What's New Pussycat?
MGM // Unrated // $14.95 // June 7, 2005
Review by Francis Rizzo III | posted May 19, 2005
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In 10 Words or Less
Woody Allen's first film was not quite his best film

The Movie
What's New Pussycat? is better remembered for its classic theme, sung by the remarkable Tom Jones, than anything that happens on-screen. That's for good reason, as despite the presence of Woody Allen (in his first film role and first script), Peter Sellers (The Pink Panther) and Peter O'Toole (Lawrence of Arabia, the film is a confused and contrived curiosity from the age of free love.

O'Toole is Michael, a magazine editor who turns on every woman he meets, including the adorable Carole (Romy Schneider), sexy but mental stripper Liz (Paula Prentiss) and upper-crust nymphomaniac Renee (Capucine). He loves Carole, but is unable to keep it in his pants, which leads him to trouble. Seeking a solution, he visits a psychologist, Dr. Fritz Fassbender (Sellers), who is more messed up than he is. The same can be said for Michael's nebbish pal Victor (Allen), the opposite of O'Toole's swinging bachelor. It's the first of many such roles for Allen, and he's got the act down cold right out of the gate.

The film is loaded with bed-hopping and witty one-liners, as Sellers' bumbles his way though the film as a would-be lothario, playing a one-note joke, but getting more out of it than anyone else might have been able to. The movie doesn't exactly make much sense, stringing together jokes and misunderstandings, before culminating in a Scooby-Doo-style chase climax that can only be described as "wacky," involving go-carts, an orgy and a fat opera-singing valkyrie. Benny Hill must have been proud. If there's any reason to watch this movie, it's this scene, the kind that you just don't see anymore.

As seen in 1986's Hamburger: The Motion Picture, the concept of a man too attractive to women is a fun idea if the guy is likable, and O'Toole fills that bill. Of course, the relationships have to work and be as different from each other as possible. Schneider, as the woman wronged, is just right for the part, while Prentiss is a bit too over-the-top as a suicidal stripper. Even in a small part, Ursula Andress is great, providing a bit more sexiness to the proceedings Only Capucine comes off as a weak link, as she just sort of floats through the film. That she manages to be meaningless in a movie so bereft of meaning is pretty impressive in its own right.

There's no enjoying this film as a proper movie, as the plot is all but pointless. View it instead as a memory of a time long gone; a chance to watch Sellers, Allen and O'Toole ham it up; and one hell of a guilty pleasure; and you should have a better go of it.

A standard MGM catalog release, What's New Pussycat? is a one-disc edition, with your usual black keepcase and no insert. The menus are static anamorphic widescreen, with options to watch the film, select scenes, choose languages and view the trailer. The scene selection menus have still previews and titles for each scene, while language options include English, French and Spanish soundtracks and subtitles.

The Quality
The menus may be anamorphic, but the transfer certainly isn't, presented instead in letterboxed widescreen. Why bother with anamorphic menus if you aren't going to do the same for the film? For much of the film, the video is soft and dull, with not much approaching a dark black or a vibrant anything else. It's like watching the movie through a thin screen or like a colorized black and white film. But there are a few moments that look beautiful, unfortunately in the middle of scenes at times. The movie has some issues with light, as the brightness fluctuates at times, and there's occasional damage, like scratches and discoloration.

The audio, presented in Dolby 2.0 Mono, is necessarily low-key thanks to the source material, with a vanilla center-focused presentation. There's a flatness to the sound, especially the score, but there's nothing distorted. I've heard more-impressive mixes, and a film as active as this, a bigger mix might have helped.

The Extras
Another entry in MGM's budget catalog line, this disc has just one extra, the film's theatrical trailer, which is a nice piece of nostalgia as far as trailers go.

The Bottom Line
Woody Allen fans, the kind who used to go and see his films and now lament his spiral into a near-complete lack of relevancy, will want to pick up his first motion picture, perhaps for a sense of completion, possibly in an effort to erase the memory of his recent films, or more likely to try and recapture the magic once had with a long-ago cinematic lover. As a goofy bit of '60s camp, the film works, but if you're looking for classic Allen, don't rewind so far, and catch the subsequent What's Up, Tiger Lily? instead. For the price, this letterboxed version is an OK pick-up, but don't expect too much, despite Sellers and O'Toole's starring roles.

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