Wednesday, March 12, 2014

“What’s Up Doc?” final film screened in screwball comedy series April 12, 2014

When: Saturday, April 12, 2014 4:00 p.m.
Where: The Venue 1550 at the Daystar Center, 1550 S. State Street

I can’t think of a better film to end our screwball comedy series than with What’s Up Doc? This modern comedy classic directed by Peter Bogdanovitch is a homage to the screwball comedies from the 1930s and 40s. It owes much of its plot and structure to Howard Hawks’s Bringing Up Baby, but it more than stands on its own merits.

Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neal, in their first screen pairing, play Judy Maxwell and Howard Bannister respectively. Judy is a free spirit and college dropout who seems to create trouble wherever she goes. Howard is a Ph.D. and musicologist from the Iowa Conservatory of Music, engaged to Eunice Burns (Madeline Kahn) who is a bit controlling, to put it mildly. The trouble all begins in San Francisco when four identical overnight bags get mixed up. Of course Judy and Howard’s bags are part of the mix up and their lives become entangled from there on in.

Streisand and O’Neal were at the top of their box office appeal in 1972, and Bogdanovitch exploits this. Like screwball comedies past, there are inside jokes, and allusions to other films, all with great good humor. Apart from the stars, Bogdanovitch assembled some of the best character actors available, including Kenneth Mars, Austin Pendleton, Sorrell Brooks, John Hillerman, Graham Jarvis, and Mabel Alberston to name a few. Kahn, in her movie debut, all but steals the picture. As the constantly unhinged Eunice Burns, Kahn is pitch-perfect. Annoying to both O’Neal and Streisand’s characters, she is never annoying to the audience. When I first saw the film in theaters, audiences howled with laughter every time Kahn was on the screen.

As a screwball comedy, What’s Up Doc? is so good that if released in the late 1930s or early 40s, audiences would have responded to it the way they did My Man Godfrey, The Awful Truth, and The Lady Eve.

Backstory: This was Peter Bogdanovich’s homage to the screwball comedies of the 1930s and 40s, as well as a tribute to directors Howard Hawks, Leo McCarey, and Preston Sturges.

Trivia: Madeline Kahn was nominated as Most Promising Newcomer, female by the Foreign Press Association (Golden Globes). The Writers Guild of American (WGA), USA awarded What’s Up Doc? Best Comedy Written for the Screen (Buck Henry, David Newman, Robert Benton). The film’s first 2 weekends broke the Radio City Music Hall house record that had stood since 1933.

Ryan O’Neal and Barbra Streisand talk under the table.

Have some Joe and Enjoy the Show!
Before the movie, grab a cup of coffee from Overflow Coffee Bar, located within the Daystar Center. You can bring food and beverages into the auditorium; we even have small tables set up next to some of the seats.

Join the Chicago Film club, join the discussion
The Chicago Film Club is for classic movie fans. Once a month we screen a classic film and have a brief discussion afterward. For more information, including how to join (it’s free), click here.To purchase your ticket in advance, click here. The Venue 1550 is easily accessible by the CTA. Please visit Transit Chicago for more information on transportation options.


  1. I saw this movie only once, when I was a kid.

    A friend had invited me for a sleepover which was exciting because her parents let us sleep in the spare bedroom which HAD A TV! After everyone went to bed – and we pretended to be asleep – my friend turned on the TV for the late, late night movie and here it was "What's Up Doc?"

    I'm sure most of it went over my head, but I felt so Grown Up and Sophisticated for having seen it. I think it's time to see it again!

    1. I must be a lot older than you; I saw it in the movies with my parents on its initial release! I howled like crazy and I had no knowledge of the classics that influenced it and Bogdanovitch. It's so worth seeing with what you know now. You'll really appreciate it, I think.


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