APRIL MOVIE THON 2: Dondi (1961)

April 2: Forgotten Heroes — Share a superhero movie that no one knows but you.

OK, I’m cheating. This is a comic strip not a comic book, but Dondi was created by Gus Edson and Irwin Hasen and at the height of its fame, it ran in more than a hundred newspapers from September 25, 1955, to June 8, 1986. When I was obsessed by the comic pages in the Sunday paper — and, as always, the movie section with huge drive-in listings — Dondi was one of the strips I hated. I had no interest and I always wondered who did.

Dondi started as a five-year-old World War II orphan from Italy who didn’t know his name or family who was brought to America by soldiers Ted Wills and Whitey McGowan. By the early 1960s, he was a Korean War orphan and by the 70s, he was a Vietnamese kid. If there’s a tragedy or a war, Dondi is like Tom Joad and he will be there.

In 1961, Dondi was such a big thing that there was this movie, which stars David Kory in the title role and David Janssen as Dealey. Amazingly, Whitey died in the comic, so for some reason, they avoided all of that. Patti Page plays Liz and the creators of the comic show up, with Edson as a cop and Hansen as a sketch artist.

I was obsessed by the Harry Medved and Randy Dreyfuss book The Fifty Worst Films of All Time as a kid. As an adult, I realize that so many of the movies they made fun of — Robot MonsterGodzilla vs. Hedorah, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia — are really good.*

Dondi is not one of those movies.

Director and producer Albert Zugsmith** said that Allied Artists made the film to prove that they could make movies for kids and then “arbitrarily cut the wrong twenty minutes out of it.”

How bad is it? Arnold Stang, who is in some horrible movies — SkidooHercules In New York — is not the worst thing in it. The whole soundtrack is on one instrument, the most annoying of all musical implements, the harmonica. And David Kory was just seven years old and can’t be blamed for how bad he is in this movie. He’s like…there’s never been a bad this bad. He was the son of Diane Kory, who was once a Rockette and was supposedly spotted on a New York City sidewalk because yes, he looks a lot like Dondi. I guess, knowing how much I hated the daily adventures of this kid, I should hate his movie just as much, so mission accomplished.

*Come back on April 20 for more of me against the Medveds.

**Zugsmith also produced Russ Meyer’s Fanny HillCaptive Women and Touch of Evil and directed one of the weirdest movies I’ve seen, The Chinese Room. He also made Mamie Van Doren a star with High School Confidential!The Beat GenerationThe Big OperatorGirls Town and The Private Lives of Adam and Eve, so I can forgive him this movie.

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