What’s Up Tiger Lily? Woody Allen Retrospective – By Alif Majeed.
What’s Up Tiger Lily is a very confusing film in Woody Allen’s oeuvre that came from his comic writer phase. Calling it a film written and directed by Woody Allen might not be the correct term to use. For the edited version, you could probably say it is a film he wrote and “supervised.” He had mainly taken a Japanese movie International Secret Police: Key of Keys, a straight spy thriller about guerrilla fighters and black money, and re-dubbed and re-shot it, changing the plot to make it revolve around the quest for a secret egg salad recipe.
It’s a movie created by a comic and not a movie writer that comes off as an extended sketch comedy. Seeing that the name is a play on his first movie, you might be confused in thinking it is a sequel to the first movie he wrote, What’s New Pussycat?
It would have taken quite a thing to watch that original movie and decide the swap, switch the scenes around to turn it into a film about an international super spy in a quest to find the secret recipe for the world’s most fabulous scrambled egg. If you think it has no business to work, it somehow comes together reasonably well.
The problem with the movie is that while it is funny and manages to hit the spot with the gags more often than it would seem, it does try too hard to be smart. Like he was an intelligent writer trying to show off and wanted every line in the movie to be a gag, all dialed up. What makes it works is Woody Allen throwing everything and the kitchen sink at whatever scene is playing on the screen. It is also a pure product of its time.
The original Japanese spy movie, though a straight film, does come off as silly at times. Coming on the heals of all the film that at least partly tried to cash in on the James Bond craze of the ’60s. Or even the ones that played it straight during that era like the Henry Palmer movies. But the spoofs like the Dean Martin Matt Helm series. You know, the ones that are easily spoofed by the likes of Austin Powers.
Nevertheless, his experience as a sketch comedy writer shines through here, especially in scenes where the spies are trying to put their best ladies man hat on. By adding a few looks here and there, and a few lines here and there, he manages to change the reactions entirely. The Kuleshov Effect is in full display with some slight editing changes giving it some whole new meaning and character.
He even manages to turn Tatsuya Mihashi, the Japanese actor playing the spy in the original, into a Woody Allen surrogate in some scenes involving the woman. It might not be obvious, but it is still there.
It might not feel that much different from an MST3K version of a Woody Allen sketch, but he does manage to turn it into something slightly more than a string of gags stuck together.
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