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Films So Nice, They Named Them Twice?

Double, double, titles and trouble. Hollywood studios are forever trying to set their pictures apart, and saying a title twice certainly makes it easier to remember.

But Jerry Lewis's Boeing Boeing notwithstanding, doubling up on a marquee can be tricky. With Wah-Wah, which opens Friday, filmmaker Richard E. Grant does have an excellent reason. One of his major characters is an American completely exasperated with British aristocrats, and compares their snooty baby talk to "a load of old 'wah-wah.'"

It's the duplication that makes her point, or at any rate, makes it stronger, which is maybe why studios go for double-titles. The Taiwanese film Yi-Yi, for instance, is simply the Chinese word for "one" repeated twice, perhaps because the film is singularly serious.

But sometimes foreign titles are tougher to figure. Spain had the comedy Jamon Jamon -- which basically means "ham ham." And France had both the love story Je T'aime Je T'aime and the mystery Olivier Olivier, neither of which, alas, starred French actress Miou-Miou. Olivier Olivier's director also made the German film Europa Europa.

And other place names given that treatment include Niagara Niagara, Singapore, Singapore (the original french title was Cinq Gars Pour Singapour which is roughly pronounced "Singapore Singapore," but translates as Five Marines for Singapore.) -- and of course, Liza Minelli's if-you-can-make-it-there-you'll-make-it-anywhere musical.

New York, New York co-starred Robert DeNiro, whose buddies Dustin Hoffman and Al Pacino were in Alfredo, Alfredo, and Author! Author!, respectively. And they lead a small galaxy of stars featured in twice-told titles. Gigi, being just one word, doesn't really count as a double, though if it did, you could add Lili and Pepe, both of which starred, believe it or not, Zsa Zsa.

These films don't always look great on your resume. Joanne Woodward got an Oscar nomination for Rachel, Rachel, but Whoopi Goldberg couldn't get arrested for Corrina, Corrina. And Jayne Mansfield almost did get arrested for nudity in Promises! Promises! -- which is not to be confused with the Broadway musical of the same name.

Broadway has never been as fond of double titles as Hollywood is, though it did have the long-running hits Can-Can and Mary Mary. And TV didn't follow Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman with Mork and Mindy, Mork and Mindy. Of course, there was that running joke on Seinfeld about a fake movie that followed a certain young girl's "strange erotic journey from Milan to Minsk."

Rochelle, Rochelle gave Jerry and friends ample opportunity to mock the kind of self-seriousness that can accompany double titles, but perhaps it sounded plausible because similar titles go back all the way to silent era films like Zou-Zou. But Rochelle, Rochelle also just sounds funny, because doubling a title can inject an inherent comic rhythm, hence the comedies Buddy Buddy, Party Party, and The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming.

And if two's comedy in Hollywood, three's a scare -- as in Die! Die! Die!, and Kill, Kill, Kill, not to mention Shock! Shock! Shock! (which was a salute to b-movies of this sort). Of course that leaves the terrible war flick Tora! Tora! Tora! at sea, as it were.

But triple-titles are obviously overkill. And actually, double ones can be too. There was a terrific comedy back in the 1970s -- a sort of one-film double-feature called Movie Movie -- that I swear was killed by its title. The first half was a spoof of boxing flicks, the second half a wonderful riff on movie musicals.

So the title Movie Movie seemed perfect, but only after you'd seen it. Beforehand, it needed a title that would suggest you might go ga-ga. The failure to do that was the ultimate showbiz PR no-no.

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Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.