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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Doris: I'm not crying.
DVD ReviewWhen she was good, she was very, very good...
Barbra Streisand has only participated in about fifteen films in four decades; although known as a perfectionist, this aspect of her career is a bit spotty. After her sensational 1968 screen debut, bringing her Broadway role of Fanny Brice in Funny Girl to the screen, she seemed destined for musical extravaganzas at a time when they were on the wane. She made two more musicals in the next two years, then broke out of the genre to star in Herbert Ross' The Owl and the Pussycat, a decisive move, if not her best effort.
Bill Mannhoff's hit Broadway play, adapted to the screen by Buck Henry, centers its first act in the cramped, New York flat of uptight intellectual Felix Sherman (Segal), who prefers to keep to himself. A struggling writer, Felix comes home on a miserable night to a mailbox filled with rejection letters, argues with his landlord and sets to his typewriter to start again. His foul mood is exacerbated by the television noise rising from an apartment across the way, and when he seeks, through binoculars, the cause of the disturbance, he spies a financial transaction that is unmistakably money for sex. In his temper, he reports these illicit doings to their landlord, then gives up and goes to bed. In one of the movie's most hilarious scenes, his now homeless neighbor, Doris (Streisand) shows up at his door—TV in hand—and demands retribution from Felix for his role in having her put out in the middle of the night.
Most of the film takes place on this first night in Felix's two rooms, with him in a tightly-clutched bathrobe wanting nothing but sleep and Doris in an outrageous Fredrick's-style babydoll demanding his attention. Although they wind up in the apartment of Felix's friend, Barney (Klein), there are few other characters and these two maintain the lion's share of screen time, bickering, babbling and, you guessed it, falling in love.
While Segal is potent as the repressed Felix and Streisand embodies the annoying Doris, there just is no chemistry between them. Although we fully expect that as polar opposites they will somehow find a way to each other (don't they always?), here I just don't buy it. Their relentless, mutual aggravation goes on too long, and there is no believable transition to compassion. While I can accept that the experience has changed them, their performances do not convince they are destined to "dance by the light of the moon."
Nonetheless, their work is solid; credit must be given for maintaining their characters credibly through extended scenes. Segal had proved his potential earlier in an Oscar®-nominated role, up against the flaming giants of Taylor and Burton in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in 1966, and in the POW drama, King Rat. While his best comedic performances were yet to come, he is actually the funnier of the two as the "straight man," and his attempt to simulate late night TV to help Doris sleep is delightful. Streisand, in her first non-musical film, seems to take Doris too literally, which becomes a bit over the top; she is funny, but never really endearing. No doubt her Oscar ® -nomination was still riding on her earlier successes. In her next film, What's Up, Doc?, Streisand manages to reign in a similarly wild personality with much better results. Robert Klein makes a brief appearance as does Marilyn Chambers (credited as Evelyn Lang) as his girlfriend.
In 1970, the wildly popular Streisand parading about on screen with shocking-pink hands appliquéd over her breasts (not to mention the heart-shaped outline embroidered on the crotch of her panties) was no doubt highly risqué, as was the overt suggestion that the owlish Felix might be gay; sadly these devices do not hold up well over time.
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: C+
Image Transfer Review: Columbia TriStar offers The Owl and the Pussycat in beautifully digitized anamorphic widescreen, with a full-frame version on the flipside for anamorphobes. Colors seem correct, fleshtones are almost too natural and black levels are even with good detail. There is a small amount of grain in scenes with extreme lighting (mostly out of doors), but the picture is otherwise crisp and spotless. I doubt this film has never looked better than this, it is almost flawless.
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: The soundfield is fairly flat, but this is not much of a problem for this dialogue-rich, monaural track. Streisand's shrill voice is rendered realistically yet never overpowers Segal's soft-spoken lines. There is virtually no score and ambient sound is minimal, which accentuates the clarity of the soundtrack. There is, however, a closing song performed by Blood, Sweat and Tears.
A French monaural track is also provided, and it is actually fun to watch the dub actress try to keep up with Streisand's mouth. It actually made me think how much better this film might have been if it had actually been produced in France—"Le Hibou et le minou"—hmm, I like it...
Audio Transfer Grade: A
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in Chinese, English, French, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, Thai with remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
Extras Review: There are 28 chapter stops, which is just about right. Filmographies are included for Segal and Streisand, as well as director Ross, and trailers for The Mirror Has Two Faces, For Pete's Sake and Roxanne, but oddly not for the featured film.
Extras Grade: D+
Final CommentsTwo young actors riding toward the crest of their careers is no guarantee of success. This owl and his pussycat (Segal and Streisand) do not generate the kind of plausible chemistry needed to charm us. Columbia TriStar, however, has done a fine job of restoring this film for the DVD format. Streisand fans will want this for their collections; otherwise, it is at least worthy of a rental, or even better, go see the play.
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