Four plaid bags appear the same;
One holds jewels of a wealthy dame;
One holds stolen documents
That really are the government’s.
One holds Judy Maxwell’s clothes;
The last holds rocks (stay on your toes).
Howard Bannister, Ph.D.,
Needs a grant since art ain’t free.
His music theory based on rocks
Is how he thinks outside the box.
He’s dense, as everyone discerns,
Like his fiancée Eunice Burns.
Judy, eager for romance, is
Sending Howard bold advances.
Hounding him, she calls him Steve
And rips his coat and will not leave.
Smooth-talking, smart, and hazard-prone,
She will not leave the guy alone.
As she impersonates Miss Burns,
Ignoring Howard’s dazed concerns,
The grant she’s quick to guarantee
By schmoozing Mr. Larrabee.
Howard picks this over trueness,
Thus abandoning poor Eunice.
While all this is going on,
Those jewels are stolen by a con.
A secret agent on pretense
Attempts to steal the documents,
But everybody’s lodged as well
On one floor in the same hotel.
As bags are hidden, moved, and switched,
Traded, stolen, sneaked, and ditched,
And as Howard tries to hide
Judy when she sneaks inside,
Utter anarchy ensues.
There’s no telling whose is whose.
When the morning comes at last,
Howard’s being still harassed,
But he doesn’t mind as much;
Judy simply has the touch.
They go, because he won the grant,
To Larrabee’s, but Eunice can’t.
She’s abducted by jewel thieves,
Who got the rocks of Howard’s/Steve’s.
Since Howard has the documents
And jewels as well (if that makes sense),
They all converge at Larrabee’s,
Demanding all four bags to seize.
Both Howard and Judy flee the scene
With all the bags, and they careen
Through San Francisco’s every place,
As everybody else gives chase.
With lots of damage done that day,
They all then plunge into the bay.
Before the judge, confusion reigns,
Which nearly lands them all in chains.
Yet everything works out, it seems,
Though some are still involved in schemes.
The grant is won thanks to a hoax,
And Judy’s won, with guile and jokes,
Her loving Howard. That’s all, folks!

What’s Up, Doc? Is a comedy classic with a plot I doubt even the filmmakers could fully follow. An homage to other classics like Bringing Up Baby, it throws in countless characters, each with their own agenda, who end up colliding in hilarious ways thanks to the four identical overnight bags. There’s Ryan O’Neal as the absentminded Howard Bannister, Madeline Khan (in her debut) as his controlling and “unbalanced” fiancée Eunice, Barbra Streisand as the pushy but endearing disaster area known as Judy Maxwell, and Kenneth Mars as the other grant finalist Hugh Simon, whose accent is impossible to trace. Not to mention, there’s Mr. Larrabee and the musicologists (was that Randy Quaid?!), the jewel thieves, the dueling document thieves, the old lady with the jewel bag, the hotel manager, the judge, the waiter, the bailiff, and that guy who freely gives his car to “the government.”

The comic situations are priceless, from the convoluted mixing of the bags from hotel room to hotel room to one thief’s strange version of “charm” to the big slapstick fight where everyone converges. The best scenes, though, are the hotel destruction sequence, which hilariously spirals out of control, and the awesome car chase through San Francisco’s streets, easily the funniest chase scene put on film.

The script is likewise ingenious and moves along at such a fast clip that further viewings are practically a necessity. The jokes come fast and furious and include everything from a world-weary, pill-popping judge to the meaning of “propriety” to supposed women soldiers dressing for battle.

My VC absolutely loves this film, despite her usual aversion to silliness. It would be somewhere in her top 50, but I have some reservations. While the film is entirely suitable for all audiences (if they can keep up), I found Barbra Streisand’s character to be both the film’s greatest asset and its worst liability. Her antics are side-splitting, to be sure, but that doesn’t change the fact that she lies throughout the film, puts Howard through hell, and somehow ends up getting her way by the end. Not only does she act as indifferent to Howard’s engagement as the trolls in Frozen, but she sends Eunice on a cruel wild goose chase that leaves her in the hands of criminals. She also sneaks into a hotel without paying, helps to steal a car and some costumes, and makes a nuisance of herself, all without any lasting consequences. As funny as she is, her ethics are definitely in doubt, and I would have put up more resistance had I been Howard.

Nevertheless, What’s Up, Doc? is a fun and lighthearted screwball of a comedy that never fails to leave my family smiling. It’s proof that excellent comedy doesn’t need to depend on constant sexual jokes and language, as so many modern films do. If only there were more films like this….

Best line: (Fritz, the hotel manager, trying to take a bag by lying about an escaped snake) “Calm yourself, Miss Burns. May I suggest you shut yourself in the bathroom for a few moments while I search your room?”
(Eunice) “What if it’s in there?”
(Fritz) “Impossible, madam. Snakes, as you know, live in mortal fear of… tile.”
VC’s best line: (Judy) “I know I’m different, but from now on I’m going to try and be the same.”
(Howard) “The same as what?”
(Judy) “The same as people who aren’t different.”


Artistry: 5
Characters/Actors: 8
Entertainment: 10
Visual Effects: 7
Originality: 9
Watchability: 9
Other (Judy’s pushiness): -2
TOTAL: 46 out of 60


Next: #164 – Up

© 2014 S. G. Liput

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