Forgotten Films: Pussycat, Pussycat, I Love You (1970)
What could make more sense than a 1970 remake of a 1965 film which happened to be the most successful comedy in movie history at that time? I would like to witness the behind the screen machinations that led to Jerry Bresler, producer of MAJOR DUNDEE (1965) and CASINO ROYALE (1967), transmogrifying WHAT’S NEW PUSSYCAT? to PUSSYCAT, PUSSYCAT, I LOVE YOU — minus the Woody Allen script, Peter O’Toole or Peter Sellers. Instead, United Artists must have dipped into an Italian lira slush fund to crank out this staggeringly bad feature that’s hypnotic in its swinging non sequitur mediocrity. Written and directed by Rod Amateau, one of the spectral figures in Hollywood, a stuntman turned auteur for shows such as DOBIE GILLIS, who even directed the pilot for GILLIGAN’S ISLAND, which was heavily altered and led to Sherwood Schwartz suing him out of the show’s substantial profits. Soon after, Amateau shifted gears into features. No doubt that his record of helming hit TV comedies led to this plumb assignment. But the transition from DOBIE GILLIS to WHAT’S NEW PUSSYCAT? is the difference between a tomato and a plumb. I’ve wanted to see this long-buried “gem” ever since discovering its unbelievable trailer in a Something Weird compilation and becoming obsessed with its clearly inept wacky tone.
After all, no self-respecting comedy of the period would be complete without a hilarious cast for hijinks, so naturally the producers went to Ian McShane, being lightly groomed for possible international stardom, as…Fred C. Dobbs, the dashing writer who’s irresistible to the ladies much to the dismay of his understanding wife, Millie, played with cute spunk by Anna-Calder Marshall. For what it’s worth pre-Pia Zadora, Marshall ended up with a Golden Globe as Best Newcomer for her work here. Rounding out the eclectic cast is the only genuine comic in the film, the awesome Severn Darden as the oversexed quack Dr. Fahrquadt, a “scalp specialist” treating Dobbs for baldness. Darden, a Second City refugee, brought his multi-faceted improv gifts to whatever he did, particularly in THE PRESIDENT’S ANALYST (1967). Along for the modcap ride are the amusing John Gavin as movie star “Grant Granite” in the prelude to his signing on as James Bond in DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (1971); and Joyce Van Patten as Mrs. Fahrquadt, during her late 60’s reign as Funny Wife Foil (see also I LOVE YOU ALICE B. TOKLAS (1967)…hmm, a pattern is emerging). There are other Italian actors whose names I shan’t bore you with, capiche? McShane is game and given a better script, might have made something out of the typical 60’s English cad; as it stands — or pratfalls — he’s placed in limp, risque situations, even becoming an Indian extra (!) for a spaghetti western. Ironically, the film was actually shot by Tonino Delli Colli, cameraman for ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (1969)…
As for the plot, it’s only a loose remake and Woody Allen isn’t co-credited since the jokes and characters are completely different. None of PUSSYCAT, PUSSYCAT, I LOVE YOU makes a lick of sense, narrative or comedic and I’ve watched the damn thing six times. Yet its awfulness is infectious, and though writer/director Amateau shows no auteur tics, except the ability to dissolve movie coherence, the cast and crew must have had some la dolce vita — the sets are pop-art garish, the women are gorgeous and the men are swingers. And there is one clever tracking shot gag inside a cinema. But the film is so hard up for laughs that it resorts to a party scene replicating the quick inserts from the then-current TV hit, “Laugh-In.” Poor Ian McShane gets to feign crotch burns and do double-takes as scenes end or dissolve without rhyme nor laughter. Worse, Severn Darden has never been so ill-used in a major role; he looks freakish in a red wig with Carnaby Street fashions, and his natural wit can’t save the inane dialogue (“You cretin! You could give me an infection!”) plus his knock-down duel with his wife is simply embarrassing. Yet he’s always appealing though Farhquadt is appaling; he does his best in one quiet moment at the end as he proposes a double-suicide with his agreeable wife. There’s also a narrator who freeze frames the action for unfunny observations. And did I mention there’s a love-crazed gorilla named Milton? Do I have to? Okay, there’s a LOVE-CRAZED GORILLA NAMED MILTON.
Rod Amateau had an odd career: after this, he directed another under-the-radar title, WHERE DOES IT HURT? (1972) starring Peter Sellers, then the genuine cult film, DRIVE-IN (1976) followed by another stint in TV Land with “The Dukes of Hazzard” and his final film, the legendary THE GARBAGE PAIL KIDS (1987). Of course, what puts this into my Obscure Film Pantheon is all that bonza background PLUS a marvelous Lalo Schifrin score, finally released with an epic United Artists soundtrack set. While the theme song, “Groove Into It” is no “What’s New Pussycat?” Shifrin weaves the familiar Burt Bacharach melody in and out of the movie, giving the scenes a charm they might otherwise lack — the film even manages to work in a “Mission: Impossible” musical quote. No surprise that PUSSYCAT, PUSSYCAT, I LOVE YOU is unavailable on DVD and likely to stay that way (UPDATE: PPILY is now available in lovely 1:85 on MOD) , so I must again prostrate myself before Netflix, which added this and other incredible MGM rarities to their streaming queue. I prescribe you and your favorite pussycat curl up with a bottle of vino and pizza to viddy this pop-art disasterpiece. If this trailer doesn’t turn you on or off, check in with Dr. Farhrquadt. And it’s even Rated GP.