Cult Movie: Woody Allen's screenwriting debut an 'impurrfect' picture - but not without its period charms

Peter O'Toole and a heavily bewigged Peter Sellers bring a touch of class to this 60s screwball comedy
Ralph McLean

What's New Pussycat?

IT'S doubtful if Woody Allen looks back on What's New Pussycat? with anything other than total disdain. Yet even if it failed to set wee Woody's world alight in 1965, it's certainly of historic note as the then stand-up comic's first foray into screenplay writing.

Allen, in fact, was so disillusioned with the end result of his work that he swiftly decided to steer well clear of any future film gigs. The lure of a director's credit soon put that notion to bed, however, and he delivered another swinging 60s curio with What's Up Tiger Lily? the following year – but the bad taste remained.

Watching the colourful nonsense of Pussycat today, it's easy to see why Allen was so disillusioned. As a comedic film, this is sorely lacking in genuine humour – but if that leaves a huge hole in proceedings then the cast and crew involved do their level best to fill it with a ton of 60s whimsy and general silliness.

Let's get the good stuff out of the way first: that Burt Bacharach and Hal David penned theme tune is a serious ear worm and Tom Jones tears into it like a man possessed. The cast, fronted by the great Peter O'Toole and Peter Sellers in the most outrageously fake outgrown Beatles wig ever, cruise along blissfully, making the most of the wacky material thrown their way. Even Woody himself gets in on the act, adding an acting credit to his writing one and looking ill at ease throughout.

The plot is essentially the simple tale of ladies' man Michael (O'Toole), his crazed psychiatrist (Sellers) and his sex-starved awkward little friend (Allen). Worried that his potential fiancé (Romy Schneider) might just kill him if he doesn't change his ways, Michael gets deeper into his therapy in an attempt to change his womanising ways. With the likes of Ursula Andress lurking around, that's easier said than done of course.

Director Clive Donner (The Caretaker) keeps all this nonsense rattling along at a classic 60s screwball comedy high pace and there are enough purring and groovy sex kittens to make Austin Powers green with envy.

The film is set around picturesque Paris and the surrounding French countryside, so it's good to look at, and there are enough diverting set pieces – including a ridiculous go-cart race – to cover up the fact that most of the gags are so weak they wouldn't make the cut at a kids' party.

O'Toole is the best of that starry cast. He inherited the role from Warren Beatty, who was attached throughout the film's pre-production before walking out when things got serious, but he adds class to what is a tissue-thin project at best.

Of course, if you like frivolous screwball comic capers, bad Beatles wigs and masterful pop songs (Bacharach and David's timeless My Little Red Book also graces the soundtrack at one point) – and I have to admit that I often do – then What's New Pussycat? might just be your bag.

Just don't tell Woody.

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