Tuesday, June 11, 2013

#1,030. What's Up, Tiger Lily? (1966)

Directed By: Woody Allen, Senkichi Taniguchi

Starring: Tatsuya Mihashi, Akiko Wakabayashi, Mie Hama


Trivia: The two Japanese spy girls in the movie - Akiko Wakabayashi and Mie Hama - also appear together in the James Bond film You Only Live Twice

When A.I.P. (American International Pictures) made a deal to distribute the Japanese spy movie Key of Keys in the U.S., the studio thought they were getting a James Bond-style action film, which, in the mid-1960s, would have been box-office gold. 

Instead, Key of Keys proved to be a truly awful picture, something producer Henry G. Saperstein realized the moment he screened it. 

Saddled with a stinker, the wily Saperstein came up with an interesting idea: why not turn this lousy import into a comedy? 

So, he hired Woody Allen - who had scored a hit a year earlier with What's New, Pussycat? -  to write a script and direct this "new" movie. When Allen was finished, the serious dialogue had been dubbed over, and a terrible Japanese action film suddenly became an incredibly funny American farce.

The premise is hilariously ludicrous: Private eye Phil Moskowitz is hired by the leader of a small country (one that doesn't exist yet) to retrieve a valuable recipe for egg salad, which was stolen by arch-criminal Shepherd Wong. 

With the help of two beautiful sisters, Suki Yaki and Teri Yaki, Moskowitz goes undercover and sneaks his way into Wong's hideout. Once there, he discovers that another criminal, Wing Fat, has also set his sights on the prized recipe. 

Caught between a pair of low-life gangsters, Moskowitz must find a way to recover the recipe without getting himself killed in the process.

As expected, many of the jokes in What's Up, Tiger Lily? come at the expense of the on-screen "action". In one scene, Moskowitz is struck on the back of the head and knocked unconscious. When he finally comes to, he stands up, grabs his head, and, wincing in pain, says "Ow! My leg!

But along with mocking the film itself, Allen also gets laughs by occasionally reminding us we're watching a movie. Early on, two characters are sitting in a strip club, and when the stripper removes her top, her naked breasts are covered by the words "Foreign Version". A more direct reminder comes later on, when the film abruptly stops and the silhouettes of two lovers, having a secret rendezvous, fills the screen (the sequence ends when the man pulls away and says "Not in the projection room. It's against union rules"). By continually winking at the audience, What's Up, Tiger Lily? takes what was already a zany concept and makes it even more insane.

The movie's only flaw is that, even at an abbreviated 80 minutes, it runs a bit too long; in an effort to win over younger viewers, A.I.P. inserted a handful of scenes featuring live performances by the rock band The Lovin' Spoonful, which slow down the pace of the film. 

This minor quibble aside, though, What's Up, Tiger Lily? proved to be an extremely funny motion picture, and I highly recommend it.

1 comment:

Joe Blevins said...

I'm glad you liked this one. It's a long-time favorite of mine. The central joke of the film, as I see it, is that it's about a bunch of Japanese people who act, talk, and think like Jewish-American New Yorkers. (It's so funny to hear Louise Lasser's Noo Yawk voice emerge from the mouth of one of the Japanese actresses saying, "I'll have a regular coffee!") It blew my mind when I got the DVD and discovered there were two similar but distinct soundtracks -- with some different jokes! And I think this might have been the movie that turned me on to the Lovin' Spoonful. "Fishin' Blues" and "Pow" remain favorites of mind.

P.S. - I enjoy this project so much that I hope #2500 never arrives!