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Sunday, June 3, 2012

What's Up, Doc?

Happy June!  Since it is my birth month, I am being self-indulgent and writing about all of my favourite movies.  For some of the more well-known movies out there, I will be mostly reflecting on the why it is one of my favourites, as opposed to the usual format of a plot rundown and a wee little bit of reflection.  Not all of my favourite movies are classics – some fall into the guilty pleasure category – but whatever.  It’s my birthday month, deal with it.  OK, disclaimer out of the way, let us begin…

#350: What’s Up, Doc? (1972).  This is my favourite comedy.  Hands-down.  It is Peter Bogdonovich’s love letter to the classic screwball comedies from the 1930s and 40s.  For some reason, not many people I know have seen this, and there are way too many plotlines going on to properly recap, so I’m gonna give you the list of primary players, a little on why I love this movie so much, and then a clip of some of the funniest bits.  So, here goes!

 The Players:

Judy Maxwell: Played by Barbra Streisand.  This woman is a free-spirit who causes trouble everywhere she goes.  Modeled after characters played by Katherine Hepburn, Irene Dunn and Myrna Loy.  I am normally not a big fan of Barbra’s, but she is perfect in this role.

Howard Bannister: Played by Ryan O’Neal.  Think Carey Grant in every screwball comedy ever made.  He’s a musicologist who is in San Francisco to compete for a research grant. 

Eunice Burns: Played by Madeline Kahn.  She’s Howard’s shrew of a fiancé, and steals every scene she’s in.  Neurotic, controlling, insane, and I love every minute of her on screen.

Hugh Simon: Played by Kenneth Mars.  Hugh has some kind of funky European accent, is Howard’s competitor for the Larrabee Grant, and is an all-around asshole.  He is tremendously fun to watch, even if you want to smack his pompous face all the time.

Frederick Larrabee: Played by Austin Pendleton.  He is the head of the Larrabee foundation, kind of a little hippie-leftover, and very cool. 

Judge Maxwell: Played by Liam Dunn.  He’s a judge who is at the end of his pitiful rope.  He only has once scene, but it is probably the best scene in the whole movie. 

Everyone Else: There are a lot of classic actors and 1960s/70s “Hey it’s that guy!” guys, as well as a young Randy Quaid as one of the musicologists.

OK, so here’s the main plot:

Judy Maxwell causes issues everywhere she goes, and for this particular movie, she is in San Francisco.  She carries her belongings in a plaid suitcase, and follows a pizza delivery guy to the Hotel Bristol.  Also staying at the Bristol are Howard Bannister and his fiancé Eunice Burns.  Howard is after a grant so he can study something having to do with rocks and music.  He keeps his rocks in a bag just like Judy’s. 

Judy and Howard meet in the hotel drugstore, she crashes the Larrabee dinner happening that night, posing as Eunice.  She charms the musicologists, including Mr. Larrabee.  When the real Eunice shows up, she makes a big stink and Howard says he has no clue who she is.  Eunice is dragged from the room. 

Later, Howard tells Judy to stay away.  And she does.  For about 30 seconds.  Later, she appears in his bathtub, and we’re off to the races of misunderstandings, Eunice screaming at Howard, the TV breaking, a hotel fire… it is hilarious.

The next day, Howard is kicked out of his room, and winds up in a ballroom being renovated on the top floor, where Judy slept on top of a random piano.  Insert obligatory “Barbra SINGS!” moment.  Judy and Howard get to know each other, he finds out that he got the Larrabee grant, and he goes to explain everything to a very upset Eunice. 

Poor Eunice gets sent to the wrong place for the reception Frederick is throwing in Howard’s honor, and gets caught up in some jewelry fencing gone horribly, horribly wrong…

Then everyone shows up at Frederick’s house with all the bags (there are about 3 other subplots going on involving the plaid suitcases) and a shootout occurs, leading to one of the best car chases ever committed to film.  (Seriously.  Not just my opinion – it’s been on movie lists and everything!)

Then we have the court scene, in which we meet poor Judge Maxwell who is one bad hearing away from a nervous breakdown, and his bailiff who thinks he’s at an auction house.  After a great exchange between the judge and Hugh Simon, Howard takes a crack at sorting everything out.  Ryan O’Neal does a terrific job of summing up the movie for us.  Then the judge gets a little bit of a shock, and the scene is over… (Really, it’s funnier than it sounds, but I don’t want to spoil the good stuff!)

Airport.  Howard is headed back to Iowa, sans Larrabee Grant, due to the commotion caused at Frederick’s house.  But wait!  Hugh is a fraud, which Judy reveals.  So, Howard gets the grant afterall!  (Judy is a bit of a Renaissance Woman, who has been to just about every college imaginable).  Frederick and Eunice have bonded (ha!) so she’s staying, leaving Howard all by his lonesome. 

Of course, who else is headed to yet another college in Ames, Iowa?!  Why, it’s Judy!  They kiss, make up, the end.

So, yeah, this is a slightly anemic rundown, but there is a lot going on in this movie, and so much of the greatness lies in the visual gags.  It is also the movie with the most fantastic one-liners ever made.  Seriously.  My dad and I have a tendency to just randomly spew the one-liners from this movie at each other, turning them into entire conversations.  Hell, even the cast and crew (according to director Peter Bogdonovich) was quoting them to each other on the set.  In fact, as I was writing the rundown, lines kept on popping in my head. 

Everyone in this movie is spot-on.  No one is ridiculously over the top, even when Madeline Kahn is shrewing it up as Eunice.  The bigger stuff is nicely countered with her being a little more level in other scenes.  This was Kahn’s first movie, and she came out kicking and rocking.  This was a bit of a vehicle for Barbra Streisand, but Kahn is the one everyone remembers. 

Even people with smaller roles are memorable.  This is just a damn good movie, and everyone needs to check it out.  It is the last perfect comedy, in my opinion.  If you are a fan of Cary Grant movies, you will love this, I promise.  And now, I leave you with a few choice scenes…

And the Trailer...

And that's a wrap for today!  Tomorrow, another musical!  Wheee!

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