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What's Up, Tiger Lily?

What's Up, Tiger Lily?

In the mid-60's, American International acquired a Japanese spy picture called Kokusai Himitsu Keisatsu - Kagi No Kagi, but test screenings in the States showed that Americans didn't like the film, and what's worse, tended to make fun of it. AIP head Henry Saperstein came up with a way to salvage his investment: he would have the film re-dubbed with a completely new soundtrack, made intentionally funny to give audiences something legitimate to laugh about. Young Woody Allen had been making a name for himself for the past few years as a comedy writer, and more recently, as a performer in What's New Pussycat (1965). Saperstein gave Allen free reign to redo the film according to his own creatively, and Allen came up with a ridiculous soundtrack and a storyline that involved spies searching for a top-secret egg salad recipe.

Such onscreen spoofing is something more modern audiences are accustomed to; fans of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and similar shows almost find themselves obligated to make fun of movies as they play, throwing out sarcastic comments, making up funny dialog for the actors, or just planting random jokes as they watch. (A more specific example: Mad Movies by the comedy group called The L.A. Connection, which appeared on Nickelodeon's Nick At Nite series, re-dubbed portions of older films and television shows exactly as Allen had.) But in 1966, it was still a novel idea, uncharted terriority for a young writer to make his mark.

That being said, WUTL isn't really a laugh-fest. The film (which was re-edited by Allen, with scenes switched around, some dropped, and a few small ones added) starts out slowly, and the jokes don't fly as fast as one would expect them to, given the premise behind the project. While much of the humor is random and downright silly, a lot of it is, as Allen himself admits, "stupid and juvenile." In other words, it is something of a bungled opportunity, and modern viewers will probably find it a bit dated and disappointing. One would expect more from the man who was obviously such a talented writer and standup performer, and who went on to become such a skilled director.

Notable notes: A few scenes of then-hot musical group The Lovin' Spoonful were added, fairly clumsily, into the film; this was done after Allen had delivered his version, and without his consent (which probably influenced his determination to gain creative control over future films). What's Up, Tiger Lily? is an apparent, slightly Asian-tinged spoof of the title of Allen's recent hit film, What's New, Pussycat? The original Japanese version was no lightweiht B-picture; it featured some of the top Japanese stars of the 1960's, including Mie Hama and Akiko Wakabayashi (soon to appear in the James Bond flick You Only Live Twice - perhaps as a result of this film?). WUTL ends with a striptease by nude model China Lee.

What's Up, Tiger Lily? - 1966
Direction: Woody Allen; Senkichi Taniguchi
Screenplay: (redub) Woody Allen, Julie Bennett, Frank Buxton, Louise Lasser, Len Maxwell
Featuring: Tatsuya Mihashi, Akiko Wakabayashi, Mie Hama, Tadao Nakamura, Susumu Kurobe

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