WHO KILLED TEDDY BEAR features all the qualities one would expect of either a pulp movie masterpiece or a "so-bad-it's-good" curiosity, but most of this rediscovered cult classic from 1965 is just plain mediocre.
WHO KILLED TEDDY BEAR is set in the gritty world of New York's Times Square in 1965, where Norah (Juliet Prowse), a statuesque dancer, works at a disco run by the tough-talking Billie (Elaine Stritch). Lawrence (Sal Mineo), a waiter at the club, admires Norah from afar, but feels too inhibited to
ask her out. At home, Norah begins receiving mysterious and disturbing phone calls at all hours from an obscene caller, who we quickly learn is Lawrence. Lawrence lives in the building next-door with his mentally-impaired sister and, unknown to Norah, is able to peep into her apartment using a
strategically placed mirror. When Norah finds a mutilated teddy bear in her apartment, Billie urges Norah to report the crime to the police, who assign Detective Bill Madden (Jan Murray), an expert in the field of obscene callers, to the case.
To protect Norah, Bill invites her to stay in his apartment while he researches his leads. She is at first reluctant to accept the detective's offer, because she suspects that he is also interested in her sexually, but later Norah realizes that his motives are pure: his interest in the case is in
avenging the death of his wife, who had been killed by a sex fiend. During her stay, Norah forms a friendship with the detective's 10-year-old daughter. Meanwhile, Lawrence experiences a strain in his relationship with his sister. Her memories of falling down a flight of stairs after seeing her
mother and brother in bed together force Lawrence to confront the past. The waiter tries to suppress the sordid memories, however, while continuing his obsession with Norah.
After a brief stay at Bill's apartment, Norah insists on returning home, and accepts Billie's offer to stay with her. That night, Norah receives another frightening phone call and interprets Billie's oddly intimate attempts to soothe her as a sexual come-on. Norah asks Billie to leave. In her
hurry, Billie forgets to take off Norah's coat, which she had tried on. On the way home, Billie is murdered. The next evening at the club, Norah finds herself left alone with Lawrence. She offers to teach him how to dance while they close up for the night. Inflamed by the wild dancing, Lawrence
rapes Norah. Bill arrives too late to save Norah, but beats up Lawrence. Lawrence escapes, and as he runs away through the streets of the Times Square, he is gunned down by police.
In typical '60s fashion, WHO KILLED TEDDY BEAR touches on such taboo topics as pornography, voyeurism, incest, and lesbianism, but never reveals anything explicitly. The film continues in the tradition of lurid yet crafty B thrillers of the same period (e.g. SCREAMING MIMI, PEEPING TOM, PICTURE
MOMMY DEAD, and BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING), although the story--when reduced to its particulars--is just another woman-in-distress melodrama with its central mystery revealed early on. More destructively, director Joseph Cates (father of actress Phoebe Cates) applies self-conscious art-film touches
and a somber, earnest tone that saps the fun out of the sordid material (Alexander Singer's A COLD WIND IN AUGUST handles similar stuff better). In the cast, Elaine Stritch's work as the tough nightclub manager easily outclasses the off-career performances of the nominal leads, Sal Mineo and
Juliet Prowse, but Jan Murray gets the prize for the oddest performance, playing a police captain obsessed with sex crimes and psychopathology.
Still, WHO KILLED TEDDY BEAR deserves some attention for its documentary-like exterior scenes in and around Manhattan. (Assistant cinematographer Michael Chapman would, 10 years later, shoot TAXI DRIVER for Martin Scorsese.) Shots of Times Square sex shops, theater district passageways and the
Central Park Zoo of the 1960s provide a fascinating bit of unwitting reportage. If only the movie surrounding these scenes carried as much interest, this "exploitation" picture would deserve its cult status. (Violence, nudity, sexual situations, adult situations, profanity.)
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- Rating: NR
- Review: WHO KILLED TEDDY BEAR features all the qualities one would expect of either a pulp movie masterpiece or a "so-bad-it's-good" curiosity, but most of this rediscovered cult classic from 1965 is just plain mediocre. WHO KILLED TEDDY BEAR is set in the gritty… (more)