What’s New Pussycat? – Woody Allen Retrospective. By Alif Majeed.
It is easy to hate Woody Allen for very some pretty valid reasons. Certain things about his personal life cannot be justified. But that kind of hate does not deserve to be extended to his movies. It is especially sad when some of the same people who won accolades for his films go on to diss him and his work. It does bring about the much-vaunted question: How much can you separate the man from his art? On a personal note, it might be easy to denounce the guy, but it is hard not to acknowledge his immense contribution to cinema.
Several filmmakers have inspired him, and it is something he openly acknowledges both in his cinema and various interviews. His love for Ingrid Bergman is especially legendary. And though Marshall McLuhan was excellent in his cameo as himself in Annie Hall, you can’t help but wonder what Bergman, his original choice for the cameo, would have made that perfect scene even better. But there is no doubt as to how much of an influence he has been to scores of filmmakers. And the debt they owe him.
In a recent interview, he said that he is yet to make a great film. That came as a massive surprise as it felt like he is trying to downplay the impact of his work. It makes you wonder what it would be like to go through his entire filmography to figure where he started. And what better place to start than What’s new Pussycat? The very first movie he was involved with, even though it was on a writing and acting capacity.
The story of how What’s New Pussycat? came to be is pretty unusual. Supposedly, the title came from Warren Beatty’s greeting as he picked up the phone. The entire movie came from the maker’s decision to flesh out a film out of the catchline. It is also interesting how the circle of merry-go-around between the studio, Warren Beatty, Woody Allen, and possibly even Peter Sellers changed the shape of the movie as we know it now.
What’s New Pussycat? is about a notorious womanizer Michael James (Peter O’Toole), who finds that old habits truly die hard as he finds it hard to be faithful to his fiancée Carole (Romy Schneider). Making it harder to let go of his philandering ways is the fact that every woman he crosses path with can’t seem to resist him. They include neurotic exotic dancer Liz Bien (Paula Prentiss), adventurer Rita (Ursula Andress), and Renée Lefebvre (Capucine). Michael’s psychoanalyst, Dr. Fritz Fassbender (Peter Sellers, with his creepy hat on, dialed way up) is stalking the latter, complicating things even further.
Meanwhile, Carole decides to make Michael jealous by flirting with his nervous wreck of a friend, Victor Shakapopulis (Woody Allen). All this comes to a circle when they all end up at a hotel in the French countryside. All this causes chaos among all involved.
You can’t help but wonder how the movie might be better off with the original choice when you watch the film. It’s a role Warren could have slipped walked in by just showing up considering his legendary ladies man reputation and charm.
Peter Toole is damn fine in the role, and he has all the devilishly handsome guy look pat-down. But he comes across as a guy who would be an excellent second choice. As if the role was showed down upon him, and he couldn’t make it his own.
As far as Woody Allen is concerned, the funniest thing about the character might be his name. Or maybe not because he is mainly just playing his version of the nervous, twitchy New Yorker. And it is not even the best version of the character. As far as Peter Sellers is concerned, he can either be annoying or well, the crazy genius that he is. Sadly, here he rides the thin line connecting the two that you know this is the genius that he is in movies like Doctor Strangelove and the first few Pink Panther movies. He tends to be close to The Magic Christian or Casino Royale level of lunacy. The latter even having Woody Allen and its chaotic insanity in common.
It’s the women who come out of the whole affair smelling better from the movie than the male actors as they don’t have to do any heavy lifting, and the film does not rely on their reputation as much as their male counterparts. It might be easy to blame Woody Allen for the weird and disjointed script here. But in a power-play battle with Warren Beatty, his role was supposed to have been significantly reduced, both as a writer and actor. The latter ended up not doing the movie anyways, as he lost a power-play struggle of his own with the studio.
What’s New Pussycat? is not half as bad as its retrospective reputation suggests, but by the time the movie gets over, you sigh in relief that you finally plowed through it. Like you completed a chore you did not want to but it ended up being not as bad as you imagined. The catchy earworm of a theme song is the one thing that stays with you long after the movie is over.
It is a movie that was a lesser work of a newcomer who went on to great things. The difference is that it is not pretty evident over here, and it is a must-see only for a Woody Allen completist. Still, for its tremendous star cast who look like they are having fun while trying to one-up each other and some mildly amusing scenes which might have a stamp of a pure filmmaking genius yet to refine his voice, this little curio has to be seen.
We hope you're enjoying BRWC. You should check us out on our social channels, subscribe to our newsletter, and tell your friends. BRWC is short for battleroyalewithcheese.