For my second installment in the Woody Allen blogathon, I am going to profile one of my all-time favorites–Allen’s first directed film, What’s Up, Tiger Lily?
After the success of his script What’s New, Pussycat the previous year, Allen was ready to try his hand at directing. For his next project, he chose to not work so hard, and rely on the very simple comedy that comes from turning off the volume on a video and adding your own dialogue.
This movie is so ridiculous I feel like I can’t even communicate it properly. Basically, the premise is this: a secret agent, Phil Moskowitz, is hired by a king of a strange country (“nonexistent, but real-sounding”) to find the world’s best egg salad recipe that was stolen from him. The catch (as though there had to be more of a catch than that) is that this movie was not filmed or created, per se, by Woody Allen–it is simply a series of clips from a very serious Japanese spy movie, with all the dialogue cut out and replaced with Allen’s own.
The characters traverse all over the globe in search of this egg salad recipe, and in the process they get stuck in a safe, stuck on a boat getting shot at, and other ridiculous circumstances that could only happen in a movie like this.
The plot is so crazy that it’s quite hard to follow, if it was supposed to have been followed at all, which is doubtful. The jokes are silly and often quite dumb, which is part of its charm–to say this film doesn’t take itself seriously is a massive understatement. Actor Tatsuya Mihashi plays Phil Moskowitz (yes, I know), and his character is all over the map all the time. In fact, none of the characters have any sort of development, which makes it markedly different from the previous Woody Allen film I profiled, Annie Hall, but it gives the movie a feel of improvisation. Given the subject matter, that makes it all the more hilarious.
Interspersed in between scenes are oddly-placed musical numbers performed by The Lovin’ Spoonful:
These were added against Woody Allen’s wishes, and I really don’t know who had the strange idea to have a folk group appear in a movie like this. The songs are catchy and great, but they really don’t fit. After this experience, Allen sought to have creative approval for the rest of his films, which was probably a smart move.
The end credits may be the best part of What’s Up, Tiger Lily. They have nothing to do with the rest of the movie, but instead feature a striptease:
If the movie has a flaw, it would be that the general insanity of the plot makes it either absolutely fall-down funny, or very puzzling and boring. Especially with the interspersion of the Lovin’ Spoonful numbers, the movie has an air of being unfinished or badly edited, which might be a turnoff to some viewers, but in all honesty, if it had a real structure it would be a completely different film and probably a whole lot less funny.
If you would like to see What’s Up, Tiger Lily and you don’t have Netflix, you might have some trouble finding it. I know it’s available to buy on Amazon.com and to view on Netflix, but I have never found it in any mainstream video stores. I wish it were more widely available, because I think it’s a Woody Allen treasure that not a lot of people are familiar with.