Review: What’s New Pussycat (1965)

What’s New Pussycat (1965, UK) 35mm, color, dir. Clive Donner & Richard Talmadge, written by Woody Allen

I’d been dying to see this one for a while.  I love Woody Allen’s films, my two favorite Peters (O’Toole and Sellers) are in this film, it’s from the ’60s, Tom Jones sings the theme, Burt Bacharach did the music, and Richard Williams (great animator) did the opening titles.  If you, like me, fell in love with Peter O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia and wanted to see him in a film with some women, then….this is one for you.  At least it would be, if not for some major issues.  The many things I mentioned above make the film appealing on a cosmetic level but are not combined in the best way they could be.

This film concerns a great number of characters and love polygons, which I will try to sum up the best I can…showing one of the film’s weaknesses – too much going on.  But then again, it’s a kind of screwball comedy, so I suppose that’s what it’s designed to be.  Anyway, here are the plots:

  • Michael (O’Toole) gets psychoanalytic help from Dr. Fassbender (Peter Sellers) because he wants to stop his cheating, womanizing ways so he can settle down with his lover Carol (Romy Schneider).
  • Victor (Woody Allen) loves Carol, but she loves Michael, but he keeps going after her anyway, and later after any woman he can get.  Mayhem ensues.
  • Dr. Fassbender loves his nymphomaniac patient Renée (Capucine) but she loves Michael.  He goes after her anyway.  Mayhem ensues.
  • Dr. Fassbender’s wife hates his cheating.  He hates her.  Mayhem ensues.
  • Michael loves too many women.  Mayhem ensues.
  • Michael loves a disturbed, suicide-prone stripper poet.  Mayhem ensues.
  • Ursula Andress cameos as a random parachutist.  Mayhem ensues.
  • Mayhem ensues.

I have to cut good ol’ Woody Allen some slack, because this was his first big screenplay.  It has some genuine funny moments, most of which center around Allen’s own secondary character. Peter Sellers’ analyst character is also an amusing take on the kind of character that Allen usually plays himself.

When you're Peter O'Toole, this happens a lot.

The film has a bit too much in the way of slapstick and zany chase scenes, though, which has never been Allen’s strong suit (they don’t work here, they didn’t in Sleeper, sorry Woody…).  I suppose that was a trend in 1960s comedies.  The film has trouble striking a balance between witty humor, the utterly absurd, romance, and its own pop-infused soundtrack – it keeps using a romantic Dionne Warwick song to highlight some comic romance scenes rather than the more serious moments at which it would be appropriate. With some organization this film could shine….the key word being “could.”

Nonetheless, if you are a big Woody Allen fan, this is definitely worth watching and is on par with several of Allen’s earlier silly comedies such as Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex and Take the Money and Run.  It showcases many of his trademarks (even this early in his career) and it’s very interesting to hear clearly-Allen lines come out of Peter O’Toole.  Even Peter Sellers seems to be another Allen-in-disguise, and the scene where Victor and Sellers’ character chat at the riverside after an attempted suicide (one of the best scenes in the film) is typical Allen psychoanalysis humor, quite “meta” (ahead of its time!), and a great look into Allen’s psyche and character writing, while also recalling the famous suicide scene in Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times (quick, stop me before I do more film-nerd ranting).

All in all, I would recommend it for diehard Allen fans, those studying Allen or ’60s films as period pieces, and for those who are desperate to see Peter O’Toole as a romantic lead….wearing modtastic suits (excuse me while I squeal, sorry).  Even so, it’s not the best film around, but far from the worst.

—Recca 8/15/10

P.S. I would recommend checking out the opening titles – great Richard Williams animation with a fun Tom Jones song and some cute and stylized psychedelic-pop-art caricatures (think the opening of Grease but way better):

Rating: 5/10



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