An oddball psychotronic movie, one of the last feature films Sal Mineo ever appeared in (and a rare lead for Mineo), Who Killed Teddy Bear? appeared in 1965. It’s set in a pre-psychedelic swinging sixties discotheque/restaurant where Mineo is the busboy, Lawrence Sherman. He’s obsessed with Nora Dean (dancer Juliette Prowse), the DJ at the disco and an aspiring actress. Nora Jean keeps getting creepy obscene phone calls, and finds a decapitated teddy bear in her apartment. A series of similar attacks are going on around the city, including a murder, and a link looks likely. Nora Dean goes to the cops, but they seem kind of iffy as well. Sherman has problems of his own, possibly including being molested by his mother. Could Sherman be behind it all?
Clearly almost no one ever saw Who Killed Teddy Bear?, and that’s a shame. Critic Leonard Maltin called “sleazy” and “a waste of talent,” which is exactly why you want to watch it. Before Mineo was murdered in 1976, he appeared in only a few more films due to his age and by then well-known bisexuality.
The film has a great soundtrack of 60s garage tunes. It’s beautifully shot, despite what must have been a tiny budget, with an almost proto-psychedelic opening sequence and some strange cuts. There’s a particularly good scene where Sherman slips into a porno shop that has copies of Naked Lunch and Tropic of Cancer in the window. It feels like a Brian de Palma film, although it was directed by someone called Joseph Cates, who mainly worked on TV specials and awards shows. Who Killed Teddy Bear? was ahead of its time in showing the sleazy underbelly of New York, in a way that only some more extreme noirs had really done up to then, making it reminiscent of Taxi Driver.
In other words, definitely one to see.
Major extras on the disc include a TV show called LSD: Inside Insanity, a rip-roaringly hilarious educational film narrated by Mineo—the kind of movie that makes you want to take drugs rather than avoid them. Also on the disc is an episode of the TV show Court Martial, from a drama series that Mineo guest-starred on.