Color, 1965, 108m.
Directed by Clive Donner
Starring Peter Sellers, Peter O'Toole, Romy Schneider, Capucine, Paula Prentiss, Woody Allen, Ursula Andress, Eddra Gale
Kino Lorber (Blu-ray & DVD) (US RA/R1 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9), MGM (DVD) / WS (1.66:1)
A perfect example of the right film coming along at the right time, What's New Pussycat? brought the sensibility of '60s Playboy party jokes to the sex comedy format that had seemingly worn itself out over the past decade. Hip British comedy was all the rage, especially if it had a pop soundtrack a la the previous year's A Hard Day's Night, and no one personified the new face of English silliness better than Peter Sellers, who'd just appeared as Inspector Clouseau in two films and made a splash in Dr. Strangelove.
Here Sellers has a field day in a arduous wig and red velvet suit as Dr. Fritz Fassbender, a sex-crazed analyst first seen running around his castle country estate with his jealous, zaftig Nordic wife (Gale) in pursuit. Enter one of Fassbender's patients, Michael (O'Toole), who works at a posh magazine office and has a major problem: women keep throwing themselves at him (because he looks handsome "in the right light"), but he wants to settle down with the woman he loves, Carole (Schneider). Can he find a way to keep his libido in check and turn to monogamy? Complications ensue when Fritz falls for his pretty patient Renée (Sellers' Pink Panther co-star Capucine), who in turn has a crush on Michael; in turn, he's distracted by two more potential bedmates, the kooky Rita (Andress) and counterculture stripper Liz (Paula Prentiss), who works at a burlesque hall with Michael's libidinous but awkward best friend, Victor (Woody Allen, who wrote the screenplay and made his screen debut here). In classic screwball fashion, all the major characters wind up in the same location when Carole's parents come to visit, leading to an extended screwball finale involving go carts, livestock and lingerie.
What's New Pussycat? was a major hit for producer Charles K. Feldman, a "more is more" personality whose fondness for mayhem and excess reached its zenith two years later with Casino Royale (which features the majority of the cast from this film, albeit some in cameos). The fun here lies in the can't-miss ingredients in front of and behind the camera, with Allen getting most of the best lines and Sellers getting the lion's share of the physical comedy. O'Toole tends to get lost in the shuffle a bit, especially when the film keeps throwing so many beautiful women in their prime at the camera. Andress and Prentiss seem to have the most fun since they have the silliest roles, though fans of Schneider and Capucine should get a kick out of their mod high fashion outfits. Then there's the classic score by Burt Bacharach, who scored a huge favorite with the theme song (performed by Tom Jones) and a sparkling score with additional contributions from Dionne Warwick and Manfred Mann. Revered animation legend Richard Williams also provided the terrific main titles, which threaten to upstage the feature itself, and Eurocult fans should also keep an eye out for Jess Franco regular Howard Vernon and The Devil's Nightmare's Daniel Emilfork in small but memorable roles. Extra points if you get the full joke when O'Toole briefly runs into his famous co-star from Becket near the beginning of the film, too. All of this still manages to camouflage the fact that the film is kind of a mess in cinematic terms, with dozens of sloppy continuity gaffes and hasty editing slipping through to prioritize pacing over coherence. Director Clive Donner never had the greatest track record, but at least he keeps things fizzy and fun here, something he also achieved with the pioneering British teen sex comedy Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush a few years later. Weirdly, MGM attempted a semi-sequel to this film five years later with Pussycat, Pussycat, I Love You, which tanked at the box office but holds some kitsch value today.
Shot at 1.66:1 (a favorite in Europe), What's New Pussycat? has always fared pretty well on TV and home video apart from its DVD release from MGM, whose refusal to provide anamorphic enhancement for anything in that aspect ratio meant fans were stuck with a 4:3 widescreen edition with soft, mushy image quality. Fortunately you can toss that eyesore aside thanks to the 2014 revisit from Kino Lorber's Studio Classics line, a massive improvement in every possible way. The colors now have that vivid '60s punchiness seen in the theater, and the rich cinematic textures are far more pleasing here. The film's lighting isn't always the greatest (especially the dark strip club scenes), but it's hard to imagine this looking any better for now than the HD rendering seen here. On a picky note, the opening titles are windowboxed (a completely needless gesture in this day and age), which means the transition into the opening shot of the film creates an awkward jump cut. The DTS-HD two-channel mono audio sounds great, not surprisingly, with Bacharach's score still holding up very well today. The sole extra is the frantic theatrical trailer, which uses production footage and fast editing to convey the film's madcap tone.