Blu-Ray Review- What’s New Pussycat?

This film is probably best-known for two things: the fantastic Tom Jones theme song (sung by Jones but written by Burt Bacharach), and being the first screenplay from Woody Allen. It’s very stupid, but that’s the point. It’s also one of the few films Allen has written for someone else, and unsurprisingly he was unhappy with the final result. After his bad experiences with this, What’s Up, Tiger Lily? and working on the film of his play Don’t Drink the Water, he vowed never to write a film where he wasn’t the director—with the exception of Play It Again, Sam, which was nonetheless his project.

What’s New Pussycat? Is a silly 60s sex farce that completely falls apart. It stars Peter O’Toole as Michael James, this babe magnet who, in typical Woody Allen fashion, goes to see a shrink, Dr. Fritz Fassbender, who is played by Peter Sellers in a ridiculous long-haired wig. Michael is planning to marry his fiancée, Carole Werner (Romy Schneider), but all these women just keep throwing themselves at him and he doesn’t know what to do. He tries to reform himself, but it’s hard to do in the face of passes from the likes of Paula Prentiss and Ursula Andress. Allen plays Michael’s friend Victor Shakapopulis, who is his usual self-based character.

It’s all set in and around Paris, and then in the French countryside. The plot becomes increasingly silly as it goes along, with plenty of high-jinks culminating in a go-kart race. It‘s pretty funny, which is what you want from a farcical comedy with sight gags and slapstick. And while its not one of Allen’s best scripts, it comes from before he decided to try to be Ingmar Bergman, it’s one of the “early funny ones”.

O’Toole was a really under-rated comedic actor. Initially it was a Warren Beatty production, with Beatty getting it off the ground but then walking off the project before the production started. The sounds also includes the original version of Bacharach’s My Little Red Book that’s used in a very funny dance scene, and there’s a very amusing cameo by Françoise Hardy at the very end. It was directed by Clive Donner,, and this is certainly my favourite film of his I’ve seen so far.

While Allen famously doesn’t do special features on his DVDs, this Eureka release includes a new audio commentary from film critics Emma Westwood and Sally Christie, plus the theatrical trailer and a booklet with a Simon Ward essay. This is a UK Blu-Ray debut and only the third Blu-Ray in the world after previously released US and German discs and the best of the three in terms of extras.

★★★½

Ian Schultz

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