What’s Up, Doc? (Peter Bogdanovich, 1972)
Following his biggest hit The Last Picture Show that played as an homage to the old Hollywood of John Ford and Orson Welles, director Peter Bogdanovich teamed up with Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neal to pay a tribute to Howard Hawks’ quintessential classic slapstick comedies Bringin’up Baby and His Girl Friday. Doing a genre film is always tricky for a director that has his own voice and such encyclopedic knowledge of Film History. However, the movie was the third highest grossing title at the box-office in 1972.
The story evolve around four identical suitcases in the Bristol hotel of San Francisco where Howard (Ryan O’Neal) and his fiancee Eugenie (Madeleine Kahn) stay to get a grant at a gathering of musicists. At the same hotel, in fact the same level are a wealthy widow, a secret agent (Michael Murphy), and the young quick witted Judy (Barbra Streisand) who pursues Howard and is clearly wanting to get him to love her. It plays out as a great homage to slapstick and has many hilarious situations and some other over the top moments. It is not the strongest cinematic achievement but demonstrates how Bogdanovich knows and masters the rules and uses of comedy.
Honestly there were moments where I laughed a lot alone in my living room while watching the ridiculous situations. O’Neal does a OK impersonation of Cary Grant but it is Barbra Streisand that really stands out as one of the funniest presence on the screen. As a young woman, thirty years old, she looked very much like Jennifer Aniston at the same age. It is very uncanny and never really was that obvious to me. Streisand’s range surprised me and I always thought that she only did romantic dramas and musicals.
After all that said, What’s Up Doc? Is the kind of comedy I would watch anytime but the genre, slapstick, isn’t that much popular anymore and it seems that today comedies have to be vulgar and very pedestrian to be produced and to work at the box-office. I would be very curious if a film like this was released today how it would work out with the public of today.