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Entries in What's Up Tiger Lily [1966] (1)


What's Up, Tiger Lily? (1966) Home Video Review

Dub and Dubber

By now, you're probably as tired of reading about Woody Allen films as you are the Transformers. I promise, after What's Up, Tiger Lily?, I've got one more up my sleeve and then I'm taking a break. It's not that I'm sick of these movies; on the contrary, I can't get enough of them. I've reached the point where everything else is just not interesting anymore, a classic case of too much cake and not enough sprouts.

"Come on!" you might think. "Allen just makes the same movie over and over again: a neurotic writer complains about relationships and seduces beautiful women who wouldn't give a jittery mess like him the time of day in real life. They're all stupid and devoid of explosions."

Aha! How about this little curve ball, the writer/director's very first picture? What's Up, Tiger Lily? begins as a Japanese James Bond spoof, with a pair of daring detectives/spies rushing into a villain's lair to rescue a damsel who's been bound to a table saw. A choppily edited, over-the-top fight ensues, and just before things get really interesting, we cut to a lush, book-lined office, where Woody Allen talks about his latest project: dubbing Japanese actors with American voices in order to change the intent of the film (a technique that, he claims, worked wonderfully on Gone with the Wind).

The spy movie resumes, now with wacky voices and sound effects filling every scene with bizarre, comic opportunities. The source material, actually a mash-up of two bad spy thrillers, International Secret Police: A Barrel of Gunpowder and International Secret Police: Key of Keys, has something to do with a boozy looking Asian man of mystery working both sides of a crime-syndicate war to retrieve top-secret microfilm. In Allen's hands, though, the plot becomes a mini-adventure for Phil Moscowitz (Tatsuya Mihashi), in which he must return a stolen egg salad recipe for the leader of the "non-existent but real-sounding country" of Raspur.

This is one of the silliest and most entertaining movies I've seen in awhile. Allen co-wrote the feature with Julie Bennett, Mickey Rose, and Bryan Wilson, along with three of his voice actors, Louise Lasser, Len Maxwell and Frank Buxton, and there's a great old-time radio vibe to the proceedings. The movie doesn't feel written so much as spontaneously performed--even more so than the series it most obviously resembles, Mystery Science Theatre 3000.

The weirdest part, though--a hilarity enhancing X-factor--is that the plot the creators make up out of their own heads doesn't seem to be that far removed from whatever it is the original filmmakers had in mind. Editor Richard Krown cuts everything together in a way that makes perfect sense; aside from Mihashi's goofy, Robert Mitchum smile, you could watch What's Up, Tiger Lily? with the sound off and experience a mostly coherent spy movie. It's a testament to Allen and his team of nut jobs that I actually got wrapped up in the hunt for the egg salad recipe; the frequent giggle fits were just a bonus.

To punch up his kooky premise, Allen plays with the original movies, rewinding and fast-forwarding scenes, inserting Monkees-esque concert footage of The Lovin' Spoonful (who perform all of the original music), and even stopping the picture for for a hand-puppet show and impromptu make-out session between two shadowy figures. Other directors would employ similar techniques in later spoof movies such as the Naked Gun series and wacky meta-films like Gremlins 2: The New Batch, but it's a mind-blowing treat to see an artist so ahead of his time have this much fun with audience expectations. Sure, the guffawing, grunting henchmen and pun-laced dialogue are straight out of Mad Magazine, but it's so sharp, original, and--most importantly--funny that I can't imagine anyone not having a great time with this film.