River Of Grass
Cozy and Lee go on the lam after an accidental shooting in Kelly Reichardt's debut feature
On Film4: 4 Sep 1:00AM
Woody Allen re-dubs an existing Japanese spy movie, transforming it from an action adventure into a comical hunt for a prized egg salad recipe
By 1966 Woody Allen was a sublime if reluctant stand-up comic with a great reputation following TV scripts for Sid Caeser and 'Candid Camera', plus 1965's cinema hit What's New, Pussycat?. So, when you've shelled out for a ropey, Japanese Bond knock-off and feel that it might just make money with an ironic new soundtrack, who you gonna call?
Usually credited as Allen's directorial debut What's Up, Tiger Lily? feels more like a running gag from a sketch show anthology which has somehow wound up with a theatrical release. The concept may be clever but it wears thin very quickly and the material frequently just isn't that funny.
As it is, the original Japanese film, Key Of Keys looks like it wasn't taking itself terribly seriously in the first place. Allen's dialogue seems keen to provoke absurd 'Goon Show'-style laughs rather than straight spy spoofing, which by this stage was being done quite proficiently by 'The Man From U.N.C.L.E.' Our Man Flint and the Bond franchise itself.
Tiger Lily's vague plot has agent Phil Moscowitz (Mihashi) summoned by the High Macha of Rashpur ("a nonexistent but real-sounding country") to recover a recipe for egg salad in order for Rashpur to gain official existence "somewhere between Spain and Greece - it's really much warmer there". The recipe is also coveted by head villain Shepard Wong (Nakamaru), though of course this is all an excuse for chases, punch-ups and a parade of femme fatales.
Allen himself appears at the film's opening to explain what we're about to see. It's possible this was necessary back in 1966 but now it's like having a joke's premise and punch-line delivered up-front, removing any of the surprise required to make the bloody thing actually funny.
Things get desperate in the second half with footage run back and forth for cheap laughs and silhouetted hands trying to remove a hair stuck in the projector. This second gag in particular might have been fine for a few seconds but goes on for a couple of minutes.
Some of the actual voice artists do a great job of at least sounding funny but tellingly the biggest - and quite unintentional - laugh is probably the titles featuring a tiny cartoon Allen in the cleavage of a gorgeous young Asian girl. It's a wonder Mia Farrow didn't bring that one out in court.
A curio for major Allen fans. In an ideal world it would probably work best as an DVD extra on Take The Money And Run.
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