What’s New Pussycat?

WHAT’S NEW PUSSYCAT? asks a second question: did people actually laugh at this in 1965? They certainly went to see it, the $22,800,000 gross was the year’s 8th biggest haul. Those who didn’t go at least heard about it, since the Burt Bacharach-Hal David title tune, sung by Tom Jones, was blaring on the radio for 12 weeks, peaking at #3. It even got an Oscar nomination, though a better bet would have been Tom’s same year belting for Thunderball. “The Shadow Of Your Smile” won, from The Sandpiper, another of ’65’s big, heavily publicized hits. Its pretentious drama has more unintentional laughs than this embarrassingly strained, pseudo-hip relic.

‘Michael James’ (Peter O’Toole) loves his fiancée ‘Carole’ (Romy Schneider) but is so oversexed he can’t resist the other beautiful women who throw themselves at him. His nutjob psychoanalyst, ‘Dr. Fritz Fassbender’ (Peter Sellers) is little help, since he’s obsessed with a patient, who is another of Michael’s string of ‘pussycats’. Likewise, Michael’s neurotic buddy ‘Victor Shakapopulis’ (Woody Allen) has his own sex life (such as it is) complicated by Carole, trying to make Michael jealous.

Shot in France, in Paris, Val-d’Oise and Chaumontel, it’s a garish, gaudy groaner with tons of frenzied activity and a mere handful of chuckles. Clive Donner’s direction is hopeless, a lead balloon. Besides the winning, always adept Schneider, the other chief lovelies on hand are Paula Prentiss (sexy and game but wasted), Capucine (giving her all for little) and Ursula Andress (there mainly to display one of the era’s greatest bods). The ladies look smashing in the color camerawork from Jean Badel. O’Toole gallantly works the increasingly insipid situations, and Sellers goes bonkers but it’s just noise in a vacuum. Frenzy doesn’t equal funny.

Originally conceived by Warren Beatty as a satire on sex addiction (playing off his reputation as a lothario), the script was written by Allen, his first go at a feature credit, and this marked his first acting job as well. Beatty dropped out, then over the course of the production, star egos and producers demands made a hash of Allen’s concepts. The popularity of O’Toole and Sellers, the hunger generated for anything Euro-flavored, zany and sex-related drew crowds. It didn’t hurt that “Playboy” revealed Prentiss stripped for action (those scenes cut from US prints, and gone forever). Aside from providing gaga gazing at the girls, it’s a resounding waste of talent. *

With Eddra Gale, Katrin Schaake and Francoise Hardy. Richard Burton does an in-joke cameo. 108 minutes.

* Woody: “I had written what I felt was a very offbeat, uncommercial film. And the producers I turned it over to were the quintessential Hollywood machine. They undertook to execute this project with everything that everyone hates about Hollywood films. People that had no sense of humor deciding what’s funny and what’s not….And just about every creative decision made was incorrect.”

The ego-spoiled shoot was almost marked by a real tragedy when high-strung Prentiss suffered a nervous breakdown and nearly killed herself on the set. As she put it “One day during shooting I just climbed up the ropes to the catwalk and started walking the beams. Very loudly and clearly I called down to everyone on the set, ‘I’m going to jump.’ A French technician grabbed me, and there I was, hanging by one arm.” She spent nine months in the Payne Whitney Psychiatric Clinic.



One thought on “What’s New Pussycat?

  1. I didn’t see it when it came out, don’t know why, but I certainly recognized Woody’s jokes (not the jokes them selves, but the style of joke) and enjoyed them.
    The tiny bit where Toulouse Lautrec is walking through a sidewalk café and joins Van Gogh with a bandaged ear, come on! That’s funny! I got lots of laughs through out, like Dick Burton in the bar.
    Thanks for the disc!

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