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Friday, January 29, 2016

What's New Pussycat?

Today the 1965 film What's New Pussycat? is known for being the first film to feature Woody Allen (who also wrote the script). In that way, it is a curious relic, and shows many of the traits that would come to dominate his films, such as a fascination with psychoanalysis, an unabashed obsession with beautiful women, and name dropping intellectual pursuits, such as a sight gag where men who look like famous artists such as Toulouse-Latrec and Vincent Van Gogh are sitting at an outdoor cafe. But at the time, no one could have anticipated Allen's future career, and instead it was a mildly confusing, if chaotic, sex comedy with a very famous cast.

The history of the film is pretty interesting. It was all Warren Beatty's idea, as he wanted to make a film about a lothario (gee, wonder why?). He brought Allen in to write the script, but Allen's part got larger. I've read that Beatty threatened to quit and producer Charles K. Feldman called his bluff, and he was out. He would later make the film he wanted with Shampoo. Instead, Peter O'Toole played his part.

O'Toole is a man who can't say no to beautiful women. He goes to see Sellers, a Viennese analyst, who is seen in combat with his large, Valkyrie-like wife ("I'm prettier than you are!" he yells at her). Sellers wears a Beatle wig and tight, mod clothing (his denim jacket in the last part of the film is ridiculously funny) and storms around the film. He listens to O'Toole talk of his insatiable appetite for women and they for him, and asks, "What is your problem?"

But O'Toole wants to settle down with his girlfriend, Romy Schneider. But he can't help himself, and finds himself in a strip club (where Sellers also is) and meets Paula Prentiss, who takes an overdose of sleeping pills every time she meets O'Toole. He also meets a patient that Sellers is in love with, played by Capucine. Meanwhile, O'Toole's friend, Allen, is in love with Schneider.

They all end up at a chateau for a last act of bedroom farce, with doors slamming, people hiding in closets, and O'Toole gamely making pratfalls. Ursula Andress literally drops from the sky (she's a parachutist) and the result is very typical of the time, with European girls in skimpy outfits being chased by rakish men. The film ends with a chase in go-carts.

I wonder what Allen thinks of this film now. If he hates Manhattan, as he said he does, then he must really hate this. It is directed with the wit of a whoopee cushion by Clive Donner, but as I watched it this time I kind of had a good time. There are some lines that show what Allen would become, such as Sellers calling one of his girlfriends "my little laxative" and Allen telling O'Toole he got a job at the Crazy Horse as a dresser for "20 Francs a week." "That's not much," O'Toole replies, and Allen says, "It's all I could afford."

What's New Pussycat? (the title comes from Beatty's phrase) is more interesting historically than as an entertainment. Sellers and Allen appear together in one scene, when the former wants to commit suicide in a Viking funeral. Here we have two of the great comedic performers of the 20th century in their only scene together. It's interesting to note that in Beatty's planned film, Groucho Marx was to play the shrink.


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