Skidoo: the LSD-fuelled Alcatraz movie with Groucho, Jackie Gleason, Carol Channing, Lurch, and everyone else

On our family holiday this summer, we had the great good fortune to be shown around Alcatraz Island by Ranger Craig Glassner -- among other things, the Ranger responsible for the excellent documentary about the Occupation by Indians of All Tribes that is screened in the visitor center there. Craig let slip that his favorite Alcatraz movie is Skidoo, the 1968 Otto Preminger wacky stoner comedy with Groucho Marx, Jackie Gleason, Carol Channing, Burgess Meredith, Ted "Lurch" Cassidy, and just about every character actor you've ever enjoyed.

It's an LSD-fuelled romp about a retired hit-man (Jackie Gleason) who voluntarily sends himself to Alcatraz to kill his best friend, who has betrayed the mob-boss of all bosses (played by Groucho Marx, who appears to either be stoned or simply method acting in many of his scenes). Meanwhile, the mobster's daughter has fallen in with a wandering tribe of hippies who get taken in by her mother, Carol Channing, and end up involved in a jail-break that coincides with a mass dosing of Owsley's finest LSD for everyone on the prison island.

It's got trippy dance numbers, silly comedy, hippies, and, well, everything. It's out on DVD after a long purgatory on the trashheap of history. I just watched it. It is something. It is something else.

Skidoo (1968)


  1. “…We had the great good fortune to be shown around Alcatraz Island by Ranger Craig Glassner.”
    But could you call him Vicky?

  2. As if the trailer weren’t enough I couldn’t help noticing the “Night Flight” logo in the lower righthand corner at 0:29. Ah, Night Flight, a show I fondly remember from the days when the USA Network was cool and helped corrupt my young mind.

      1. It’s a tragedy that kids who now watch The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers don’t realize how much better that show was when it was the hideously, and hilariously, dubbed Dynaman.

        1. It was a show that I thought had been tailor-made for my young mind—horror movies, cult tv shows, and post-punk/new wave
          I was the only one I knew who watched it, and assumed I was the only viewer, there was no internet to link me to everyone else.

  3. This is  one of the great awful movies of all time and quite worth catching. It’s deliriously, wildly, incredibly unfunny which makes what’s happening onscreen even more fascinating.

    Why does this exist? Who was it for? When was this acceptable to audiences? It’s so inscrutable and so punishingly try-hard weird it’s like a missive from aliens trying to figure out how to make a screwball comedy.

    1. When the celeb recommendations for movies were rolling through BB the other month, I thought of Skidoo.

      I think the main cultural takeaway is that the generation that lived the Roaring Twenties were celebrating the return of fun and freedom after decades of exile. To partially answer Jardine below, no, it’s not the Arctic Cat rival that the title is referencing. It’s the Twenties, when “23 Skidoo” was their word for “groovy”.

    2. Not sure if you’re familiar with these or not, but there is a whole slew of films with big stars that latched on to the hippie thing without really understanding it. They appropriated it for Hollywood (like they have always done and always will do). I’m not sure who the intended audience was, really, but the big names attached to these projects surely brought in a lot of people (many of whom probably left the theater scratching their head).

      There were some decent films that come out of that, but most are awful. Peter Sellers is in a couple of decent ones (and he’s always worth watching even if the rest of the film is bad). And yeah, they are always try-hard.

      There are also a bunch of films that truly embraced and/or came directly out of the real “scene” at the time. Most of those are pretty bad too, actually.

  4. If you haven’t seen it, be warned that it is a really terrible movie.  That said, everyone should see it at least once or twice.  As an artifact, a thing to examine from the distance of time, it is fascinating.

  5. Cory’s synopsis is accurate and the movie is pretty awesome.  There are some moments when it moves a bit slow, but you stay glued to the screen, anxiously awaiting the next partial nudity and/or phenomenal Jackie-Gleason-Tripping-Balls-OMGITOOKTOOMUCHWALLSAREMELTING-while-in-prison scene.

  6. I’ve got several books about bad movies at home, and one of them describes Skidoo as  the movie that “proved that you can give a director LSD, but you couldn’t make him groove.”

  7. Might be fun to follow this movie with “Zachariah”, the 1971 stoner Western that involved the Firesign Theater and others. Like Skidoo, the concept was funnier than the execution, but if you can stand watching one, you’ll get through the other. 

  8. The first time I saw Skidoo at San Francisco’s Red Vic, there was an excerpt from an interview with Otto Preminger in their monthly mailer where he said that Ronald Reagan had the film black-balled because of a scene where a hippie uses chewing gum to afix a rose over the then-governor’s mouth. I’m not sure how true this is, but this film is definitely no worse than many other ensemble cast flix of the day that had much wider appeal. Skidoo has remained relatively unheard of. Is this due to the power of Gov Reagan and the SAG?

    1. The story I’d been told way back in the day was that Preminger himself, followed by his estate, had blocked wider release of the film, and that the version shown in art houses was bootleg.

  9. I first saw this film at a San Francisco theater about 15 years ago – may have been at the late great Red Vic. At the time it had never been released other than the original theatrical release, and a few rare showings on cable, and occasional small theater viewings, often on college campuses. No VHS, and no (until recently) DVD. Rumor was there was just one 35mm print available. And that the estate didn’t want it out more than that as it was so bad. At the showing I went to with a fellow Alcatraz ranger there was a Q&A with Erik Kirkland, who worked on the film (and was later adopted by Otto Preminger in 1971 when Otto discovered Erik was his son – the mother being Gypsy Rose Lee). He claimed that Otto was under a contractual deadline to make a movie and that time was running out, so Otto took a script out of a slush pile and said he’d make “this” movie. He also claimed that Otto had got some LSD to better understand “tripping” in order to film the tripping sequence with Jackie Gleason, and for the escape scene. And that John Phillip Law kept much of the staff high during the production. It shows. 

    One of the film’s claims to fame is that the entire credits are sung as a song by Harry Nilsson (Nilsson Schmilsson was his best album, IMHO) at the end of the movie. He also plays a tripping guard in the escape sequence. 

    I use to run in to Wavy Gravy at anti war demos in D.C. in the 1970s. So what does this have to do with SKIDOO? Well, I later ran into him after I moved to San Francisco and was working on Alcatraz Island. He was on the island for a media event And I discovered that a lot of the extras in SKIDOO were Merry Pranksters – and that they got money to buy a Merry Prankster Bus (there were apparently several of them over the years, the first being with Ken Kesey in 1964, made famous by Tom Wolfe in his novel “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test”) from being extras in the movie. Wavy admitted he’d never seen the film, so I sent him a bootlegged DVD (from a VHS recorded off of cable TV). Haven’t since run in to him to see what he thought. Not sure if I do run into him that I’ll ask. 

    There’s a great Robert Ebert blog about Skidoo at

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