What’s Up, Doc? (1972)

What’s Up, Doc? (1972)

“I know you don’t mean any harm; you’re just — different!”

A bumbling musicologist (Ryan O’Neal) competing with an obnoxious Croatian (Kenneth Mars) for a grant from a wealthy donor (Austin Pendleton) gets into trouble with his whiny fiancee (Madeline Kahn) when a wacky college dropout (Barbra Streisand) decides she likes him and aggressively pursues him.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Barbra Streisand Films
  • Madeline Kahn Films
  • Michael Murphy Films
  • Mistaken or Hidden Identities
  • Peter Bogdanovich Films
  • Professors
  • Randy Quaid Films
  • Romantic Comedy
  • Ryan O’Neal Films

Peter Bogdanovich’s remake of — or affectionate homage to — Howard Hawks’ Bringing Up Baby (1938) was co-scripted by Buck Henry, David Newman, and Robert Benton and featured perhaps the only person wacky enough to compete with Katharine Hepburn in the original: Barba Streisand (in her fifth starring role).

Unfortunately, O’Neal is no Cary Grant, and the film is a mixed comedic bag which tries to cover way too much territory in its 94-minute non-stop running time (though audiences at the time loved it, and it made a boatload of money).

The opening sequences — in which we first meet Streisand’s Judy and she finds all sorts of creative methods for weaseling her way into the life of staid Howard Bannister (O’Neal) — are the best, particularly as we see her ably charming Pendleton’s toothy philanthropist:

… and infuriating O’Neal’s insufferably stuffy fiancee (Kahn, in her film debut).

A central running gag about four matching plaid bags — which each contain something incredibly valuable to its owner, and get instantly mixed up — manages to incorporate a slew of supporting characters who will stop at nothing to get the bag they believe they’re looking for or own.

Among the film’s many comedic “situations” are Streisand dangling outside of a hotel balcony (it should be noted that this was the “first American film to credit the stunt people in the credits”):

… an elaborate (and destructive) car/bicycle chase through the streets, stairs, and wharfs of San Francisco:

… an interrupted reception in a fancy gallery space:

… and a court case with a pill-popping judge.

It’s easy to see why audiences had so much fun with this madcap comedy, but it’s not must-see viewing other than for Streisand fans.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Barbra Streisand as Judy Maxwell
  • Madeline Kahn as Eunice
  • Austin Pendleton as Frederick Larrabee
  • Colorful sets and cinematography
  • Fun use of San Francisco location shooting

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a look simply for Streisand’s performance.


One thought on “What’s Up, Doc? (1972)

  1. Superb, gaspingly hilarious film. O’Neil is supposed to be a dweeb and a nebbish, a role he does very well I thought. It’s around him the insanity revolves. Kenneth Mars is also really funny as his professional opponent. My wife dislikes this one because she feels that Streisand is narcissistic and obnoxious but I think she’s missing the point, mind you she’s not a fan of cinema made after about 1960 and loves Bringing up Baby. This is definitely not a remake but an homage to that kind of screwball farce.

    I suppose if one were to apply reality to this then yes, Streisand is a sociopath but it’s effectively a live action Looney Tunes cartoon and to my mind every bit as good as BUB and others of it’s ilk. A classic and one of the best American comedies of all time, so on that score must see for FFs. But, I don’t think it’s a film of any great influence on cinema as a whole so from that point of view not must see (BUB certainly is must see as the progenitor of such types of comedies). The choice comes down to the individual.

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