“Meet me in the bedroom in five minutes and bring a cattle prod!
What’s Up Tiger Lily? Is a bit hard to explain, but here goes. At the height of the Bond craze in the mid sixties, Woody Allen went and bought himself a Japanese spy film called Kokusai himitsu keisatsu: Kagi no kagi (International Secret Police: Keys Of Keys), which had been released the previous year. Woody completely wiped the sound from the film and added his own dialogue and soundtrack.
The film starts with a string of scenes from Kokusai himitsu keisatsu: Kagi no kagi with the original Japanese dialogue. Then we cut to an introduction with Woody Allen and an interviewer. Woody explains the concept behind the movie and how he put it together. After the introduction, the titles roll. They feature a little animated Woody running over a selection of candy coloured spy girl images – scantily clad girls with guns etc.
Then the movie proper begins. Loveable rogue, Phil Moscowitz (Tatsuya Mihasi ) is an agent for the Asian Bureau of the International Secret Police. But despite his position, Phil spends most of his time womanising in a schoolboy kind of way. If there’s a keyhole to the women’s showers, you can be sure that Phil’s eye is pressed up against it. These days his actions would be considered sexual harassment, But Phil is just a good time boy looking for a bit of nookey. When we meet Phil, he is in a strip club watching a tasseled performer gyrate on stage. After the act, Phil is asked to dance.
Rather than having the original dance sequence, Woody cuts in a musical performance by The Lovin’ Spoonful. Everybody knows the Spoonful’s song Summer In The City but most of their material didn’t have that hard edge. It is more in the ‘folk’ style, and frankly rather annoying. Don’t get me wrong I like a bit of folk music but not in a spy film. It’s out of place. But I guess that is what Woody was trying to do – place sounds and words that you wouldn’t normally associate with spy films, over the top of the film. But by adding a performance clip, it comes off as ‘snouts to the trough’ for a few mates – rather than an obtuse juxtaposition of music.
We next meet Phil in his hotel room with the girl he met at the strip club. As she takes a shower, Phil prepares for a night of love. However, as he takes off his jacket, a bullet shatters the room window and narrowly misses Phil. A few more shots follow. Phil kills the lights, grabs his gun, and sticking close to the wall enters into a fire-fight with his would be assassin.
As the shots continue to pepper Phil’s location, he tries to dash across the room. As he runs, the sniper takes aim and fires. Phil goes down. A few minutes later, the assassin comes over to check his handywork. As the assassin approaches Phil’s body, we find out that our hero has only being playing possum. He wasn’t hit at all. Phil literally pulls the rug out from under the sniper’s feet and a fist fight erupts. Now, the fights scenes are where the film is really funny. As the punches fly, Phil yells out a series of catch phrases that are repeated throughout the film. Maybe Woody had been watching a lot of dubbed Peplum films in preparation for this movie, because the dialogue includes lines like: ”Saracen Pig – Saxon Dog – Take this!”
There’s not much point outling too much of the plot, as the story chops and changes to suit the jokes that Woody has written. But you’re probably wondering what the ‘spy story’ is. There is one of sorts. Crimelord, Shepard Wong (Tadao Nakamaru) has stolen an ‘Egg Salad’ recipe, and the good guys want it back. To complicate things further, another crimelord, Wing Fat (Susumu Kurobe) also want a piece of the ‘Egg Salad’ action. This leaves Phil and his partners Suki Yaki (Akiko Wakabayashi) and Teri Yaki (Mie Hama) to outwit two gangs of criminals and retrieve the recipe.
In the second half of the film, the jokes fall away and the characters are left to play out the narrative they have been given. By this stage your ears will be accustomed to the unusual and silly voices coming out of their mouths, and therefore the comedic impact is muted.
Sad as this may seem to some people, I find What’s Up Tiger Lily? an infuriating film. I am far more interested in the film underneath than Woody’s egg salad comedy. Kokusai himitsu keisatsu: Kagi no kagi is an entry in a series of Japanese spy films, and judging from the picture utilised in What’s Up Tiger Lily? they look like they were quite a good deal of fun. The first film in the series appears to be Kokusai himitsu keisatsu: shirei dai hachigo (International Secret Police: Order No 8), which was released in 1963. The next film (according to IMDB) is the curiously titled The Trap Of Suicide Kilometer, which was released in (1964). Then we have Kokusai himitsu keisatsu: Kagi no kagi (International Secret Police: Keys Of Keys), which we have briefly discussed above. And finally in 1967, there was Kokusai himitsu keisatsu: Zettai zetsumi (International Secret Police: Driven To The Wall) AKA: The Killing Bottle.
In the end What’s Up Tiger Lily? is an interesting curio from a time when the world went spy crazy. But as a comedy, it struggles to provide laughs over a full 80 minutes. Even if you are a Woody Allen fan, he is not really in the movie. He performs four very brief scenes. Summarising, I’d call the movie an amusing failure.
For the trivia hounds among you, Akiko Wakabayashi and Mie Hama appeared in the Bond film You Only Live twice, made a year later.