The Movie Waffler Blu-Ray Review - WHO KILLED TEDDY BEAR (1965) | The Movie Waffler

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Blu-Ray Review - WHO KILLED TEDDY BEAR (1965)

WHO KILLED TEDDY BEAR review
An aspiring actress receives a series of obscene phone calls.


Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Joseph Cates

Starring: Sal Mineo, Juliet Prowse, Jan Murray, Elaine Stritch, Margot Bennett

WHO KILLED TEDDY BEAR bluray


Best known for playing second fiddle to pop culture icons James Dean and Elvis Presley, Sal Mineo and Juliet Prowse were given centre stage for Joseph Cates' lurid 1965 psycho-thriller, Who Killed Teddy Bear. Initially rejected by the British censors, Cates' film now makes its blu-ray debut courtesy of Network in a crisp if very occasionally scratchy print.


WHO KILLED TEDDY BEAR review

Prowse is Norah, an aspiring actress who pays her New York rent by DJing at a nightclub run by the brassy Marian (Broadway legend Elaine Stritch). After receiving a series of anonymous, obscene phone calls, and finding a battered teddy bear left in her apartment, Norah contacts the police. Assigning himself to the case is Detective Dave Madden (Jan Murray), whose obsession with tracking down the city's criminal perverts (his own wife was raped and murdered) seems to mask his own sexual torment.

Early on, Cates reveals the source of the phone calls - Lawrence (Sal Mineo), a busboy at Marian's club who has become obsessed with the pretty disc jockey but can't bring himself to approach her in any conventional way. Lawrence lives with his younger sister Edie (Margot Bennett), who was left brain damaged after falling down the stairs as a child when she fled from the sight of Lawrence being seduced (or perhaps abused) by an older woman. Associating sex with his sister's condition, Lawrence can't form any healthy sexual relationships, instead torturing himself browsing porn bookshops, working off his frustrations at the gym and making obscene phone calls.


WHO KILLED TEDDY BEAR review

Who Killed Teddy Bear may have lost much of its shock factor over the decades, but for a 1965 American production it's remarkably frank in exploring its themes. Mineo's Lawrence is portrayed as a sympathetic antagonist who tortures himself as much as his female victims, the implication being that he may himself be a victim of abuse carrying on a grim cycle.

Lawrence is by no means the only creep Norah has to fend off. There's also her predatory lesbian employer and Detective Madden, whose home is filled with a combination of textbooks about sexual perversion and porno mags. The detective spends his evenings replaying recorded interviews with suspects (and secretly taped conversations with Norah), as though getting a perverse satisfaction from their stories. The fact that he shares his home with his 10-year-old daughter makes him a far creepier character than the film's ultimate villain.


WHO KILLED TEDDY BEAR review

With her geographically ambiguous accent and doe-eyed looks, Prowse is ideally cast as the innocent newcomer to the Big Apple, where she's pursued by those who see her only as a sex object. In one great moment of filmmaking fortune, Cates' camera catches a workman ogling the actress as she walks down a Manhattan street, unaware he is being filmed.

Who Killed Teddy Bear might represent the sleaziest representation of New York on screen up to that point, a concrete jungle filled with sex shops and strip clubs. The movie was no doubt an influence on a generation of filmmakers who would portray urban America as a similar den of iniquity a decade later, and it's telling that Taxi Driver cinematographer Michael Chapman worked on Cates' film as an assistant cameraman. In Who Killed Teddy Bear, all the animals really do come out at night.
Extras:

Trailer; stills gallery; an episode of TV show Court Martial, guest starring Mineo; LSD: Insight or Insanity?, a hilarious public service film on the dangers of psychedelic drugs, narrated by Mineo; and a booklet with writing by film scholar Laura Mayne.

Who Killed Teddy Bear is released on blu-ray and VOD September 17th by Network.


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