Monday, December 22, 2014

WHAT'S UP, DOC?


According to Wikipedia (I know, I know), WHAT'S UP, DOC? was released on March 10th, 1972. Funny, I distinctly remember seeing it sometime during the summer of 1972, not the spring, at the old Americana Theater on Hancock Drive. I had a date (my only one) with Austin High classmate Kyle Cooper, I remember that for sure. I also remember thinking that WHAT'S UP, DOC? was one of the funniest movies I had ever seen.

That is until a few weeks later when I saw PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM at the Paramount Theatre. Again, the release date for this Herbert Ross directed film, written by and starring Woody Allen, is May 4th, 1972 but I know I saw it during the summer. In the '70s there weren't the locked into place nation wide release dates that films enjoy now. A film would open in New York and Los Angeles and maybe a few other big cities and eventually make it's way to smaller markets like Austin which had yet to become the film mecca it is today. Distribution vagaries aside, I know I saw both of these extremely funny films during the course of the summer of 1972. Both films made me laugh a lot (they still do) but if I had to pick a favorite of the two, it would definitely be PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM.

I recently watched WHAT'S UP, DOC? again for the first time in forty-two years. It holds up remarkably well. Peter Bogdanovich crafted a loving and knowing valentine to the classic screwball comedies of the '30s and '40, in particular, BRINGING UP BABY (1938), a film I had yet to see at the time I first saw WHAT'S UP, DOC? Ryan O'Neal and Barbra Streisand make an appealing comedy team but it's the supporting cast that steals this show. Veteran character actors Kenneth Mars and Liam Dunn are marvelous but the real standout is Madeline Kahn in her first feature film role. The plot concerns four identical plaid covered suit cases, each of which contains something of value. All of the suitcases get switched multiple times by an increasing large and bizarre cast of characters during the first act of the film which takes place in a San Francisco hotel.

The action expands and opens up during the second act as Bogdanovich moves the narrative to the streets of San Francisco with a wild, brilliantly choreographed chase sequence. The third act finds all of the players assembled in a court room where things are finally explained and a final surprise awaits.

In addition to echoing BRINGING UP BABY, WHAT'S UP, DOC? borrows it's title from Warner Brothers cartoon superstar Bugs Bunny's famous catchphrase. In fact, a Bugs cartoon is shown on an airplane at the end of the film before the final line of dialogue, which wickedly lampoons LOVE STORY (1970), a film which made Ryan O'Neal a major star.

Barbra Streisand, already known as a great singer, demonstrates a real flair for comedy here but I didn't find her appealing the first time I saw WHAT'S UP, DOC? and I still don't. I know she has millions of fans but she's never worked for me. Your mileage may vary.

I had an opportunity to meet director Peter Bogdanovich several years ago at a screening of TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT (1944) at the Paramount. There was an exclusive meet and greet party with him before the film and I had the chance to chat with him briefly and have him sign my DVD of THE LAST PICTURE SHOW and copies of two of his books, WHO THE DEVIL MADE IT and WHO THE DEVIL'S IN IT. He was gracious and polite and a heck of a nice guy.

WHAT'S UP, DOC? is fast and funny. It made me laugh in 1972 and again in 2014. Recommended.

 

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