Probably the most obscure entry in Woody’s filmography, What’s Up, Tiger Lily? takes a Japanese James Bond rip-off (International Secret Police: Key of Keys) and rips it off further by dubbing new dialogue over the top. In the process, Woody created a comedy with an entirely new plot about a high stakes hunt for the world’s best egg salad recipe. Everything in the film is rip-off; even the title is an attempt to cash in on the totally unrelated What’s New Pussycat.
Woody Allen does appear in the film, in an introductory scene, in which he sets up the fairly obvious conceit of the film (in case anyone was confused) and delivers really the only Woody-esque line:
They wanted in Hollywood to make the definitive spy picture. And they came to me to supervise the project, you know, because I think that, if you know me at all, you know that death is my bread and danger my butter. No, danger’s my bread, and death is my butter. No, no, wait. Danger’s my bread, death… no, death is.. no, I’m sorry. Death is my – death and danger are my various breads and various butters.
Woody also appears in an epilogue which is essentially just him lying on a couch watching playmate China Lee strip, before turning to the camera and admitting he had promised her a role in the picture. The irony is that for this scene, Woody’s own voice was dubbed! He had originally ‘directed’ this film for television, however his producers decided to extend the film with more (mostly joke free) re-dubbed scenes from the same Japanese spy series and to add some musical interludes by The Lovin’ Spoonfull – at which point Woody walked.
Usually when we think of music in Woody Allen films we think of Cole Porter, George Gershwin and the like. The Lovin’ Spoonfull, not so much. But then there is little about this film that resembles the filmmaker’s later work. Like What’s New Pussycat, this was a job for hire, and given how radically it was altered, it’s possible that this is what spurred him on to not only direct his own films but to demand complete creative control.
Is the film funny? Not for me. It’s fairly juvenile, a bit sexist, a bit more racist. It has some occasionally funny lines, someone does a pretty good Peter Lorre impersonation at one point and there’s a very meta bit where the film stops on a frame and we see some feeble shadow puppetry from the projectionist. But that’s it really. Reading about this film online, I know it has a lot of fans out there who still find it hilarious. Maybe you need to see it in a cinema with an audience. Maybe the audience needs to be high.
As a completist and a devotee, the film has some points of interest, with both Louise Lasser (Woody’s wife at the time) and Mickey Rose (his later co-screenwriter) listed in the voice cast. For complete completists, there is a second version of this film available in in the US with slightly different jokes. I don’t think I need to see it. I’m really looking forward to moving on to the start of the Woody Allen canon proper.
Next week: Take The Money And Run.