What’s Up, Doc? (1972)
What’s Up, Doc? (1972)

Genre: Slapstick Running Time: 1 hr. 34 min.

Release Date: March 10th, 1972 MPAA Rating: G

Director: Peter Bogdanovich Actors: Barbra Streisand, Ryan O’Neal, Madeline Kahn, Kenneth Mars, Austin Pendleton, Michael Murphy, Sorrell Booke, Stefan Gierasch, Randy Quaid




nce upon a time, there was a plaid overnight case …” That luggage contains some files marked “Top Secret,” which, when picked up, gains a frantic tail. Meanwhile, henpecked, forgetful musicologist Howard Bannister (Ryan O’Neal), possessing a nearly identical bag, receives a long list of instructions from his overbearing fiancee Eunice Burns (Madeline Kahn). In an even greater coincidence, unobservant Judy Maxwell (Barbra Streisand), idiosyncratically possessing an encyclopedic knowledge of random subjects, happens to have the same case, serving as a purse. And finally, an elderly Bristol hotel guest also has that plaid bag, housing a large collection of priceless jewelry.

“I don’t know who she is!” Judy immediately channels Hepburn from “Bringing Up Baby,” setting her sights on Howard and pursuing him relentlessly throughout the hotel. After cornering him in a shop, ripping his coat, and making a scene in front of his fiancee, the stage is set for all sorts of uncomfortable interactions and mix-ups. “I swear this is a bizarre joke.”

As various characters strive to track down, steal, switch, or safeguard their plaid cases, a screwball comedy unfolds, merging old-fashioned slapstick with a situational comedy of sorts, full of rapid-fire dialogue and eccentric personas (from Kenneth Mars to Austin Pendleton to Randy Quaid). It’s also a puzzling heist and a play on cartoon characters (such as Bugs Bunny and Pepe Le Pew). And it continues to grow more unrealistic and outrageous as the fourth wall is broken and assault takes place – all for the sake of laughs, of course.

“Must you stand quite so close?” Some of the comedy is entirely effective, particularly when Streisand puts some goofily aggressive moves on her target. But the modern environments and relationship conundrums (and, later, the involvement of violent, hostage-taking goons) are a touch too serious for the more extreme breaks from realism. Over-the-top mugging, the repeated rending of garments, and pleading to the camera just don’t work themselves smoothly into the gravity of the marital sabotage. Additionally, the multiple switcheroos involving documents and valuables aren’t all that funny, especially since they’re unable to organically supplement the hilarity of Streisand and O’Neal.

“You bring havoc and chaos to everyone!” The accidental destruction, Eunice’s wailing, and Judy’s incessant, playful stalking are amusing, but Bannister is too dopey to be sympathetic or believable. His absent-mindedness and constant bewilderment tend to be more disappointing than mirthful. By the conclusion, which begins to resemble the chase-based shenanigans of “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World” (there are even pies thrown in faces), the comedic stunts escalate but the hilarity wanes. It’s a unique, noble effort to recreate the comedy stylings of a bygone era, but it’s never completely convincing. And the courtroom finale is just as senselessly absurd, again embracing tongue-twisting confusion over reasonable procedure – for the sake of humor, of course.

– Mike Massie

  • 5/10