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What's Up, Tiger Lily?
Remind Me

What's Up, Tiger Lily?

By today's standards, it doesn't seem like such a novel movie concept -- take a low-budget film, re-dub the soundtrack adding new dialogue, music and sound effects, and create an entirely new experience. That's what Steve Oedekerk did recently in Kung Pow: Enter the Fist (2002) -- he reworked a 1977 martial-arts movie entitled Savage Killers. And before him, the Mystery Science Theatre gang was dabbling in similar territory, inserting their presence into films like This Island Earth (1954) while providing a steady stream of wisecracks and insults to accompany the original soundtrack. The real master of the form, however, is Woody Allen, who first explored the concept in What's Up, Tiger Lily? (1966), a crazy-quilt concoction that is alternately hilarious and absurd and includes random appearances by The Lovin' Spoonful, John Sebastian's folk-rock group. Sight and Sound magazine proclaimed it "a frantic counterpoint of sound and image as deliriously silly as a Tex Avery cartoon...this inspired screwball one-off remains as fresh as the day it was born."

On the strength of his success as the screenwriter of What's New, Pussycat? (1965), a surprise box-office hit, Allen was offered an unusual project -- to write comic dialogue for a Japanese spy thriller entitled Kagi No Kagi (Key of Keys). American International Pictures, the distributor, had already created an English-dubbed version of the film, but when it was previewed before audiences it provoked intermittent gales of laughter. Producer Henry G. Saperstein suddenly had a brainstorm -- why not take it to the other extreme and record comical dialogue for the entire film? Allen's genius for one-liners and stand-up comedy were well known and he soon focused all of his attention on the re-editing and re-dubbing of Kagi No Kagi.

Operating on a limited budget of $75,000, Allen and several actors, including Louise Lasser, Frank Buxton and Lenny Maxwell, holed up in a room at the Stanhope Hotel in New York City and screened the film several times, compiling jokes, one-liners and funny dialogue which were then worked into the script. The new plot centers around Phil Moscowitz, a Japanese imitation of James Bond, who is on a quest to find the world's greatest egg salad recipe, before it falls into the wrong hands. The outrageous incongruity of the whole enterprise is heightened even further by the ethnic New York accents (Allen, Lasser and screenwriter Mickey Rose provided the voices) emanating from the mouths of the Japanese cast. Typical of the film's humor is the scene where a scantily clad female spy, wearing a raincoat, creeps up on a male adversary and flashes him as she pops the question, "Quick, name three presidents."

After re-dubbing the dialogue, Allen still felt that the movie needed some padding so he added a few comic inserts featuring himself and a handful of sight gags, bringing the running time to barely over an hour. You'll notice that Allen makes four appearances in What's Up, Tiger Lily?: first as an animated character in the title sequence, then as an interview subject, later as a superimposed silhouette on the screen, and finally as an observer to a striptease performed by former Playboy centerfold China Lee (the real-life wife of comedian Mort Sahl).

After Allen left the project, the producer felt that the running time was still too short and stepped in to add additional scenes and several musical interludes featuring the top-forty hitmakers The Lovin' Spoonful, who perform "Fishin' Blues," "Respoken," "Pow," and other tunes. Allen was so angered by Saperstein's meddling with the project that he sued him and tried to halt the picture's release. His attitude changed though once the reviews began to appear and several mainstream critics actually praised the movie's sense of lunacy and comic invention. If nothing else, What's Up, Tiger Lily? launched Allen's directorial career and is a virtual blueprint of his humor and comic obsessions, which would be further developed in his later films. It was also during the making of this film that Allen married his fellow collaborator, Louise Lasser, who would later score a hit as the title character in the TV soap opera parody, Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman (1976).

Producer: Woody Allen, Henry G. Saperstein
Director: Woody Allen
Screenplay: Woody Allen, Julie Bennett, Frank Buxton, Louise Lasser, Mickey Rose, Bryan Wilson
Cinematography: Kazuo Yamada
Editing: Richard Krown
Music: Jack Lewis, The Lovin' Spoonful
Principal Cast: Woody Allen (Narrator/Host/Voice), Tatsuya Mihashi (Phil Moskowitz), Mie Hama (Terri Yaki), Akiko Wakabayashi (Suki Yaki), Tadao Nakamaru (Shepherd Wong), Susumu Kurobe (Wing Fat).
C-80m. Letterboxed.

by Jeff Stafford