Gettin’ a Woody: EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT SEX* (United Artists 1972)

*(but were afraid to ask)

Say what you will about Woody Allen (and I’m sure some of you will), but from 1969 to 1977 he wrote, directed, and starred in some of the laugh-out-loud funniest movies ever made (after that, things got a bit pretentious, and his output has been hit-or-miss far as I’m concerned). Allen’s inventive mind took Dr. David Reuben’s best-selling sex manual EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT SEX (*but were afraid to ask) and turned it into a hilarious anthology that skewers not only societal mores and morals, but every segment parodies a different film genre.

Some are better than others, but each has something funny to offer. The first, “Do Aphrodisiacs Work?”, finds Woody as a medieval court jester whose lousy Bob Hope one-liners bomb with the King (Anthony Quayle). The randy jester is dying to enter the Queen’s (Lynn Redgrave) “royal chambers”, but gets nowhere until a sorcerer (Geoffrey Holder ) gives him a powerful aphrodisiac. The potion works, making Her Highness super-horny, but there’s a snag… the King has locked her in a chastity belt! Much as they try, they can’t get the belt unlocked, and then the King walks in… and once again, Woody loses his head over a woman!

Next up is “What is Sodomy?”, and if this segment doesn’t have you rolling on the floor laughing, you need a funny bone replacement! Gene Wilder stars as a married medical doctor who falls in love a patient named Daisy. Trouble is, Daisy is a sheep! No, not a brain-dead political follower, a real, wooly, baa baa sheep! From Armenia, no less. Wilder’s deadpan performance is an outrageous riot, and that final shot of him after he’s lost everything, including Daisy, sitting slumped on skid row drinking a bottle of Woolite, is guaranteed to leave you itching in hysterics.

“Why Do Some Women Have Trouble Reaching Orgasm?” is done entirely in Italian, spoofing the films of Fellini and Antonioni. Woody’s frigid wife (Louise Lasser ) just can’t enjoy sex, no matter what he tries to turn her on… until they do it in public. Out in the open, she can’t get enough! While the style of this is pitch perfect, it’s one of the weaker segments, as is the next, “Are Transvestites Homosexuals?”, with Lou Jacobi as a middle class, middle-aged Jew who likes to dress in women’s clothing, and gets busted when he meets his daughter’s fiancé’s parents, unable to resist trying on his future mother-in-laws clothes. The portly, mustachioed Jacobi in drag is a sight to behold, though!

“What Are Sex Perverts?” is done as an old black and white kinescope of a game show called “What’s My Perversion?”. This send-up of “What’s My Line?” has emcee Jack Barry and a panel of celebrities (Pamela Mason, Regis Philbin, Robert Q. Lewis, Toni Holt) trying to guess the peculiar kink of the guest (who likes to expose himself on subways!), followed by a contestant who gets to live out his fetish on live TV – a Rabbi that likes to be tied up and spanked by a buxom shiksa (“You’ve been a naughty Rabbi!”) while his wife eats pork at his feet! Offensive, yes… but damn funny!

“Are the Findings of Doctors and Clinics Who Do Sexual Research Accurate?” is without a doubt my favorite in the film, a low-budget sci-fi/horror lampoon with Woody as an intern and Heather MacRae a reporter who encounter the fiendish Dr. Bernardo, who has created that most terrifying of creatures, The Giant Boob!! Bernardo is played by that maddest doctor of them all, the great John Carradine at his hammy best. The massive, mutated mammary wreaks havoc and lactates its victims to death across the countryside, and if you love those old 1950’s giant monster movies as much as I do, you’re gonna love this!

Last but not least, “What Happens During Ejaculation?” stays in sci-fi territory as a FANTASTIC VOYAGE-style adventure inside a man’s body as he’s about to have sex with a woman (Groucho’s paramour Erin Fleming). Tony Randall , Burt Reynolds , and Oscar Beregi run the brain, Woody is a cowardly sperm afraid to take the leap, and Jay Robinson steals it as a priest who almost spoils the fun (“Blasphemy!!”).

Only the warped mind of Woody Allen could conceive of a film like this, and I don’t really know if it could be made in today’s “everybody’s offended”  climate. But here it is, and the movie genre parodies are spot-on. I love this film, and would highly recommend it to anyone with a sense of humor, but if you’re one of those easily offended people… well, I feel bad for ya!

 

Hidden Gem: Natalie Wood in PENELOPE (MGM, 1966)

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When I first recorded PENELOPE, I thought it would end up in one of my “Cleaning Out The DVR” posts. But after watching this hidden gem, I’ve decided to give it a full review. PENELOPE not only gives Natalie Wood a chance to show off her comedic skills, it’s a perfect time capsule of mid-60s filmmaking. The movie bridges the gap between the old screwball comedies and the more modern attitudes to come. That’s not to say PENELOPE is a must-see classic, but it’s an underrated film that I recommend to anyone who likes comedy, 60s style.

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Penelope Elcott is a scatterbrained kleptomanic who, feeling her husband James (Ian Bannen) is neglecting her, robs his bank. She tells it to her shrink, Dr. Mannix (the always funny Dick Shawn), who doesn’t believe her until she shows him a wad of cash. Flashbacks (including one with Jonathan Winters) reveal Penelope’s criminal history. Penelope takes the yellow Givenchy dress she escaped in to a thrift store, where an unscrupulous couple (Lou Jacobi and Oscar winner Lila Kedrova) buys it for seven bucks. Police Lt. Bixbee (Peter Falk, preparing for Lt. Columbo) is on the case, and has his suspicions about the banker’s wife.

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Dr. Mannix, who’s also in love with Penelope, persuades her to give him the cash so he can return it to the bank in their night deposit box. But when he tries to do the deed, a cop siren scares him off. The loot is picked up by a hooker named Honeysuckle Rose, who subsequently gets pinched for the robbery. Penny feels bad for her and tries to confess, but no one will believe her. The scheming couple from the thrift store find a magazine clipping of Penelope wearing the yellow outfit and try to blackmail her. But she’s more than happy to let them tell James and the cops, so they figure something’s fishy and destroy the evidence. Perplexed Penelope then asks James to throw a cocktail party, where she plans to return all the jewelry she’s stole over the years. None of the victims will take it back, and Penelope runs away, later figuring out a plan to make everyone believe she’s a thief in the films madcap conclusion.

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Critics of the day unfairly savaged PENELOPE, sinking it at the box office. It deserves another look for many reasons. The cast is hilarious, balancing amusing dialogue with slapstick humor. Besides those mentioned, standouts in small roles include Arthur Mallet, Carl Ballantine, and Arlene Golonka (as the hooker). Even veteran Fritz Feld shows up in one of the flashbacks to give us his patented “pop”. The witty screenplay is by George Wells, writer of several Red Skelton vehicles, and movies like TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALLGAME (1949), ANGELS IN THE OUTFIELD (1951), and his own Oscar winner, DESIGNING WOMEN (1957). Speaking of designing women, Edith Head deserves special mention for her work, making Natalie Wood more beautiful than ever (if that’s possible). Director Arthur Hiller has done more recognizable movies (THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY, LOVE STORY, THE HOSPITAL, SILVER STREAK), but PENELOPE shouldn’t be forgotten. Obviously I liked it, and I think you will, too. It’s a pleasant surprise for comedy buffs, fans of Natalie Wood, or even casual viewers. It can be purchased on Amazon, viewed online, or occasionally on TCM. Catch it when you can, you’ll thank me for it!