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  Owl and the Pussycat, The Babs-Induced Insomnia
Year: 1970
Director: Herbert Ross
Stars: Barbra Streisand, George Segal, Robert Klein, Allen Garfield, Roz Kelly, Jacques Sandulescu, Jack Manning, Grace Carney, Barbara Anson, Kim Chan, Stan Gottlieb, Joe Madden, Fay Sappington, Marilyn Chambers
Genre: Comedy, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Felix Sherman (George Segal) is a writer of Great American Novels - in his own mind, but in the minds of the publishers he submits work to, he's nothing special and certainly nothing worth spending any of their precious time on. Tonight as he gets back from work, he finds yet another rejection letter awaiting him in his mailbox, and screws it up then throws it away, just as his landlord (Jacques Sandulescu) shows up and gives him grief, as is his wont, not even tolerating the sound of Felix's typewriter. The would-be Saul Bellow traipses up the stairs to his apartment and gets ready for bed, but as he does he hears a loud TV noise from across the court and out of interest begins to spy on the prostitute through the open window...

And that prostitute is Barbra Streisand! Well, it was Barbra playing a prostitute named Doris, who sets out to make Felix's life a misery for the rest of the night when she notices he's been acting as a Peeping Tom, so you could observe he invited the trouble she visits upon him, but you could also observe The Owl and the Pussycat signalled a genuine interest in the sexuality of La Streisand which may seem very strange now, but was a minor pop culture obsession during the nineteen-seventies. It was in this film she became one of the first major stars to perform a nude scene; wait, don't get too excited, she subsequently ordered the relevant shots cut from what was released.

However, she did also swear her head off in one scene by dropping the F bomb to a car full of punks, another first, though one that was also cut in later versions of the film to garner a lower re-release guidance rating (the anti-homosexual remarks were left untouched, so much for sensitivity). Nevertheless, the fact that Babs was willing, like Jane Fonda before her, to bare all, even though we didn't get to see it and she never did it again, was enough to prompt all sorts of thoughts about her. As the decade went on, she was also subject to a persistent rumour she had appeared in a pornographic movie, though the consensus was that the girl in question was simply a lookalike and Streisand's modesty was preserved. Well, unless you take into account the outfit she sports for at least half this film.

That get up had to be seen to be believed, and part of the seventies grappling with the freshly permissive society where sex was on the agenda whether you liked it or not, giving rise to a plethora of awkward expressions of desire in the media of the day. Not that they're any less awkward now, you could observe, but back then the thought of the Funny Girl playing a hooker with a heart of gold, and with the salty language to go with it, was seismic enough to make audiences think, okay, we'll try and be sophisticated, we'll go along to hear Barbra and George in an R-rated comedy and laugh because that will prove it. To all appearances, this means the movie should have dated very badly, to the point of cringeworthy scene after scene, but the writers had to be taken into account.

Fair enough, there came a point when the wit ran out and this had to settle down to being an odd couple romance (Segal's character is called Felix, after all), but for a while there the filmmakers were able to wring some very decent laughs out of Bill Manhoff's play. Originally it had been a two-hander between a white actor and a black actress, but the studio decided audiences were not ready for that controversy (you'd like to think it would be far less controversial now) and cast two whites, but Buck Henry, still riding high from his success with The Graduate, was on script duties and worked up some nice bits of farcical business for the two leads to discuss. At first it comes across as if we were at the dawn of the urban hell genre American cinema embraced in the seventies, both in comedies and thrillers, and there were seeds being sown, as Felix and Doris spend the evening driving each other up the wall until she manages to bludgeon him into romantic submission through sheer force of unstoppable will. But it showed its true colours by the end: a soppy love story. Music by Dick Halligan.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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