By contrast, British directors like Clive Donner and Robert Talmadge seem to know enough to just get out of the way when Allen is writing and comedic heavies are acting, like you would for the Marx Brothers. In a great extended scene, Fritz and O'Toole get drunk together in a Paris cafe, half-fighting, then apologizing, then taking off their coats to slug it out, then forgetting why they took their coats off and putting them back on before staggering over to Capucine's baroque apartment tower, arm-in- arm, to lob rocks and slurred declarations of love up to her balcony: "Tell her, her face is like ze pale autumn moon!" beseeches Sellers like a terrible Cyrano from the bushes. "I'm not going to say that," Toole slurs. "It's ghastly!" Drunken recitations from Hamlet are tossed up instead to indicate the Immoral Bard is with them, and O'Toole playing a drunk trying to do Hamlet is about the best Hamlet ever. Meanwhile Sellers' ridiculous black wig finally makes sense when he pops up as Richard III in a dream sequence (he apparently loved the wig so much he wore it all through the shoot). I love O'Toole more than in MY FAVORITE YEAR, and in some ways if you factor in that Allen worked in the Borscht Belt gag room of Your Show of Shows then you realize PUSSY might even be a prequel to YEAR, a relic from a smoother, bawdier epoch, before sex was relegated to the foul-mouths of 20 year-old virgins.
But while MY FAVORITE YEAR was fun and O'Toole played a drunken old buccaneer well, it doesn't hold up as well, today - at least for me. It has terribly unimaginative lighting and scoring, and its reliance on a barrage of ethnic humor, nebbishy voice-overs, and 'oh how zany' old saws like stealing the police horse in Central Park at dawn are way too forced and cliche. But Allen actually wrote for that old YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS being sent up in that film, and not at the stage where he wants to remember that quite yet, so he's not yet all hung up on ethnic nostalgia. Instead, in PUSSYCAT there's real madness in the air, no need for horse theft or other generic bits of naughtiness, and O'Toole has the energetic languor of a man who's been laughing a lot in between takes and is grateful to be having such clever lines, and so many pretty girls to woo, and he shows his gratitude by giving the material a depth of actorly resonance most dramatic stars playing comedy wouldn't bother with. When, for example, he brings a cricket ball and bat to his insane group therapy meeting it feels like he's sharing something meaningful to him, O'Toole, with these new friends that have been making his sides hurt from laughing all through the shoot. It's beautiful.
Playing a charmer so irresistible to women and so unable to resist them that his life has been one long series of one-night stands, O'Toole is more than good, he's convincing. Hell, I'm in love with him, too, here. But one of his more insistent conquests, played by Schneider, demands he marry her, so he tries to comply so goes to see a psychiatrist, Fritz (Sellers), to help him with what we'd now call sex addiction (and we'd now be compelled to say "there's nothing funny about it!" in case anyone is listening). Meanwhile, Woody shows up through the stage woodwork and somehow winds up taking a disullusioned Romy Schneider home to his little pad --her act of reprisal against O'Toole's waffling, the way Miriam Hopkins was always going off with Edward Everett Horton to spite Frederic March or Herbert Marshall.
PUSSYCAT began as a Warren Beatty vehicle but had it turned out that way it would have been a completely different film and nowhere near as fun. Men like myself distrust Beatty-- his ability to bed all these girls and still look tan and nonplussed does not move us. We love O'Toole on the other hand, because his pallor is that of a man taking too much Cialis. And scoring loads of babes seems so critical to Beatty's self-esteem that it's not joyous just compulsive. O'Toole just genuinely seems too enraptured by the beauty and sparkle in ways Beatty's too narcissistic to match. Each new lover takes just a bit of O'Toole's bodily fluids, and each takes him farther from being able to look his fiancee in the eye, but he's so enamored by each new girl, and so appreciative of their attention, that each time he cheats is like the first. As he struggles valiantly against his inner nature, women are literally dropping out of the skies into his motorcar. What's a nobly drunk insouciant to do?
That's the joy of it all: we'd do just what he's doing, except maybe not try so hard to keep Schneider... though her parents turn out to be pretty fun at a party. Another genius rarity! You know those affairs where you stick it out an extra year because you like drinking with her parents!? You don't? O monsieur! And another thing that hasn't happened in 1965 (aside from AIDS, of course), that grisly story of what too much sex did to Three Dog Night's Danny Hutton. As far as we knew, there could never be too much sex. Oh man, to have Cialis for daily use, but as yet no AIDS? Can you imagine?
Naturally Allen's script is going to lean at some point towards his beloved Fellini, here via an image of O'Toole with whip and slouch hat as women fight over him in a dream, but I always got the impression Fellini was too guilty a Catholic to really go for broke. That he'd run home at the last minute hyperventilating like Marcello's provincial papa in LA DOLCE VITA, as many of us probably would. O'Toole's women on the other hand are all believable conquests and his befuddled sense of crushing over-stimulation conveys what it feels like when every girl in the room is fighting over you and then they make peace and decide you're a sleaze for wanting them all, and suddenly no one wants you and then you're just tossed away in the street for twenty years, alone and wondering what you did wrong, like the Jeff Beck guitar neck in BLOW-Up or Donna Summer's cake in the rain.
|Girls of O'Toole, from top: Ursula Andress, Romy Schneider, Capucine, Paula Prentiss|
|Look! Look at the lips of that Prentiss poet.|
That's fine because, marriage-minded women or no, there's some of that giddy thrill of when you're 'on a roll' and women start fighting over you, or you just get lucky and for once aren't saying idiotic things and blowing your chances, and actually getting a bottle, a bed, and a girl together all at the same time and life is a jazzy gas. Even if poor Allen's character spazzes and Sellers is basically trying to date rape Capucine all through the film, why not forgive it? And if you have laughter, it doesn't even matter if you end up with nothing else. Just look at those crazy actors in this picture below. They're all having a blast, and why not?
So instead of getting upset, just think about the way young woman all claim they're helpless nymphomaniacs to a man one minute and then refuse his advances a second later, and all the other things that have disappeared from films due to PC ethos. There was once upon a time a book called "The Joy of Sex" that was on every adult's bookshelf --even in suburbia. Nowadays there wouldn't be a book like that, now it would be The "Joy of Responsibility, Control and Prior Consent" - where even porn stars are required to use aesthetically depressing condoms and there are enough lectures about the importance of family values and settling down in every rom-com to turn off even a moralistic old studio like the post-code MGM.
But this is 1965, we don't have to worry about that yet. Here no woman runs away who doesn't secretly want to be chased, the cross fades are psychedelic, and the perfume of giddy madness eliminates any staleness in the boudoir-farcical air. Whoa whoa whoa Whoa! Whoa.
PS - And just when you think it can't get any better? Francois Hardy. All she'd have to do is sing "La Chazz l'infantile" and we'd be at it again.
PPS - Rereading this in light of the Harvey Weinstein /Louie CK stuff kind of shocks me - my only excuse was a kind naïveté. Since that piece by Ronan Farrow and the one by his sister that came out in the wake of Blue Jasmine, I've been on an Allen embargo, and now the bawdy 'all women want to be chased' attitude in the film and in my piece unnerve me. I was protesting more the mawkish sentiment of rom-coms and this pro-family dynamic then in vougue. But I think this rousting of the predators from Hollywood is very very important, and good for male-female relations as a whole, as the sooner they're all identified and eliminated, the quicker we can go back to 'fun' in sex and male-female banter with a clearer understanding and less silence about real intentions and motives. Meanwhile, of course Allen is still at it, with something called Wonder Wheel. Ugh -- Kate.... Kate, what are you thinking? (12-19-17)