22 May 2005 | thurberdrawing
The Spy Who Dubbed Me
It's almost necessary to watch this with a friend or two. You'll need to make sure your friends are familiar with movie conventions of the mid-sixties. If they aren't, they might not laugh. If they are, you'll probably laugh at the same time and have fun. To be brief, WHAT'S UP, TIGER LILY is a Japanese detective movie made in 1964 and dubbed into English two years later for comic effect. The perpetrators are Woody Allen, Louise Lasser and a few others. In an unusual move, Woody Allen sets up the joke at the beginning, explaining on camera that's he's removed the soundtrack to the original, rewritten the dialogue and made it a comedy. What makes WHAT'S UP, TIGER LILY above-average, other than the fact that people don't just dub entire movies with gag-dialogue having nothing to do with the plot, is that it takes the humor which clearly already exists in the original and twists it. Although the original is foreign, it is very similar to any number of American or British detective movies of the time, such as OUR MAN FLINT or THE LADY IN CEMENT. Anybody who went to a double-feature in 1966 had sat through such a movie. The dubbed dialogue is not entirely removed from what is clearly the intent of the original dialogue. There are funny visuals in this movie. Woody Allen's dialogue spins on the visuals and makes fun of them up to a point, but it is, actually, a pretty good movie in the first place. It's not as if Allen took a bad movie and ridiculed it. The visuals are entertaining in themselves. Allen's plot involves a search for the world's greatest recipe for chicken soup. Every time the characters think they've found the recipe, we see them inspecting strips of microfilm. Obviously, the original involves a search for microfilm. So, the plot is obvious. Our maverick detective will track down the bad guys and win. Why not eliminate the original dialogue and treat us to a feature-film's worth of one-liners? If you like GET SMART, you'll probably like this movie. If you don't like GET SMART, you probably won't like it. But if you can't see why Allen bothered with this, you'll need to ask yourself why so many movies in the late sixties spoofed the spy genre. Woody Allen didn't operate in a vacuum here. A note on the recent altering of Woody Allen's dialogue: I have WHAT'S UP TIGER LILY on a DVD released by IMAGE ENTERTAINMENT. It contains both the soundtrack Woody Allen did for the 1966 release and what the packaging calls the "television audio" track. Very condsiderately, IMAGE provides an option for comparing the dialogue where Woody Allen's dialogue has been replaced by the dialogue of whomever has RE-RE-dubbed it for TV. I've compared some of them and am saddened to think that Allen's humor has been forcibly blunted for current broadcast. But IMAGE does let us hear the difference, and that's more than TV audiences may be getting. If you see this on TV and think the dialogue is strangely tepid, try the DVD. You'll be able to hear what Woody Allen intended. (I have to qualify this, though, because he seems to have had to put up with a certain amount of studio interference in 1966.) Finally, I'll say that you'll probably recognize a few of the actors in this movie. Two of the women appeared in a James Bond movie, and the main actor, Tatsuya Mihashi, who died only last year (in 2004) appeared in several prestigious films. Therefore, Woody Allen isn't trouncing on helpless fools here.