Film #1: What’s New, Pussycat?

29 May

What's New Pussycat

Starring: Peter O’Toole, Peter Sellers, Capucine, Woody Allen, and Ursula Andress

Writer: Woody Allen, based upon an idea by Warren Beatty

Director: Clive Donner

Music By: Burt Bacharach, performed by the likes of Tom Jones, Dionne Warwick, and Manfred Mann.

The Concept, in Recipe Form: Mix one part Shakespearean comedy with three parts low-brow sex romp. Add liberal amounts of Woody Allen shtick, to taste.

The Film’s Claim to Fame: While not many of us remember the film, almost everyone is aware of the film’s theme.

Line of the Film: “When a man’s life goes down the drain, you are there.” – Michael, referring to Carol’s innate ability to catch him awkward situations.

The Backstory: Believe it or not, the original concept of the film was loosely based upon the life of then up-and-coming star Warren Beatty. Beatty was ready to play Michael (aka “himself”), but left the project after Allen lessened his character.

The Characters:

  • Michael James (Peter O’Toole): A high-powered editor for a fashion magazine who has the ability to woo pretty much any woman — or “pussycat,” as he calls them — he meets. The story behind this ability is unknown, but James believes it has to do with his looks. (“When you look at me in the right light, I do appear to be quite handsome,” he states at the beginning of the film.) He also believes that couples should “sleep around,” then “live together” before they even think of getting married. According to him, this sort of thing is nothing more than “a person seeing everything that life has to offer.” Despite his “reluctant” free-willing bachelor lifestyle, Michael only desires to be one woman: His longtime girlfriend Carol (Romy Schneider). The thought of marriage is constantly with him, but he just can’t bring himself to say the words.
  • Dr. Fritz Fassbender (Peter Sellers) – A suicidal, sexually frustrated psychologist that wants nothing more than to “bed” a pretty young woman. He tries desperately to woo women like Michael but his “over enthusiasm” tends scare off his potential mates. (Judging by Fassbender’s actions throughout the film, what was politely referred to “over enthusiasm” in 1965 would easily be called “attempted rape” in 2010.) It gets so bad that even a self-described nymphomaniac (Renée Lefebvre, played by Capucine) wants nothing to do with him. He blames his horrible luck with the ladies on his “monster” of a wife Anna (Erda Gale) and their several “horrible” children. He secretly hopes that some of Michael’s charms will “rub off” on him.
  • Victor Shakapopulis (Woody Allen) – A … Let’s call a spade a spade here: The character is the quintessential Woody Allen character only with a longer last name. He’s shy, intelligent, and extremely self deprecating, yet somehow ends with some of the best lines/gags in the film.

The Plot: Does it really matter? It all comes down to sex.

The Film, In a Nutshell: Sex! And more sex! Then, for no reason, Peter O’Toole stares longingly into the camera for what seems to be hours at time. Director Clive Donner to trying to portray him as “innocent, yet sexy,” but to me, he just looks like David Bowie. In the midst of the sexual misadventures and big doe eyes, something oddly wacky would happen. These scenes include, but are not limited to:

  • Victor going to a sauna in a full suit.
  • Victor celebrating his (and coincidentally, Woody Allen’s) 29th birthday eating a fancy meal alone on a pier.
  • Victor helping a stripper put on a suit of armor.
  • Victor “accidentally” stopping  Dr. Fassbender’s Viking-like suicide by asking for free psychological advice.
  • Victor driving a phallic-looking sports cars on the sidewalks of Paris.
  • Victor trying to impress his date by lip-syncing to opera.
  • Victor … I think you get the point.

The Climax: For reasons unknown by this viewer, everyone (save for Carol, who shows up later) ends up booking a room at the same resort hotel. Michael, who wants to  use the weekend to both unwind and get some work done, ends up getting accosted by pretty much every woman he encountered throughout the film. Victor, meanwhile, is bound and determined to consummate his latest relationship, no matter what kind of craziness is happening around them. As for Dr. Fassbender … Let’s just say he’s up to his old scumbag rapist “over eager” ways and leave it like that. Within a few minutes however, the scene turns into a giant Benny Hill outtake, complete with crazy music and a convoluted chase scene involving go-karts. There’s even a man with a stereotypical black bomb running around. In the end, Michael and Carol do get married. Their marriage doesn’t even last thirty seconds before Carol claims that Michael is “looking at other women” again.

The Point: If you truly love someone, you’ll grow a pair and marry them. If you don’t, oodles of crazy crap will happen at random intervals.

My Thoughts: I want to say it was terrible, but I can’t. Sure, it was crass, goofy, and made entirely no sense, but at least the parts with Victor made me laugh. And really that’s all I can ask for.

Can I Relate?: To Victor, maybe. Everyone else … No, not really. Like Michael, there are some who can open doors (and remove undergarments) with just a smile. I am not one of those people.

Does It Hold Up?: In a word, no. While Michael’s thoughts on cohabitation and premarital sex might have been edgy and taboo in 1965, it is rather commonplace now. The other main problem this film has is with the its climax. By keeping the third act intact, the film morphs from the quintessential “Judd Apatow” experience — a “dirty little movie” with a wholesome moral — to a nonsensical barrage of eye pokes, chase scenes, and go-kart rides.

Is It Worth Watching?: No. If you want to see a crazy sex comedy, go rent The 40 Year-Old Virgin instead. Not only is it funnier, more coherent, and completely go-kart free, its subject matter is more relevant to modern times.

Addendum: If this movie is anything close to real life, Warren Beatty was a grade-A jackass in 1965.

…And there you have it. I hope you enjoyed this review of What’s New Pussycat? Our next film will be picture the Woody Allen “dubbed” spy film What’s Up, Tiger Lilly? Hope to see you then.

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