I let Mr. Lester write the title of this post… tawdry Hollywood underground dirty secrets revealed… or not. Mostly not.

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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)

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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.

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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:

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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 😉 .

26 Comments »

    • I laughed straight through like a ten year old – pure comedy!
      Saw Starting Over last night. Diplomatic response? If Sven Nykvist shot your movie and it still feels like TV, there’s something wrong with your direction.

  1. What’s Up, Doc? is very funny! I haven’t seen Starting Over as far as I know but wasn’t the director Alan J. Pakula? In his defence Klute, The Parallax View, and All The President’s Men look like MOVIES, although he also directed some lesser films, could the problem have been with Jim Brooks’ (?) script or Pakula not knowing how to make bittersweet comedy and thus shooting it “flat”? Eh, maybe not! Nice post, Vickie. I *can hardly wait* for the rest of this series, I really like those movies. 🙂

  2. I think you hit all the great comedies of the 70’s …I can’t think of another. Oh…maybe Earthquake. Yes that Was a comedy! My favorite scene is when Judy sings “As Time Goes By” to Howard in the almost completed bar and restaurant at the top of the then new Hilton tower.

  3. Leave The Poseidon Adventure alone! Shelley Winters, ageing swimming champion, Gene Hackman yelling at God, Roddy McDowall, hot pants, Leslie Nielsen as The Captain (sans Tenille!), an upside down vessel? Give me that over Titanic any day! Bwahahaha!

    • It’s going to be a Broadway musical next year!! The audience will be strapped in when the entire theater turns upside down!! Patti Lupone is doing the Shelly Winters role complet with water ballet that will close the first act. It will simply be called POSIDON the Musical!

      • Some dopey thespian tried to pick me up at a party by telling me I looked like Ms. Lupone’s younger sister, I must have pulled quite a face, because then he went on to say, her MUCH younger sister… Actually, I love her. But it was a funny interaction.

  4. I’ve seen this movie once, when I a kid, at a sleepover at my friend’s house. She was allowed to have a TV in her bedroom. (!!) Even though we promised her mother that we would go to sleep right away and not watch TV (as if!), we turned it on after her parents went to bed, and behold – they were airing “What’s Up Doc?” I thought it was an utterly marvelous, grown-up movie and I felt extremely sophisticated for having seen it.

    • Only once when I was sick as a little girl was I allowed a little portable black and white TV in my bedroom. I remember I caught HELL for staying up late to watch a movie that starred Raquel Welch and Anthony Franciosa, there were go-go boots and skydiving involved and that’s all I remember 😉 .

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