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  What's New Pussycat? Cherchez La Femme
Year: 1965
Director: Clive Donner
Stars: Peter O'Toole, Peter Sellers, Romy Schneider, Woody Allen, Paula Prentiss, Capucine, Ursula Andress, Eddra Gale, Katrin Schaake, Eleonore Hirt, Jess Hahn, Jacques Balutin, Howard Vernon, Richard Burton, Françoise Hardy
Genre: Comedy, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 2 votes)
Review: Psychiatrist Fritz Fassbender (Peter Sellers) is rowing with his wife about his lack of fidelity when a patient arrives, Paris fashion magazine editor Michael James (Peter O'Toole). Lying down on the couch in the office, Michael begins to tell the doctor about his problems with women, which started at a young age because in a certain light he's almost handsome, and women find him irresistable. Now his girlfriend Carole (Romy Schneider) wants to get married, but Michael doesn't feel ready as all these ladies are still throwing themselves at him, so what is he to do? Fassbender is no help, and orders him out of the office due to only being able to listen to him for fifteen minutes at a time - it seems everyone has their troubles with romance these days...

Supposedly based on the love life of Warren Beatty, who was originally meant to star (the title was one of his chat up lines), What's New Pussycat? was scripted by Woody Allen, who also appeared in the cast in his first big screen role. His familiar obsessions with the problems love and sex bring to a relationship inform the comedy, but they're a lot more cruder in the execution than the scripts Allen would direct later, although many of the lines feature that distinctive quality of the star. And not only that, his familiar persona of the wisecracking, lovelorn coward is almost fully formed here, so much so that you wish he had more to do than simply play in support to the other, more prominent, overacting actors.

Allen plays Victor, Michael's friend who is also in love with Carole, but whose awkward attempts to seduce her end up failing. Michael strikes up a friendship with Fassbender after they meet by chance in a strip club where Victor works as an assistant to the girls (the job is only twenty francs a week, but "that's all I could afford"). Not only that, but that night Michael finds himself back at the apartment of Liz (Paula Prentiss), a stripper and aspiring poet who attempts suicide when he tries to make excuses and leave; this self destructive nature is made light of and in a running gag she attempts to kill herself with pills a few more times during the course of the film.

The beautiful actresses continue to pile up: there's another patient of Dr Fassbender's, Renee (Capucine), who also falls for the charms of Michael, despite all along Carole seeming the most appropriate for him. It's as if the film is as flighty as its main character, wanting to pack in as many nubile ladies as it can before the fun has to end - in two minds whether settling down is a good idea or not. O'Toole and Sellers are allowed to indulge themselves terribly, with an overextended drunk act a particular lowlight and Sellers' psychiatrist not so much a spoof on Sigmund Freud as an excuse to put on a funny accent and wig, all at the top of his voice. However, it is interesting to see him share a scene or two with Allen, especially in another suicide scene.

Without much of a story to lean on, What's New Pussycat? tends to dawdle around tired aspects of a typical sex farce. That's not to say its doesn't raise the odd laugh, because it does; I like Victor's attempt to impress the women by buying a sports car that he ends up hopelessly driving on the pavement, or Michael's pleading gesture when it all gets too much turning in to a sincere prayer ("Our Father..."). The film's grand finale is set in a hotel where men take their mistresses, out in the French countryside, and contrives to have all the cast members running about after each other, one even carrying a bomb. Ursula Andress parachutes into Michael's car for no reason other than yet more temptation now he has become engaged, and despite pointing out the "Author's Message" about finding and staying with the one you love earlier on, the real message is confused, if it ever needed one. Music by Burt Bacharach, including the theme song bellowed by Tom Jones.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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