The Owl and the Pussycat (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Sometimes opposites do attract.

Felix (George Segal) works at a bookstore, but dreams of becoming a successful novelist only to receive rejection letters every time he sends a manuscript out. One night while residing in his cramped New York apartment he spots, through his binoculars, his neighbor Doris (Barbra Streisand) accepting payment for sex and he immediately calls his landlord (Jacques Sandulescu) to report this and it gets her evicted. In anger she goes to Felix’s apartment at 3 in the morning to argue with him about what he did. The two share little in common, but eventually after hours of bickering they form a bond.

The film was originally written as a Broadway play, which in-turn was inspired by a poem of the same name written by Edward Lear in 1871. The play, which ran during the 1964-65 season, starred Alan Alda and Diana Sands and differed considerably from the film in that it had only two characters and one setting. The biggest change though was that in the play the Doris character was a black women, but the studio feared mainstream audiences weren’t ready for that, which is a shame. Streisand is amusing, but she’s unable to convey a tough street-smart attitude. Having an African American woman and a white man come together with vastly different socio-economic backgrounds would’ve made the polar opposites theme even more pronounced and their eventual bonding far more profound.

In an attempt to make the story more cinematic director Herbert Ross had the couple kicked out of Segal’s apartment and then forced to go to his friend Barney’s (Robert Klein) apartment. Initially this seemed fun as Segal and Streisand are allowed to sleep in the living room while Klein and his girlfriend (Marilyn Chambers) remain in the bedroom, but Segal and Streisand continue with their bickering, which forces Klein and Chambers to leave their own apartment, which made no sense. If the guests are the ones causing the racket then they’re the ones asked to leave not the people paying the rent. This also becomes a missed opportunity because it could’ve heightened the comedy by having the couple forced to move to seedier locations each time they’re kicked-out of the previous one.

During the second half Segal and Streisand enter a large home, which was apparently the residence of his fiance’s family, but this is jarring since there had been no mention of the fiancee earlier. It also works against the theme as these characters were portrayed as being lonely and forced to deal with each other despite their many differences because they had no where else to go, but then throwing in Segal’s connection to affluence ends up diminishing the desperation angle.

I also didn’t like that Doris got portrayed as being so painfully uneducated that she couldn’t understand some of the words Felix said, which was heavy-handed since his language wasn’t all that elaborate. I’ve found that most sex workers are quite defensive when it comes to the ‘they must be dumb’ stereotype and make concerted efforts to play against this. Most people, especially with someone they’ve just met, would never admit to not understanding some words spoken by the other because it would make that other person believe that they were intellectually superior and therefore given unfair leverage.

There are few funny moments but it mainly comes during the first half while the second and third act drone on.  The only real distinction are the opening credits, where a jazzy score by Blood, Sweat & Tears gets played while a greenish moon sets behind a cropped cutout of the New York skyline, which is pretty cool.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: November 3, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Herbert Ross

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD

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