Image Entertainment // 1966 // 80 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker (Retired) // July 1st, 2009
"It was done in Gone With the Wind, actually. Not many people
know that. Those are Japanese people, and we just dubbed in American
-- Woody Allen, explaining the central conceit of What's Up, Tiger Lily?
The world's greatest egg salad recipe has been stolen! On the case: special Japanese agent -- Phil Moscowitz??? Assisting him, the Yaki sisters, Suki and Teri. The mission: get the recipe and sell it for $1 million to the wealth Wing Fat -- an egg-salad addict who, as Phil says, has "a chicken on his back."
What's Up, Tiger Lily? is legend, an experiment that was daring experiment for its time, though now can be found in hundreds of clips on YouTube. Woody Allen took a confusing Japanese spy movie, rewrote it as a comedy, got a bunch of talented friends to supply the voices, and created a silly, funny movie.
At 30, Allen had already been on the comedy scene for more than a decade. He'd written for television, including Sid Caesar and Garry Moore's programs, done his own stand-up, and had written and appeared in What's New Pussycat, a slightly smarmy, of-the-time-hip success that starred Peter Sellers. Allen's nebbishy appearance and gag-a-minute humor caught on, making him a hot property.
When American International purchased the rights to a bad Japanese spy thriller, they hired Allen to make it over as a comedy. Changing a spy story about stolen microfilm into a spy story about a stolen egg-salad recipe, the film featured what would become Allen's trademarks, including gags both clever and groany, ethnic humor, and lots of silly sex jokes. It was idiotic and clever, a forerunner of the sort of thing that Mystery Science Theater 3000 would build on 20 years later. Audiences in 1966 had never seen such a thing on the big screen, and What's Up, Tiger Lily? was an unlikely success. Although Allen himself appeared in only a few minutes of the film -- as the "author" of the enterprise -- What's Up, Tiger Lily? was another step toward making him one of the most recognizable names and faces in comedy in the late 20th century.
While it's dated quite a bit, and the novelty has long since worn off, What's Up, Tiger Lily? is still a very funny film. The gags come fast and furious, with a "throw everything out and see if it sticks" sensibility. To attract a "youth audience" and pad out the running time, some completely unrelated footage of The Lovin' Spoonful performing a couple of songs was added. John Sebastian's group had also in 1966 done songs for Francis Ford Coppola's You're a Big Boy Now, amping up Tiger Lily's cool considerably -- although Allen, who had not been consulted about the inclusion of these scenes, was said to have been unhappy about them. The music sequences do tend to bog the film down a bit, and coming out of nowhere, they make the already-confusing on-screen antics that much harder to follow. On the other hand, it's always great to hear this group, and who could resist that ultra-'60's credit sequence, with the ridiculously catchy "Pow!" playing while a Woody Allen cartoon interacts with mod-looking still shots of sexy Asian women?
I was excited to see that Image was releasing a new edition of What's Up, Tiger Lily? Their 2003 release was pretty good, with a solid picture and a neat bonus: an alternate audio track, one that was ever-so-slightly racier than the one that had been playing on TV for years. In addition, there was a comparison between the two tracks, so you could hear exactly what you'd been missing during all those TV broadcasts, and a fairly useless Woody Allen filmmography. I was hoping that this release would bring even more -- maybe some trailers, a vintage "making of," interviews with Louise Lasser or some other people involved with the production.
Sadly, that's not the case. This isn't a re-release with new material, it's merely a re-issue of the earlier disc. It was a good disc then and it's a good disc now, but if you're looking to upgrade, forget about it. The only thing new here is a change on the DVD case, where a quote from critic Judith Crist is replaced with a red splash touting the alternate track -- "Twice the Laughs! Includes Theatrical and Television Audio Tracks!" Other than that small red splash, this package is identical to the one released in 2003.
While this re-issue is a disappointment for anyone looking for some new supplements, it shouldn't reflect badly on the film. What's Up, Tiger Lily? is a comedy classic that's still pretty funny. The film is not guilty, but Image Entertainment gets a warning for this pointless double dip.
Review content copyright © 2009 Tom Becker; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 80 Minutes
Release Year: 1966
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Alternate Soundtrack