What’s Up Tiger Lily? (1966): Woody Allen’s First Film

One of a handful American directors who justify the label of “auteur,” Allen has enjoyed complete artistic control over his work, an enviable condition first forged with Orion Pictures in the early 1980s and then with United Artists and other studios.At his prime, from his Oscar-winning film “Annie Hall” in 1977 to “Hannah and Her Sisters,” which was nominated for Best Picture and won Original Screenplay Oscar in 1986, Woody Allen was not only the most famous Jewish comedy director but the most famous and most acclaimed American filmmaker, based on a strong cycle of bittersweet serio-comedies.

Regardless of their specific genre (comedies, dramas, melodramas), most of Allen’s films are highly personal, containing many allusions to his private life as well as to his notions of art, love, philosophy, and religion.

But for a whole decade, from the late 1960s to “Annie Hall,” Allen specialized in making funny, broad, often shapeless comedies that lacked the structure, coherence and discipline of his later work.

After a semester at NYU, where he failed a film course, Allen dropped out. He began his career as a gag writer for “The Tonight Show,” as well as providing material for TV personalities like Ed Sullivan, Sid Caesar, and Art Carney.

In 1961, Allen began to perform his own material, which relied on and flaunted his notorious rebellious and guilt-ridden Jewish urban mentality. As a result, he became quite successful as a figure on the Greenwich Village club circuit, as well as on college campuses and on records, producing some popular albums.

In 1965, Woody Allen made his feature film acting and writing debut in the psychiatric farce, “What’s New Pussycat?” directed by Clive Donner, and starring Peter O’Toole and other high-caliber thesps, such as Peter Sellers and the beautiful Romy Schneider, Capucine, and Ursula Andress.

In 1966, Woody Allen made his debut as a director with “What’s Up Tiger Lily?” based on a retooling a minor Japanese spy thriller-actioner, “International Secret Police: Key of Keys.” Allen supplied his own storyline (plot centers on a secret egg salad recipe, with English dialogue dubbed by American actors. It was an original idea, but a minor effort artistically,

Gimmicky to a fault, the strategy becomes increasingly tiresome, and some critics felt it would have been more suitable as half an hour short, instead of a feature length comedy. Even so, there were quite a few clever and amusing moments.

Allen then co-wrote and acted in the James Bond spoof, “Casino Royale” (1967). These efforts put him on the map, launching Allen as one of the most inventive, resourceful, and commercially successful filmmaker.

In 1969, Allen directed, co-wrote and starred in the hilarious comedy “Take the Money and Run,” a loosely structured spoof of American gangster movies. Allen also wore three hats (writer-director-star) in “Bananas,” in 1971, a South-of-the border satire, which targeted tyrannical politics and the increasingly powerful mass media of communications.

“Everything You Always Wanted to Know,” in 1972, was basically an aggregate of vignettes, sketches, and gags, loosely based on the book by Dr. David Rueben. As written and directed by Woody Allen, the comedy contains some very funny moments, closer to his Jewish origins–the Catskill kind of broad and gross (sometimes dirty) humor.