Woody Allen Year: What’s Up Tiger Lily? (1966)

by Jaime Grijalba.

What a weird concept this must’ve been at the time this movie was released, no wonder that it was such a mess in the end, and I mean that in the most positive light that I can think of, I love this mess, I adore it, it’s one of the best messy pictures ever made and I love every second of it. I mean, I know that the appreciation must come later, but I think I need to say this from the get-go, this movie needs more people that defend it, it’s very maligned in the filmography of Woody Allen, and I actually genuinely believe that it’s one of his better films that he directed (or kinda directed).

For a film that even Woody Allen has repeatedly disowned and continued to diss after many years have gone by, it still maintains a charm for those people who adore his work, like myself. From the opening credits at the start of the film we see a movie that cashes in with the Woody Allen persona, with an animated caricature of him going around pulling out the names of the producers (and himself) from the strangest places of asian women’s bodies. It is disturbing to see this nowadays, as if Woody Allen’s taste for the asian flesh was already something known at the time of his first film, but there are more interesting things to talk about.

For example, the fact that this is the first film directed by Woody Allen, and it already has his name and persona, as if he already was among the most famous elements of the film industry, only writing and acting in one movie beforehand. It’s then that you realize the strength and extent that television had in those days, where Woody Allen would appear in some live or taped television shows like ‘Candid Camera’ or ‘The Dick Cavett Show’, where he would do some stand up, talk about his life or do an act or two based around his already famous “glass-wearing” persona.

The movie is somewhat now a tired and at times inventive project that made some people very famous at their own time. Woody Allen takes a japanese spy film under the direction of the distribuitors (because, he, after all thinks that danger and fear are his various breads and various butters) and dubs it over with a funny soundtrack, altering the story completely. Or at least that’s what he says in the introduction, a funny scene in which we are not only presented with the concept of a movie that has a dub over it telling a different story than the original movie, but also to Woody Allen’s self-imposted comedic persona.

I must think how it would’ve been for people at that time, to enter the movie and be confronted with five minutes of badly cut japanese spy film footage without subtitles or dubbing, I mean, I do wonder how would I react if they tell me I’ll see a Woody Allen film and they show me swedish people talking. That’s when the needfulness of that scene is particular in this case, this was most clearly the first time something like this was done for the sake of a joke, humour, and not unintentionally (or intentionally to adapt the story to the market) changing the meaning and the words the people say.

The original japanese film ‘Kagi no Kagi’ (1965) was about the search of a microfilm, and it was the third installment of a series of movies on spies. In this particular twist release of the film, it was given another title (to cash in on the success of the earlier Woody Allen scripted film) and changed around so the search would be for a recipe of an egg salad. Such recipe would make the owner the one who rules heaven and earth.

The movie isn’t really that confusing if you pay attention to the plot beyond the jokes that are spurt out every two seconds. There are large stretches where there’s no dialogue and it seems as if it was the original movie being dubbed, as the difference between what is said and what is heard isn’t that much noticeable, given the context that is. In a way, it makes me want to see the unedited original japanese film, and maybe I’ll be left dissapointed on the merits of the film itself, because it is the new dialogue and the experimental/playfulness of the presence of the film being dubbed is quite interesting on its own.

There are three clear instances (besides the opening introduction) in which Woody Allen appears and alters the film or the context in any way. The first one is past the 40 minute mark, where the presenter asks Woody if he cared to explain what was going on in the movie, to which request is denied. The second time is a gag in which the film stops and we see the projectionist and its love story. The third time is the ending of the film, when his supposed wife (non-existant at that time) strips in front of the audience as some credits go down.

Those elements come as a reminder more than anything that this is, even if he denies it, a Woody Allen movie. His presence and persona does come to the aid of how we see this movie, it’s a mess, it has bits of a band “The Lovin’ Spoonful” singing live to a dancing audience, all of this made to pan out the movie, something that is truly distracting only if you haven’t read about it beforehand.

If there is a problem with the movie (the jokes are great and even naughty at times, something that Woody would later qualify as vulgar) is that it isn’t really directed by Woody itself except for the extra bits, we are missing a new perspective on the material, and maybe Woody would make a good spy movie now in his later days of work as one of the most memorable directors.

There is a common thread on the first movies that Woody worked on, they were all a mess and a production hell, but this one takes (my) the cake, because it can overshadow any of its problems by curing itself of them, continuing the jokes, repeating them and then becoming more and more of a mess, until it becomes a beautiful thing that you can’t really describe.

But it is just a dubbed film in the end.

Stupid, but oh, so much fun.

9/10

2 responses to “Woody Allen Year: What’s Up Tiger Lily? (1966)

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