What’s Up Tiger Lily? Review

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Roguish Phil Moskowitz encounters scheming sisters Terry Yaki and Suki Yaki on his search for the recipe for the perfect egg salad.


In 1962, Roger Corman gave Francis Ford Coppola his first break in movies when, under the pseudonym Thomas Colchart, he reworked the Russian sci-fi movie Nebo Zevet (The Heavens Call) as the creature feature Battle Beyond the Sun. However, when Harry G. Saperstein attempted to release the 1964 Japanese James Bond pastiche Kagi no Kagi (Key of Keys) as Keg of Powder, heckling audiences ad libbed their own variations on the badly dubbed dialogue.

   Desperate to recoup his $75,000 investment, Sapperstein decided to borrow the idea behind Jay Ward's TV show Fractured Flickers, in which Hans Conreid delivered parodic commentaries on melodramatic silents in a range of wacky accents. Quite why Woody Allen felt that he was the man to give Senkichi Taniguchi's programmer a comic lease of life is unclear, but the $66,000 fee probably had much to do with it. Moreover, it probably seemed like easy money, as Allen devised the gags during a brainstorming session with pals including Lenny Maxwell and Frank Buxton, as they rolled the Toho picture in a Manhattan hotel room.

   There are some funny moments here. But Jimmy Murakami's opening credits, in which an animated Woody plucks names from the cleavages of posing pin-ups, was not one of them. However, Sapperstein, who had acquired the pioneering UPA studio from its Disney fugitive founder Stephen Bosustow, clearly felt the need to exploit his cartoon connections. The closing sequence was no less lame, as  Playboy model China Lee teased an alternately disinterested and aroused Allen as he watched her stripping on TV. Much more amusing was the `death is my bread and danger is my butter' routine, which anticipated the opening of  Manhattan.

      But Allen came to loathe the film and even tried to block its release when Sapperstein added 19 minutes from other Japanese movies (with Allen's voice dubbed by another actor) and two numbers by the Lovin' Spoonful. However, as with What's New, Pussycat?, Woody's negativity was out of step with the public's positive response and Tiger Lily became a cult hit.

Funny in places but not Allen's best writing...and its difficult to get beyond the conceit.