Tuesday, April 5, 2011

So bad it's not even "so bad it's good"

I wasted an hour and 40 minutes of my Sunday morning watching Dondi. Amazingly, the folks who run the Warner Archive have seen fit to release it to DVD and make a lot of much better stuff wait.

I decided to watch it because the box guide synopsis sounded moderately interesting: GIs try to take an orphaned boy home from World War II, but he goes missing. That, and the fact that David Janssen was the star The synopsis wasn't inaccurate or even misleading; it's just that the execution is horrible, to say the least. The movie starts off at a military base in Italy on Christmas Eve. Playboy soldier Janssen wants to go into town; mama's boy Arnold Stang is going to stay at the barracks and decorate a Christmas tree. When Janssen returns, he finds that a nameless orphan is sleeping outside the barracks, and he decides to let the orphan stay there for the night. This, despite the fact that their CO hates children. So, they have to engage in a big comedy of lies that's horrendously unfunny to keep hidden the fact that they're hiding a kid.

News comes that the base is about to be shuttered, so they're all going to be sent home. The soldiers leave the orphan, now named "Dondi" behind, only to find that he's somehow stowed away aboard the troop transport taking all the soldiers home. (How the kid got from the mountains to the port to even get on the boat in the first place is beyond me.) Now we get another half hour's worth of lying to try to get one's way out of a sticky situation, when the truth would have set them free in the first place. It doesn't help that the jokes go on much too long; never mind that they fall flat.

Fast forward to everybody getting to America. The soldiers and Dondi get separated, which leads Dondi to wander around New York City looking for his "buddy soldier", with really bad jokes involving a department store TV and an escalator, among others. It doesn't help that the kid is utterly charmless. Anyhow, Janssen and his frineds finally let out the truth, at which point Walter Winchell contributes to a campaign to have everybody wire Congress to have them offer Dondi asylum. (And every time anybody hears Winchell, they immediately drop what they're doing to send Congress a wire.) Singer Patti Page, playing Janssen's girlfriend, contributes with a song.

The idea isn't a bad one; it was based on a successful comic strip. (The strip's author and illustrator appear as a policeman and the policeman's sketch artist.) But the jokes are awful, they go on much too long, the plot is filled with numerous holes, and Dondi is even more obnoxious than Margaret O'Brian. Yes, I know that this sort of stuff was marketed at children, but I can't help but wonder if even they were turned off by the film.

There are a lot of movies out there that are bad, but at least have the excuses of low budgets. A lot of those fun late 1950s and early 1960s B-movies in the sci-fi and horror genres fit the bill. Dondi, on the other hand, is just plain bad. If you want to see for yourself, you can get the DVD. But don't say I didn't warn you.


Anonymous said...

I'm old enough to remember when it was shown on the big screen. It was beyond awful by several miles. "A waste of perfectly good film stock" would be an elevation in status."Dondi" should be shown at every college of film making as a primary example of what not to do. Epic fail would be a complement for this mess. There are no words to adequately describe the awfulness of this cinematic disaster.

bryanD said...


Let's leave Margaret O'Brien out of this!