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The Owl and the Pussycat

In Les Keyser's Hollywood in the Seventies, Barbra Streisand is explained as "The reigning box-office champ. Everything she touches turns to gold or platinum. She faces no problems of sexual identity or of proper characterizations for a woman in an age of liberation." Yes, Streisand — the current "like butter" diva for women playing shuffleboard on cruise ships — was at one point the J.Lo of her time, only bigger. Like the ghetto-hep Jennifer Lopez, Streisand, the "tough little Jewish girl from New York," was an entertainer first and foremost who also happened to emit something interesting and new onto the screen. She (like J.Lo) made the world rethink the attractiveness of "bigger," although instead of a shapely posterior it was via her regal proboscis, which caused many an insecure high-schooler to re-think that college nose job. One can debate Babs's acting, singing, or forays into the political sphere, but it's hard to deny her star-making charisma — one look at 1970's The Owl and the Pussycat is all it takes. Directed by Herbert Ross and scripted by Buck Henry, the modern-day screwball has Streisand playing Doris, a sometimes-actress but mostly prostitute living her tough-talking New York life day-to-day, trick-to-trick, dreams still ridiculously intact. George Segal plays Felix, a finicky, struggling writer who shares the same apartment building. One night he complains about Doris and the manger kicks her out. Peeved, she barges into Felix's pad and demands a place to sleep. After some struggle, he allows her to stay until they both get thrown out (she's really loud). So begins their curious courtship, which in typical screwball fashion involves opposites hollering at each other and falling in love along the way. Though slight and too easily resolved, The Owl and the Pussycat is often amusing and — common of '70s films — grittier than one would expect. Katherine Hepburn never played a prostitute who starred in a film called Cycle Sluts, and Meg Ryan's never jawed away at Tom Hanks whilst walking down a dirty street in go-go boots and nude fishnets. Even Julia Roberts' Pretty Woman hooker was an angel. Doris is obnoxious — garrulously uttering thick Brooklynese and chomping her gum in the most undignified manner. And yet she's sexy as hell. With a terrific performance from George Segal, the picture is packed with raw energy. They may not be as smooth as Lopez and George Clooney in Steven Soderbergh's Out of Sight, but they're a kick to watch. Columbia TriStar's DVD offers colorful anamorphic (2.35:1) and full-frame transfers, with monaural audio in English and French and an array of subtitles. Supplements include bonus trailers of other Streisand films and Steve Martin's Roxanne (presumably in celebration of the nose). Keep-case.
—Kim Morgan

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