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Thursday, October 27, 2011

What's New Pussycat? 1965

This is one hell of a movie.  And for modern audiences, it is one of the more watchable old films.  What's New Pussycat? is part of a genre of sex comedies, which pushed the boundaries of the production code, which by 1968 was completely abandoned in favor of the MPAA rating system that we all know and love.

Its the story of Michael James, womanizer.  (Peter O'Toole)  He is trying to be faithful to his fiance, Carole, so he goes to see analyst Dr. Fritz Fassbender (Peter Sellers) to help him stop cheating on his girlfriend.

It's perfectly clear from the beginning of the movie that Dr. Fassbender is completely insane.  He cuts the session short because he can't bear to hear about Michael's sex life.  So then we meet Victor, Woody Allen, who is completely to blame for the existence of this film in the first place. 

Allen doesn't act so much as he plays the character of a short, insecure, neurotic Jewish man whenever one is required for a film.  So then we meet Carole Werner, Michael's fiance, played by the lovely Romy Schneider...

Carole is a sweet, beautiful idiot.  Michael does a very poor job of concealing his philandering from her.  She must be blind not to see it as a huge red flag, but she's set on marrying Michael.  They fight about it a lot.

The story is told as a series of interrelated vignettes.  Michael walks out on a fight with Carole and then we cut to Michael in a strip club.  There, he has an awkward encounter with Dr. Fritz Fassbender and then he picks up a stripper.  An American expatriate named Liz Bien (Paula Prentiss), an armchair activist hippie prone to nervous breakdowns and suicide attempts.  Also, she's bat-shit-crazy.

Cut to Carole who is out on the town with Victor.  If Michael can fool around with other women, she can fool around with other men.  She could do better than Victor, but she's just bluffing.  They meet a crazed ranting drunk man in the bar and she comforts him.

...and weeps with him.  "Why does everyone have so much trouble with being in love, Victor?  It never seems to work out.  You love me and I love Michael and....*sobsob*......Oh, Victor I'm so mixed up!"

And so she decides to get drunk and go over to Victor's place....and get drunker.  The scene ends with her passed out on the bed, falling on the floor and Victor awkwardly sleeping alone.

Back to Michael and his Crazy Stripper.......

Sorry, Michael.  You pretty much had that coming.
These kinds of scenes go on for a while.  At some point, it's fairly obvious that the script became irrevocably lost and a great deal of the film was improvised.  Actually, it's been rumored that, since Woody Allen was so unknown at the time, the film was actually an excuse for an international group of actors to have a good time in Paris with United Artist's money.  Somehow they managed to put together a pretty good movie, thanks in part to the talented actors involved. 

This man is a genius.
So anyway.....Michael joins Dr. Fassbender's group therapy sessions, where we meet a whole new group of crazies, particularly Madame Lefebvre (Cappucine), a nymphomaniac who cheats on her husband with pretty much everyone except Dr. Fassbender, who is in love with her.  She and Michael are pretty much perfect for each other.  (Cappucine is more famous for playing Inspector Clouseau's first wife.)

It's only a matter of time before Carole catches them at it.....

And so Carole finally leaves him.  Not that that is any problem for Michael.  His bed is never empty.  But then, one evening, as Michael is savoring his bachelorhood with a glass of scotch, Carole's parents arrive.  They are under the impression that their daughter is still engaged to him.

And so they pretend to be the happy couple to please her parents.  Meanwhile, Victor interrupts Dr. Fassbender's suicide/viking funeral in the Seine by asking for psychological advice. 

don't worry about it.  just go with it.  you'll love the movie more if you do.
Since Michael and Carole had such a great time entertaining her parents, they decide to get married after all.  God she's dumb.

whatever makes her happy.
From there, Michael begins breaking things off with his other girlfriends.  He calls Madame Lefebvre first to cancel their planned weekend rendezvous to Chateau Chantal.  But in the next scene, she calls another one of her lovers and asks him to meet her there in Michael's stead. 

The next few scenes involve everyone in the film deciding to go to Chateau Chantal for the weekend.  Michael believes that he will be having a quiet, relaxing weekend away from all his problems, (ok, "problems") but he is gravely mistaken.  A female skydiver, Ursula Andress, falls out of the sky and lands in Michael's car.  What horrible luck.

She's a nymphomaniac too.
Back in Paris, the Crazy Stripper shows up at Michael's apartment calling herself his Fiance, to Carole whom she believes to be the maid.  Carole is pissed, so she goes off to Chateau Chantal to confront Michael.  To Michael's credit, he does a pretty good job resisting temptation and staying true to Carole, until he meets Madame Lefebvre in the hotel bar.  They go to her room, where they find themselves being attacked by her jealous husband, the drunk guy from earlier.  Michael makes his escape, but then narrowly avoids a run-in with Carole's parents.  Suddenly he can't find a room that DOESN'T contain a beautiful woman who wants to have sex with him.  And you thought you had problems.

And then Carole shows up and things get ugly.  And then everyone shows up for an orgy. 

And then there is a guy with a bomb.  And the police get called. 

Suddenly the orgy is abandoned so that they can have a face off with the cops.

Seriously, don't even worry about the rest of the movie.  If you made it this far, you're probably having a good time.

Vital Statistics

What's New Pussycat 1965
Directed By:  Clive Donner
Written By:  Woody Allen
Starring:  Peter Sellers, Peter O'Toole, Romy Schneider, Cappucine, Paula Prentiss, Woody Allen
Music by:  Burt Bacharach
Running Time:  108 minutes

Special thanks to the people at for providing the amazing photographs.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

You're the most adorable cog I've ever seen.

Oh Ninotchka, my little Ninotchka.  Man that's fun to say.  Feels good rolling off your tongue.  If I ever get another dog, I'm going to name her Ninotchka Yakushova just so I can shout the name from my porch.

Anyway, onto the movie.  I haven't done the research, but I think this is Greta Garbo in her first role as a Marxist Robot.  Her acting is meant to be a parody of her typical roles, which is funny, I guess, she didn't really do comedies, romantic comedies were even more of a stretch.  The Marxist Robot routine makes for some absolutely painful lovemaking scenes.  ("lovemaking" is, of course, used in the old-fashioned sense in which it does not necessarily refer to intercourse)  For example:

Leon:  Can it be that I'm..........falling in love with you?
Ninotchka:  Why must you bring in wrong values?  Love is a romantic designation for a most ordinary biological, or shall we say chemical, process.  A lot of nonsense is talked and written about it.

[omg.  swoon]

Quick synopsis:  Three Russian men are sent to Paris to sell some jewelry that had been confiscated during the Revolution.  They justify staying in the royal suite in a fine hotel because it has a safe in the room, they stand around rationalizing their decision and are overheard by another Russian exile working as a waiter.  He runs off to speak to the Grand Duchess Swana, also a Russian exile, also the former owner of the jewels, to tell her that her long lost jewelry is back in town.  Here we are introduced to her lover/boy-toy, Count Leon D'Algout, who says, "Leave it to me!  I'll get your jewels back!"  He then goes off to befriend the 3 Russians (who are played by German actors, so naturally this film was banned in the Soviet Union) and seduce them with wine, women and song.  Once they're good and drunk, he gets their approval to send a telegram to their boss, Comrade Rakonin (played by Boris Karloff) saying that they've agreed to settle for 50% of the jewels' value.  And the party continues.  Meanwhile, Rakonin sends a telegram back stripping the men of their authority and instructing them to await the arrival of his envoy who will take over the sale.  And by "envoy" he means "Marxist Robot".
                                          Ninotchka Ivanova Yakushova

So Ninotchka is strictly business.  She deplores capitalism, frivolity, excess, wastefulness...well, pretty much everything.  On her first exploration expedition in Paris, she has the good fortune to run into Count Leon D'Algout, who does not realize that Ninotchka is in charge of the jewels he's trying to obtain for his mistress, BUT is actually enamored by her deadpan, mortician-like demeanor.  Seriously.  ("OH! a Russian!  I love Russians!  I've been fascinated by your 5-year-plan for the last 15 years!"  The Count is a witty mofo)  He's so enamored that he follows her to the Eiffel Tower and somehow manages to get her into his apartment.

Now.  You may hate this entire movie.  You may be bored to tears.  You may be the long-lost Grand Duchess Anastasia seething with rage because this movie makes a mockery of Russia and trivializes the Imperial way of life that was brutally seized from you when you were just an innocent.  But whatever your opinion, the entire movie is justified by the scene that follows:

Leon:  (to his butler) Good Evening Gaston!
Gaston:  Good Evening Monsieur.
Ninotchka:  Is this what you call a butler?
Leon:  Why, Yes.
Ninotchka:  (to Gaston)  Good evening Comrade!   (to Leon) This man is very old, you shouldn't make him work.
Leon:  Oh, he takes good care of that.
Ninotchka:  He looks sad.  Do you whip him?
Leon:  No, but the mere thought makes my mouth water.

He's so quick with that last line, you're not sure you heard it.  Back it up, watch it again.  Yes, he really did just say that.  Gold.  Pure gold.

So anyway, they send the butler to bed and they get ready to do the nasty.  Which in the Hayes Code days translates to rough kissing, which is more or less symbolic of a fuck.  They are interrupted when Leon takes a phone call from the Duchess' lawyer, providing the name of the Russian Envoy, that's right, Ninotchka.  Realizing they are enemies, she makes her leave, "You represent White Russia and I represent Red Russia!"  And so she goes back to her Comrades and they get to work on selling some Imperial jewels.

Meanwhile, Leon can't get his little Marxist Robot out of his mind and takes to stalking her. She puts up a pretty good resistance, but then he falls over a chair, making her laugh, which corrupts her programming, making her susceptible to human emotion.  To speed up the process, she buys a ridiculous hat (from Dr. Seuss, I think) which has strange powers over her, making her giggle, smile and fall in love with Count Leon D'Algout.

                                  This Hat Will Make A Capitalist Out Of You

So he takes her out dancing, where they run into Leon's Imperial Ex-Girlfriend where a pretty epic catfight ensues.

Swana: Is that what they're wearing in Moscow this year?
Ninotchka: No, last year, madame.
Swana: Isn't it amazing? One gets the wrong impression of the new Russia. It must be charming. I'm delighted conditions have improved so. I assume this is what the factory workers wear at their dances.
Ninotchka: Exactly. You see, it would have been very embarrassing for people of my sort to wear low-cut gowns in the old Russia. The lashes of the Cossacks across our backs were not very becoming, and you know how vain women are.
Swana: Yes, you're quite right about the Cossacks. We made a great mistake when we let them use their whips. They had such reliable guns.

                              Ouch.  I got $50 on the Bolshevik.

So Leon and Ninotchka get wasted on champagne and they end up back in her hotel room trying on Imperial Jewelry.  Carelessly, they forget to put it back in the safe so the exiled waiter from the beginning of the film  (remember him?) sneaks in and steals all the jewels.  Ninotchka wakes up with a raging hangover and the Bitch Duchess Swana standing over her bed and giving her shit for drinking too much and trying to sell her jewels (which have now been returned to her.)  Swana demands that Ninotchka leave on the next plane to Moscow, which she does, despite the fact that she's in love with Leon.  (I forget why, something about a tractor for Stalin.)  So she goes back to Russia where life sucks.  Leon tries to write to her, but her letters arrive completely censored.  Finally, Boris Karloff sends Ninotchka to Constantinople to oversee her old Comrades, who are still being sent abroad despite the fact that they only screw around and never get any work done.  There, she is reunited with Leon and there is a happy ending.  The film ends with one of the Russian men protesting the other two. 

I think this film is great.  It seems so ordinary, boring even, but if you pay attention, it's full of little comedic gems.  Melvin Douglas, or whoever wrote his lines, must have been one of the wittiest men of his day.  His delivery is razor-sharp and I like it. 

Vital Statistics

Ninotchka 1939
Director:  Ernst Lubitsch
Starring:  Greta Garbo, Melvyn Douglas, Ina Claire, Boris Karloff
Running Time:  110 minutes

Saturday, October 15, 2011

How About the Shape of That Liquor Cabinet?

Looks like I'm going to kick off this blog with my favorite movie ever.  I don't even need to watch it first because I can quote most of it from memory.

Seriously, this movie has everything:  drag queens, gangsters, The St. Valentine's Day Massacre, madcap comedy, mistaken identity, bootleggers, a sick jazz soundtrack and Marilyn Motherfucking Monroe.  What else could it possibly need?  Gay marriage?  Oh wait, it has that too.

Quick synopsis:  Jerry and Joe are out of work musicians from Chicago who have the bad fortune to witness the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, after which, the mob puts a hit out on them.  So to save their necks, they dress up in drag and hop a train to join an all-girl band in Florida, Sweet Sue and Her Society Syncopaters.  I'll give you three guesses who the lead singer is.  Give up?

                                                 this chick....just some nobody

So of course the boys are sprung.  How could they not be?  While checking into the hotel, Sugar Kane (Monroe) expresses her desire to marry a millionaire (like she does in pretty much every movie she's in.)  Joe, being exactly the sort of scumbag she usually goes out with, uses this information to his advantage, puts his pants back on and poses as Mr. Shell Oil Jr.  So he puts the moves on her and they get sexy on a boat with the help of Jerry (now Daphne) and his boyfriend, Osgood Fielding III.  (I told you.  Pure madcap shit.)  So just as everyone is getting into their gender-bending routines, who shows up at the hotel in Florida (actually the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego), but the Mob from Chicago.  Jerry and Joe are all, "FML!" and from there they plot their escape....hilarity ensues.

I won't spoil the rest for you, but suffice to say, if you aren't ordering this on Netflix right now, you're a lost cause.

Fun fact about this film:  SLIH was a big-budget film.  They had big names in the cast, the Brilliant Billy Wilder and they were filming on-location, not a cheap thing to do in 1958.  This was meant to be shot in color, but in screen tests, Curtis and Lemmon's drag makeup looked SO ugly, they scrapped that idea and shot it in black and white, which is much more forgiving.  There is a bunch of trivia surrounding this movie, like that Tony Curtis described kissing Monroe as being "just like kissing Hitler."  But all of that is readily available on  I just think that this photograph illustrates JUST how awful they looked in color.  So enjoy.

One Final Interesting Fact:  In 1975, Bollywood did a re-make.  I haven't seen it yet but (omg omg) I want to.

Vital Statistics
Some Like it Hot 1959
Director:  Billy Wilder
Starring:  Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, Marilyn Monroe, George Raft, Joe E. Brown
Running Time:  122 minutes

[Thank you Dr. Macro for approving the use of these amazing photos.  There are tons more, so be sure to check them out.]