Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

What’s Up, Tiger Lily?


I have special memories of this film. That’s because I was briefly attending Michigan State University that year, and the world premiere was held at the Campus Theater (now long gone) on November 2, just a month before I left for good. World premiere! Don’t get to go to one of those every day, unless you live in Hollywood. I remember there was a pretty good crowd. I’ve always wondered if Woody himself was sitting in the back row in dark glasses, to see how the audience reacted.

If he was there, he had to know he had a winner on his hands, at least with college audiences. We all laughed ourselves sick. I still do, every time I see it. It is a unique experiment.

I had always heard that Woody himself bought the rights to a really, really awful Japanese spy film called Key of Keys (Kokusai himitsu keisatsu: Kagi no kagi) for something like $60,000, and then dubbed his own comedy dialogue onto it. Only partly true, it seems. Actually someone named Henry G. Saperstein, head of the low-budget American International Pictures at the time, bought the rights, and soon realized the damn thing was too complicated (and probably too stupid) to release as a straight thriller, so he hired Woody to re-write it. Woody and some friends did about an hour’s worth, which wasn’t long enough, so Henry S. plugged in some footage of The Lovin’ Spoonful, totally unrelated to anything else, sort of like adding sawdust to the baloney. Woody was very pissed of until he saw how well the picture was selling and, being a practical man, stopped complaining.

There’s not much to say about the “plot.” Who cares? Woody was a gag writer and a stand-up comic, had just had a hit with What’s New, Pussycat?, which he had written. This is really the ultimate gag movie. Just about every word out of the “actors’” mouths is totally ridiculous, and most of it is hilarious. He makes a few of the scenes hang together in a semi-logical way, but most of it us just one-liners. Then he will do something completely off the wall like having a hair get stuck in the projector, and the projectionist’s hand try to grab it, and a girl’s shadow hand come into the picture, and romance ensues … totally juvenile, and I love it all.