It is over a year since I first announced my intentions to watch every film Woody Allen has ever made. The reason for my delay is easy to explain and there is only one thing to blame. Not so coincidentally what caused the delay just happens to be Woody Allen’s very first film What’s New Pussycat?
When I first watched Pussycat this time last year I was so demotivated that I couldn’t bring myself to even begin trying to review it. Last week I felt the need to get this project off the ground again and popped the DVD back into my TV in an attempt to give the film a second chance. At first the film seemed to be better than my recollection; the lines were witty and I couldn’t see too much of the over-the-top slapstick I had remembered.
The film stars Peter O’Toole as a notorious womaniser, Peter Sellers as a mad psychotherapist, and Woody Allen as… a character I can’t quite define through memory alone; it’s that kind of film. After a series of debauched comedic scenes the film reaches a climax as all the characters come together in a French hotel famous for housing dirty weekends, a farcical chase ensues, and the film ends with a go-kart race. As the film wore on and the witty dialogue was replaced with tedious scenes and then a try-hard farce.
The cast may well be stellar and Allen himself was on top form but the film simply does not properly reflect Allen’s humour and you can’t help but think that this was not the film he wrote and can easily understand why he would never let anyone else direct his screenplays again.
It’s not just me being fussy, the history of Pussycat is riddled with creative disputes. Despite being named after the way Warren Beatty answered the phone he was kicked off the film after complaining too much to producer Charles K. Feldman. Feldman had hired Woody Allen to rewrite the script and was more concerned with getting his girlfriend apart than ensuring that Beatty’s role remained intact. Allen himself was not happy with the film, even refusing Pussycat to see it after its release in New York. Allen has said that, “I had written what I felt was a very off-beat, uncommercial film. And the producers I turned it over to were the quintessential Hollywood machine.”
Warren Beatty himself has said that, “I’ve often thought that one experience made Woody a producer, and me a producer, because never again did we want to lose control over something that we’d created.” While Allen only has a producing credit on one film, he certainly insisted on taking over the directing reins for all future projects.
Is What’s New Pussycat? really that bad? Sadly I think that it is. It wastes the comedy talents of both Allen and Sellers, the latter suffering from an awful choice of wig, and O’Toole doesn’t do himself any favours either. I can’t even give a more detailed synopsis or critique in with greater specificity the film disagreed with me so much. Without Allen at the helm to give his words their due we are left with a mess. Some lines of superb dialogue do sneak through the cracks but I’ve found them much more amusing in researching this piece than I did when watching the film.
I suppose if one good thing came from this cinematic debacle it’s that we got an original song sung by Tom Jones. (Whoa, whoa!) But that hardly makes up for a 98 minute film that feels like three hours.
Foiled by a cheap cinematic trick!