More an homage to screwball comedy than an actual exemplar of the genre, What’s Up, Doc? is never less than entertaining and is sometimes side-splittingly hilarious.
The setup, which involves a strait-laced professor of musicology named Howard Bannister (Ryan O’Neal) driven to distraction by a wacky dame named Judy Maxwell (Barbra Streisand), is clearly modeled on the classic Bringing Up Baby, with a number of identical plaid handbags (one containing Bannister’s precious igneous rocks) as the MacGuffin in place of Cary Grant’s dinosaur bone.
Yet where Hepburn’s character was merely flighty, Judy Maxwell exists, like the Cat in the Hat and Bugs Bunny (note the title line and the carrots she munches in one scene), in the mode of the Trickster archetype, with inscrutable motives, capricious behavior, and almost preternatural abilities, capable of whimsically making Bannister’s life a living nightmare — or putting things to rights again at a moment’s notice.
Kenneth Mars and Madeline Kahn have hilarious supporting roles as the leads’ respective rivals (he as a rival musicologist going for the same grant money as Bannister, she as Bannister’s fiancée and thus Judy’s rival for Bannister’s affections). The film’s high point is an rollicking San Francisco chase scene that finds a completely new way to pay off those two clichés of chase-scene comedy, the worker on a tall ladder and the plate glass window being carried across the street. The film’s last line is a sly riposte to the inane tagline of Ryan O’Neal’s previous film, Love Story ("Love means never having to say you’re sorry").
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.