Troubled Paris fashion magazine editor Michael James (Peter O’Toole) is obsessed with women, whom he calls “pussycats” and keeps reiterating the title to every female he meets. His girlfriend Carole (Romy Schneider) wants to get married, but he doesn’t feel ready as all these ladies still throw themselves at him, so what is he to do?
Eccentric psychiatrist Fritz Fassbender (Peter Sellers) is no real help and orders him out of the office due to only being able to listen to him for fifteen minutes at a time.
Supposedly based on the love life of Warren Beatty, who was originally meant to star (the title was one of his chat-up lines), What’s New Pussycat? was scripted by Woody Allen, who also appeared in the cast in his first big screen role.
Allen was clearly still learning his craft at this point, and even though the film was a box-office smash, he complained that unchecked ad-libbing and a disinclination to excise the mediocre had swamped his material.
Allen plays Victor, Michael’s friend who is also in love with Carole but whose awkward attempts to seduce her end up failing.
Michael finds himself back at the apartment of Liz (Paula Prentiss), a stripper and aspiring poet who attempts suicide when he tries to make excuses and leave. Her self-destructive nature is made light of, and in a running gag, she attempts to kill herself with pills a few more times during the course of the film.
The beautiful actresses continue to pile up: there’s another patient of Dr Fassbender’s, Renee (Capucine), who also falls for the charms of Michael, despite Carole seeming the most appropriate for him all along.
O’Toole and Sellers are allowed to indulge themselves terribly, with an overextended drunk act a particular lowlight and Sellers’ psychiatrist not so much a spoof on Sigmund Freud as an excuse to put on a funny accent and wig, all at the top of his voice. However, it is interesting to see him share a scene or two with Allen, especially in another suicide scene.
The film’s grand finale is set in a hotel where men take their mistresses out in the French countryside and contrives to have all the cast members running about after each other, one even carrying a bomb. Ursula Andress parachutes into Michael’s car for no reason other than yet more temptation now he has become engaged.
Originally planned as a low-key black-and-white affair, it snowballed into a freewheeling star vehicle over which director Clive Donner was not always in total control.
What’s New, Pussycat? is the ultimate Mod confection and features a brilliant pop score by Burt Bacharach with the hit theme song featuring Tom Jones.
Doctor Fritz Fassbender