April 10, 2010

For The Love of Peter O'Toole: Comedy Intro & What's New Pussycat

In my introductory post, I'd started to outline my recent Peter O'Toole-a-thon, a marathon of as much of that actor's work as I could acquire on Netflix (although I did break down and purchase a hard-to-find copy of Night of the Generals, but more on that in a later entry). I was sort of at a loss of how to organize the whole affair. Via Netflix, I generally tried to rent chronologically although occasionally I would skip back and forth a few decades. But for these entries, somehow, chronologically didn't cut it. 

The first batch of entries covered O'Toole's Oscar-nominated roles--all eight of them. In the earlier part of his career, you can see a certain similarity. They're classic Oscar catnip--historical figures, films based on plays or novels. In the '70s, there's a shift and The Ruling Class is the only nominated role that decade (later, health problems would curtail O'Toole's proficiency). The '80s were good to O'Toole, by then a legend in the industry, and he garnered two nominations in three years. Then there was a very long gap until the triumphant return in Venus, in what critics like to call a "career-defining performance" (e.g., this old bloke'll be dead soon, give him a bloody Oscar already). But the Academy didn't and O'Toole's still well and kicking.

Which brings me to round two: comedies. Arguably a more interesting category ripe for speculation of the "What was he thinking?" variety, although the answer as we'll well see is usually beautiful locations, copious alcohol, gorgeous women or a combination of all three.

What's New Pussycat (Clive Donner & Richard Talmadge, 1965)
Role: Michael James, whose job is a lecher's dream

In this early scene, O'Toole visits a mad Viennese psychoanalyst, played with his usual manic genius by 
Peter Sellers. There he outlines the basic plot, if the film can be said to have a plot, rather than a series of gags strung together however tenuously. O'Toole has a massive weakness for beautiful women, the kind of women that make a man crazy. They flock to him like bees to honey. The problem is, he's in love with his fiancee Carole (Romy Schneider) and doesn't want to cheat. Therefore, he consults Dr. Fritz (Sellers), who he doesn't know is even more neurotic than he is.

And if that scene appealed to you, you'll probably love the film. If it didn't then steer clear ofWhat's New Pussycat at all costs. For what it's worth, I love the movie for all its bawdy, absurdist humor. In addition to O'Toole and Sellers, Woody Allen makes his movie acting debut (he also wrote the script) as Victor who's in love with O'Toole's girlfriend Carole. The combination of Allen and Sellers pretty much makes this a comedy nerd's dream and shares many hallmarks of that later masterpiece--but let's face it, clusterfuck--Casino RoyaleWhat's New Pussycat, at least, is a bit more sensible in plot and competent in execution, although it does feature James Bond sex goddess Ursula Andress parachuting into Peter O'Toole's car with no explanation. But that's part of its charm. The climactic sequence features all the principal actors in a go-cart race for absolutely no reason at all. And did you notice Sellers is wearing a maroon velvet jumpsuit and a Guy Fawkes wig? Why? Shits and giggles, of course. 

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