Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex, But Were Afraid To Ask

Dir: Woody Allen, 1972. Starring: Woody Allen, Gene Wilder, Lou Jacobi, Louise Lasser, John Carradine. Comedy.
Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex, But Were Afraid To Ask

Like most of Woody Allen's early comedies Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex, But Were Afraid To Ask is the definition of "hit or miss." This is a joke a minute film. Some are wonderfully funny but, like Airplane some years later, when you throw a ton of jokes at the wall not all of them are going to stick. Enough do to make this well worth the experience and make it an above average comedy. Released during the sexual liberation and adult sexual reeducation of the early '70s, this is kinda/sorta based on David Reuben's hugely popular manual about human sexuality of the same name. Allen uses the chapter heads to basically create seven short films, spoofing the pseudo seriousness of the subject matter. Some work better than others, but oh boy, the ones that do work are home runs. Here's the rundown starting with the least successful of the seven and moving to the better ones.

Why Do Some Women Have Problems Reaching Orgasms?

This one is an interesting experiment in style. But that's about it. Spoofing mod Italian films, particularly the work of Antonioni and Fellini, Louise Lasser (Woody's then girlfriend) plays a woman who can only be satisfied sexually if she is in public. Not that funny, but it looks good and it’s a clever idea, however it does go on a little too long. Are the Findings of Doctors and Clinics Who Do Sexual Research and Experiments Accurate?

In this mad doctor horror spoof, Woody and Helen (Heather MacRae) visit a diabolical research doctor (played by John Carradine) and his assistant, Igor. He shows them all the insane sexual experiments he is doing in his lab, like studying premature ejaculation in a hippopotamus. It becomes a spoof on films like The Blob with an attack by a rampaging giant single breast. This does have some funny gags and jokes, but not one of the best.

What Are Sex Perverts?

Stylistically this perfectly captures the 1950s panel quiz show What's My Line? retitled What's My Perversion? Jack Berry hosts as four panelists (including Regis Philbin) have to guess the perversion of a guest (he likes to expose himself on a subway). This is a quick, devilish little bit, but it works perfectly.

Do Aphrodisiacs Work?

In a Shakespearean spoof, Woody is a court jester trying to seduce the Queen (Lynn Redgrave) after he gives her a love potion. Unfortunately the King (Anthony Quayle) has attached a giant chastity belt to her. This has some big laughs, mostly from Woody running around in a court jester costume (with a look-alike little stuffed dummy, also with glasses). The stand-up routine he performs for the court is one of the funniest scenes in the movie.

Are Transvestites Homosexuals?

This is a goofy one. The balding, mustached Lou Jacobi is a nice, married, Jewish middle-aged man from Long Island. While at a dinner party he excuses himself and goes and dresses-up in the hostess' clothes. While in drag he ends up outside, gets mugged, and causes a scene as the police arrive. Trying to hide his mustache, he tells the police that his gynecologist told him to avoid trouble. Scandal erupts. The best joke comes at the end when he and his wife discuss the problem. In a touching way, she accepts him and his cross-dressing; after all they've been together for twenty-five years.

What Happens During Ejaculation?

Set inside a man's body (a la Fantastic Voyage) as he pursues sex with a sure thing (she went to NYU) and then gets into the act. Every part of the body (from the digestion to the erection) has to work together to get it done. Woody plays a sperm, Burt Reynolds and Tony Randall work the brain's mind center. Unfortunately, his conscious room has been invaded by a priest (Jay Robinson, the white supremacist in Three The Hard Way and TV’s Dr. Shrinker) causing some setbacks in the body’s work for an erection. Eventually Woody and his fellow sperm, spoofing the old parachute jumpers of a WWII flick, have to go do their duty - "Fertilize an egg or die trying." This and the next one are mini masterpieces...

What is Sodomy?

Gene Wilder is a doctor who falls in love with a sheep. This is all about the genius of Gene Wilder. Playing the role with his sad-faced, deadpan seriousness, his curiosity for the sheep grows into a deep obsession that destroys his career and marriage, until finally he’s a hobo in an alley chugging Woolite.

Wilder plays every moment completely straight, as if he is acting in a John Cassavetes film or something. And this may be the greatest work of his impressive career. Wilder’s amazing run of roles started with a memorable little role as a victim of Bonnie and Clyde and he would follow it with three great performances in Mel Brooks' three best films: The Producers, Young Frankenstein, and Blazing Saddles. He would team up with Richard Pryor a number of times throughout his career; the first two outings being the only memorable ones, Silver Streak and Stir Crazy. He would direct himself in a couple of interesting, though not fully successful pictures, The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother and The World’s Greatest Lover. And he would fill out the decade with a number of other oddball curiosities including Quackser Fortune Has A Cousin in The Bronx, Rhinoceros, and The Frisco Kid. Unfortunately by the '80s all that magic was lost and he would never make another significant film. But what a decade the '70s was for Wilder and his work here with Woody Allen is still untouched in comedy.

Besides Wilder’s greatest role, Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex has some of Allen’s greatest gags and the seeds of the sophistication that would take root later in his work. He would continue to grow with his comic gems to follow, Sleeper and then Love And Death. But Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex is less Annie Hall and closer to the funny, spoofy work of Zucker, Abrahams & Zucker (Airplane and their wonderful, but short-lived television series Police Squad!). If nothing else What Happens During Ejaculation? and What is Sodomy? make for some of the most inspired twenty minutes of comedy in Allen’s career.

Posted by:
Sean Sweeney
Nov 29, 2010 2:52pm
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