What’s New, Pussycat?
Woody Allen’s rise to fame in the 1960s was pretty meteoric. When he was eighteen years old he was on staff writing gags for Sid Caesar, making more money than his parents were. He moved on to stand-up comedy, which made him so nervous he frequently threw up. Soon he became a successful playwright (Don’t Drink the Water), and wrote this movie. He is on record saying that he worked well with the director, Clive Donner, but that the studio bosses took over and turned it into an anarchistic, knockabout farce, when it was clearly intended to be a bedroom farce. Woody disowned it, despite the fact that it was a big financial success.
I recall liking it a lot. The opening credits were the most psychedelic until Casino Royale came along, and both of those films were helped by really catchy tunes playing in the background. This one has three hit songs in it: the title song, “Here I Am,” and “My Little Red Book,” all by Burt Bacharach. I liked the anarchy of it all, liked Peter O’Toole outrageously overacting. I liked the slapstick comedy. I recall thinking that Peter Sellers was overdoing it a bit with his Germanic accent, but it didn’t matter much.
These days, it’s not so swell. I find myself looking for the parts that might have survived from Woody’s script, typical Allen lines. The best exchange:
O’Toole: Did you find a job?
Woody: Yeah, I work at the strip club. I help the girls get in and out of their costumes. Twenty Francs a week.
O’Toole: That’s not very much.
Woody: It’s all I can afford.
I always wondered about the title, where it came from. Mystery solved, from Wiki. It was originally going to be a Warren Beatty movie! Woody had more clout back then than Warren did, and kept writing his part smaller and smaller until Warren was forced off the film. Groucho Marx was going to have the Peter Sellers part. “What’s new, pussycat?” was the way Warren Beatty always answered the phone.