A quick hit of Google shows the word “farce” defined as “a comic dramatic work using buffoonery and horseplay and typically including crude characterization and ludicrously improbable situations”, and I can think of no more apt description of 1965’s What’s New Pussycat? than that.
Directed by Clive Donner and starring (among many others) Peter O’Toole, Peter Sellers, and Woody Allen, the movie was actually Allen’s film debut, and also his first produced script, and it shows all of the comedic restraint of a Marx Brothers movie on uppers combined with an ending that seems to come straight from a Keystone Kops comedy. In other words, none at all.
The plot of the film, such as it is, finds O’Toole playing Michael James, a notorious womanizer – today he would probably be described as a sex addict – who is trying to find a way to be faithful to his girlfriend (portrayed by the lovely Romy Schneider) – while he decides whether or not he is actually ready to settle down and marry her. This decision is not made any easier by the fact that every where he turns there is another beautiful woman who falls for him and wants to take him into her bed.
Meanwhile, Peter Sellers, in the role of Michael’s long-haired Austrian-accented psychoanalyst Dr. Fassbender proves to be of very little help since he is also cavorting with one of his patients while trying to avoid a run in with his literally Brunhilda-like wife (yes, in this movie, the “fat lady” does literally sing, though that doesn’t signal that “it’s all over”).
There are also numerous other characters who become involved along the way including Michael’s potential in-laws, his various friends/acquaintances/love interests – including a debuting Ursula Andress who literally falls from the sky into Michael’s car – and, of course Allen himself.
All of this eventually leads to the characters converging on an out-of-the-way French chateau -where all of the rooms are named after famous lovers-as they wind up converging in a single room in a scene that can’t help but remind one of the packed stateroom in the Marx Brothers film A Night at the Opera.
Oh, and that Keystone Kops reference I made earlier? Yeah, that follows soon after when the entire entourage is chased by a number of policemen across the city to a scene that eventually winds up in an extended go-cart chase complete with crashes galore.
As I noted above, this is not exactly the kind of movie where the word “restraint” is applicable, except for one notable exception, and that comes, surprisingly, from Woody Allen. That’s not to say he fits in any less than the other characters as far as the comedic absurdity goes, but fortunately at this point he had not yet developed the twitchy characterization of “Woody Allen” that would soon become the focal point of his early comedy and the leading characteristic of those trying to impersonate him.
In the end, there really is a lot to like about this movie – despite the impression I may have made so far, there are the touches of brilliance and great lines that characterize any of Allen’s scripts – but your enjoyment is really going to come down to just how much you can accept the broad over the top characterizations and yes, farcical elements of the plot and script and your tolerance level for out and out absurdity. Personally, I say give it a go, but be careful. There may just be a runaway go-cart right around the corner.