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What's Up, Doc?
USA 1972
Directed by Peter Bogdanovich
Running time 94 minutes
Rated G

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars


Peter Boganovich followed his sombrely elegaic 1971 film The Last Picture Show with this riff on 1930s-style screwball comedies. It was a huge hit in its day, its irreverent fun-loving manner well suiting the let-it-all-hang-out mood of the early 70s but it does not have the staying power of genre classics such as Howard Hawks' His Girl Friday or Bogdanovich’s blueprint for this film, Hawks' Bringing Up Baby.

O'Neal plays fuddy-duddy musicologist Howard Bannister who is attending a San Franciso conference with his controlling fiancée (Madeline Kahn). For some reason college drop-out Judy (Barbra Streisand) sets her trendy cap at him. This causes all manner of upset but so too does the fact that Howard and Judy along with two other characters, a wealthy matron (Mabel Albertson) and a government whistle-blower (Michael Murphy), are all carrying identical plaid travel bags, one with a lot of jewellery, the other with top secret documents both of which are the targets of thieves.

Bogdanovich’s original story works in all the elements of the classic screwball comedy but the script by Buck Henry, David Newman and Robert Benton does not have a level of wit to match its 30s precursors, leaving the director to rely heavily on slapstick. The latter works quite well with an amusing scene of mayhem in a hotel bedroom and a lengthy and well-executed chase sequence through the streets of San Francisco but the dialogue only occasionally sparks into life.

Perhaps more damaging to the film, O’Neal is far from being a Cary Grant nor is Barbra Streisand a Rosalind Russell or Katherine Hepburn (tho’ she is a much better singer than either). Streisand was a star in her own right by this time but leaving aside the fact that she is too old to play the part of a kooky co-ed, Bogdanovich over-indulges her supposedly irresistibly wacky character with too many close-ups and smart-aleck lines (she was much better opposite George Segal in The Owl And The Pussycat which came out the same year). One can see why audiences would have loved it in its day (there's a nice joke about O'Neal's role in the 1970 smash Love Story) but those same reasons have dated it and it now looks too self-consciously cute to win unreserved affirmation.

A young Randy Quaid appears, complete with hillbilly twang, along with Kenneth Mars as a pretentious Eastern European academic and watch out for M. Emmet Walsh (who could never have been young) in the court room scene

 

 

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