Movie Review #737
Directed by Woody Allen. Written for the screen by Woody Allen. (From the book “Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sex * but Were Afraid to Ask” by Dr. David Reuben.) Produced by Charles H. Joffe — A Jack Rollins-Charles H. Joffe and Brodsky/Gould Production. Starring Woody Allen, John Carradine, Lou Jacobi, Louise Lasser, Tony Randall, Lynn Redgrave, Burt Reynolds, Gene Wilder, Robert Q. Lewis, Heather Macrae, Pamela Mason, Regis Philbin, and Robert Walden. Distributed by United Artists Entertainment from Transamerica Corporation in New York City, New York on August 6, 1972; and in Los Angeles, California on August 16, 1972. Rated R. Runs 88 minutes.
You can usually tell a Woody Allen classic from the first three scenes of the movie. And that’s what you’d hope of “Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sex * but Were Afraid to Ask”, just from that erratic title, but a classic you would not receive.
We start with a segment called “Do Aphrodisiacs Work?”, wherein the Fool, much hated by the King for his lame jokes, uses a love potion to seduce the Queen. He’s caught in the act, when the King is awakened by “a loud noise,” and is beheaded. Terribly silly, but it works, mostly thanks to the odd use of archaic language in an unfettered, risqué context, and Allen steals the entire segment.
Then there’s the next segment, titled “What Is Sodomy?”. This concerns the downfall of a psychiatrist’s (Gene Wilder) marriage, after he falls in love with his crazed patient’s Armenian sheep. I’m sure that 60% of you who read this have the notion that it’s worth seeing the film for this segment alone, and you’re absolutely right. One might think the premise sounds way too outrageous for Woody Allen to handle, but let’s keep in mind that just a year earlier, Allen made his breakthrough, “Bananas”. The “What Is Sodomy?” segment is only three times wilder and ten times funnier.
It’s kind of tragic that right after we’re dead of laughter, the movie falls pancake-flat. The third segment, if I had to guess, was a parody of “8½” , or maybe of the director Federico Fellini himself. I found very little funny in this segment of “Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sex”, and for the most part, it’s because the segment is in Italian. Subtitles certainly would have been a novel idea, considering a lot of us actually don’t know Italian. As much as I loved the actual “8½”, I wouldn’t have gotten that one without English words written out for me on the screen.
And “Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sex” goes on like that. Not in Italian, but in other ways that draw small, scattershot laughs. Take the segment with the murderous breast as an example. Maybe it would have worked if every other segment was a miniature B-movie. There’s segments squarely concerning sexual perversion and transvestism that have half the audience roaring and the other half shielding their eyes and ears. (I’ll state that the “What’s My Perversion?” talk show skit had me in a laughing fit, but on the other hand, it’s easily the most shockingly antisemitic celluloid Allen has delivered.) The final segment is an instance of “it seemed like a good idea at the time.” Very creative, but not one bit funny.
“Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sex” had the potential for a decent comedy, but it doesn’t work so effectively as a gut-buster. It left me with a few questions, if nothing else. Like, while Woody Allen is such an auteur, and he believes highly in his own genius, why in pluperfect hell would he resort to something so basic like a sketch comedy? Not only is this Allen’s only sketch movie, it’s his only adapted screenplay. I guess he made the mistake that’s severely common among screenwriters: he loved the book so much that he couldn’t keep himself from buying the rights to it.
FOOTNOTE: From someone who has spent great time writing screenplays, a sketch comedy is simple writing. I have nothing against the genre as a whole.