I’ve been on a binge lately, watching comedies from the Seventies. That’s the decade I grew up in. Ten at the start, almost twenty by the time it was all over. I realized I’ve only seen the films once (in most cases) and I’ve decided to review them, in not anywhere near chronological order, starting with:
WHAT’S UP, DOC? (1972)
By the early seventies the screwball comedy had been dead for over three decades — despite various funny and not-so-funny revival pictures over the years, including Howard Hawks’s ill-advised rehash of his former brilliance, otherwise known as, Man’s Favorite Sport? which, despite a game Paula Prentiss, is not many a man’s — or woman’s — favorite film. So, when Peter Bogdanovich chose to make his follow-up to The Last Picture Show a full-fledged screwball homage starring Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neal there were more than a few people who raised their eyebrows. But, What’s Up Doc? became a very funny movie. Bogdanovich turned to Buck Henry (The Graduate) and the Bonnie and Clyde team of David Newman and Robert Benton asking them to conjure up a hip variation on Bringing Up Baby. And this was the frequently hilarious result, with its title bringing to mind Baby’s three word structure but also directly referencing Warners’ Looney Tunes as a suggestion of the mayhem to follow.
Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neal have not only never been more tan, they also haven’t ever been more charming than in this film. Barbra and Ryan may be no Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn but they do a fantastic job as sensuously kooky, quick-witted Judy and uptight, stuffy, buffeted-by-events stud muffin musicologist Howard Bannister. Then, there’s a supporting cast to die for: an oddly sexy, hilariously grating Madeline Kahn (in a ridiculous wig for her screen debut) as Howard’s droning wife to be, affably goofy Austin Pendleton, Kenneth Mars as uproariously swish and irritating Hugh Simon, plus the likes of Michael Murphy, Sorrell Booke (Boss Hogg!), and John Hillerman, all of whom hit the mark.
What’s the plot, you ask? Well, it’s something ludicrous and demented about matching cases getting mixed up (yep, THAT plot) but, as with many screwball comedies, the real joy is in a force of nature gleefully disrupting the ordered world of someone who NEEDS that chaos and passion, as well as in the many fabulously unlikely situations along the way and the fantastically silly dialogue. There’s a sequence in a hotel room that begins with Ryan discovering Barbra in the bath in his hotel suite – he looks astonishingly good in white boxers, and believe me, so few really do – and ends with the room on fire and Madeline believing he’s been up to no good… Babies, it’s cold outside. Warm up with a good old-fashioned comedy:
If you’ve got any favorites you want me to throw into the mix, the movies I’ve come up with off the top of my head are: Starting Over, Annie Hall, Start the Revolution Without Me, A New Leaf, The Sting, Young Frankenstein, Silver Streak, Slap Shot, Heaven Can Wait, Manhattan, Love at First Bite.
And of course, we can talk about how some directors get weirder the older they get and how some remain lovely, and why some have stopped directing almost entirely… And, if we don’t have the facts straight, we’ll just call it fiction and go wild 😉 .