my movie night series at the bar had ended, and this would have been loads of fun with a large group of drunk gays.

Speaking of that, I guess I led my friend to believe that there was a bit more of a gay component to this movie, but there isn’t much of one to the plot or action of the movie itself, just that it is of a very gay sensibility. You have all the Mineo beefcake stuff, many shots of his body, his super-tight clothes and his bulge, plus Elaine Stritch as a predatory dyke and just the seamy trashiness of it all. So don’t expect much of a gay story, but there is a great deal of the gay about the whole sensibility behind it.

One aspect I found interesting is that Norah endures three attacks, and they are all essentially the same: someone she thinks she knows and/or should be able to trust suddenly starts acting weird and she has to ask them to leave. Then they get even more threatening as they claim not to know why she would be upset, as they were just being friendly. I’m not sure I can say what to make of it, but it really is strange as it really is the same scene, with three different characters, three separate times. Maybe it’s something about the fine line between someone loving you and someone being obsessed with you… or it’s just a personal scene that has meaning for the writer/director. Who knows.

Anyway, definitely kind of a fun piece of trashy filmmaking with a lot of beefcake and elements sure to generate whoops. If you can find it, gather some friends and mix some strong drinks.

Should you watch it: 

Sure, if you can find it.