What’s New Pussy Cat? 1965, Dir. Clive Donner

To these weary 2011 eyes, it comes as a surprise to learn it was this film that launched the song. More pertinent to the task at hand however, it is the first major screenplay penned by Woody Allen.  Hijinks are the order of the day in this aimless run-about where plot is always intentionally secondary to maximum wise-cracking. Woody Allen’s cap is permanently doffed to Groucho Marx; in fact he he was first in line for the Dr Fritz Fassbender role that eventually went to Peter Sellers.  It doesn’t take much to imagine his delivery of the superbly sophisticated exchanges between Dr. Fritz Fassbender and his wife. Anyone involved in a loveless marriage would do well to take heed:

Dr. Fritz: “Silence when you’re shouting at me!”

Dr. Fritz: “You’re grotesque!”
Anna Fassbender: “Lascivious adulterer!”
Dr. Fritz: “Don’t you dare call me that again until I have looked it up!”

Dr. Fritz: “You’re a bull in an ox’s body!”

Dr. Fritz: “I hate you and I hate you, in that order!”

In production Warren Beatty was to be replaced by Peter O’Toole as the lead, huffing as his role was diminished in favour of Allen’s character.  O’Toole womanizes within an inch of his life in a rare turnout as a Don Draper with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Doesn’t he look like he’s having fun though:

The razor sharp wit and paralysing self-doubt of Allen’s character is instantly recognisable for those familiar with his more established films. Victor is the antithesis to O’Toole’s Michael; effortlessly successful, he constantly fires on all cylinders and picks up the star of the strip club where Victor works.  A fastidious costume designer, he’s found perhaps the single arena where his work would be least appreciated.

Victor, seated outside the Lost Generation's favourite haunt, the Closerie des Lilas in Montparnasse. Van Gogh and Toulouse Lautrec can be spotted quaffing pernod at the next table.

The film culminates in a chase scene where sex-starved maniac is in hot pursuit of sex-starved maniac… who is in turn hoofing it after yet another sex-starved maniac. Scrappy, yet wildly riotous, it wouldn’t feel out of place in a Buster Keaton picture. Looking ahead, Allen’s prodding of psychoanalysis, an aversion to commitment and inferiority complex for a laugh, will of course be resurrected. Only the underdog will have a little more meat on the bone.

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