Dondi (Warner Archive)

No okay watching awful movie, Classic Flix buddies.

I don't mind writing reviews of truly, truly terrible films at all. It's a chance to show off how cleverly I can lampoon, oh, Fire Maidens of Outer Space or Cat-Women of the Moon and amuse myself and hopefully you. That said, I have no enthusiasm for reviewing Dondi. It's like reviewing a kid on a tricycle being run over by the ice cream truck. This is a truly miserably horrid motion picture, as bad as anything I've ever seen. It's based on a once-popular comic strip (1955-1986) by Gus Edson and Irwin Hasen, and the Dondi strip was one of my three favorites (with Brenda Starr, Reporter and Peanuts) when I was a little kid. Which didn't help. A remote Italian outpost on Christmas eve, and a bunch o' GIs are about to get rotated stateside, and they meet a little five-year-old Italian orphan boy who speaks English in a manner that makes Tarzan sound like George Bernard Shaw. He stows away but gets lost in New York so they mobilize Congress and many famous celebrities, including Walter Winchell and Patti Page, to find him. He wanders around and has adventures in the Big Town while his former Army friends, led by rich playboy Army guy David Janssen, search for him. This goes on for an hour and 39 minutes, while the musical score plays a couple of Patti Page songs and a lot of 'wah-wah-wah' joke music, all on a harmonica. Million-dollar Dialog: Shoot me. In the forehead. Right now. Somebody shoot me and put me out of my misery. I'll pay you anything you want. I'll give you anything you ask for. Shoot me.' Oh, wait, that was ME watching this movie. Hang on. Million-dollar Dialog: Janssen, on his troop mates: 'I have seen the milk of human kindness curdled before, but with you guys it becomes positively yogurt.' Dondi: 'Is GIs having dolls Mr. Sammy Boy Buddy?' Dondi, looking at skyscrapers: 'Gosh, America sure got big barracks. How is finding GI buddies?' Walter Winchell: 'Should we tell Dondi that all America is not his buddy?' Gee, come to think of it, they ALL speak gibberish. Arnold Stang, Robert Strauss, Mickey Shaughnessy and Gale Gordon all turn in the worst performances of their careers, and Janssen... Not for a second does the chain-smoking, skirt-chasing rich playboy seem to be anything but miserable. Janssen must've been contractually obligated to do this and hated every second of it, unless he thought that was his character, to act as if he's ready to flee the set and head to the nearest gin mill in every frame of the film. Which brings us to David Kory, young result of a nationwide search to play Dondi. And I'll admit, the kid looks so much like the dot-eyed orphan from the comic strip that it's positively uncanny. The trouble is, if your ad says, 'Does your son look like a sad, pathetic war orphan? We want to see him!' you're not necessarily going to get a kid that can act, and Master Kory is arguably the worst actor of ANY age to grace a motion-picture screen. Granted, he's mouthing nonsense, but he's unintelligible half the time and spitting food out of his mouth (he gorges himself in that 'cute' way orphans will when given cookies or mashed potatoes) while he talks. The rest of the cast plays down to his level, and the 'comic bits' are painful, slow, long, and mis-timed (c'mon, Mr. Zugsmith, what WERE you doing?!?!). Million-Dollar Producer/Director Hyperbole: Zugsmith's intent with Dondi was to make 'wholesome movie entertainment the way it used to be, when the big stars in Movie Town were the kids and Will Rogers.' An insufferable film that seems to be aimed at very, very small children, who will certainly enjoy its interminable length, chain-smoking miserable leading man, and unintelligible dialog every bit as much as I did.