Warner Bros. // 1972 // 94 Minutes // Rated G
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // July 14th, 2003
Barbra and Ryan are up to some classic comedy coupling!
Before she became THE BARBRA, Ms. Streisand was just plain old Barbra, a comedic actress who didn't look like she cost $25,000 a day in maintenance. In the 1970s, Barbra became a comedic star with such hits as Up the Sandbox and Funny Lady (the sequel to her 1968 debut, Funny Girl). One of her classic comedies is What's Up, Doc?, a successful pairing with actor Ryan O'Neal (Malibu's Most Wanted). The two would go on to star together in the less successful The Main Event, but that's a different story for a different review. What's Up, Doc? has finally made its way onto DVD care of Warner Home Entertainment.
Attempting to sum up a screwball comedy is like trying to count the wing beats per minute on a hummingbird: impossible!
For those who really need to know, here's the gist: O'Neal plays Howard Bannister, an up-tight geologist/musician studying the impact of early man's musical tastes (or something along those lines). Basically, Howard carries a lot of rocks around in a red plaid duffle bag and uses them in conjunction with his tuning fork. Babs plays Judy Maxwell, a feisty woman who basically pushes her way into Howard's life while he's shopping for a bottle of aspirin at a hotel convenience store. When a few other characters show up with the same looking duffle bag, a mix up of epic proportions transpires. What follows is madcap mayhem that delves into mass destruction, including a frantic hotel fire and a chase through the streets of San Francisco. With a cast of supporting characters at their side (including the dependable Kenneth Mars, Austin Pendleton, and the late, great Madeline Kahn in her first role as Howard's fiancée), Judy and Howard will learn that love can blossom in the most unusual of places...and situations!
Curious how L-O-V-E changes everything. And in the movies, it can change someone's life in well under two hours. How convenient! Though romantic comedies don't show a normal time span for realistic meetings between the sexes, they do entertain -- and I guess that's what's important, eh? Either way you slice it, love is here to stay and as long as there are movies, there will always be romantic comedies. Though there's a wide abundance of cruddy romantic flicks out there, there are also a few scattered gems -- which is exactly what What's Up, Doc? is.
I will admit to being slightly skeptical about What's Up, Doc? Let's be honest: Barbra Streisand is not a name I associate with classical pratfall humor. Yet here she is in all her splendid glory. I dare say that I even found her *gasp* attractive! And that's the glory of director Peter Bogdanovich's (The Last Picture Show, Illegally Yours) warm hearted tale of mixed up feelings and luggage -- what shouldn't work does. This is in no small part to writer Buck Henry (The Player), David Newman (not the composer), and Robert Benton's (Nobody's Fool) zany, fast paced screenplay -- their attempt at resurrecting the lost art of screwball comedies works. The success isn't in the plot (does anyone really care, anyway?) as it is in the one liners -- the banter is fast and furious with Babs and Ryan bouncing off each other like skillful Harlem Globetrotters.
Barbra Streisand is a sheer delight -- she's cute, bubbly, and fun -- a long way off from her bland presence in the dud The Mirror Has Two Faces. Ryan O'Neal is appropriately stiff and blustering. Kenneth Mars, an actor who looks like the cuddly version of Frankenstein's monster, humorously mugs every time the camera crawls upon his face. Austin Pendleton is the embodiment of comedy, his face a delight of comedic ticks and turn. And Madeline Kahn, sporting a voice that could shatter glass three miles away, shows why she went on to be one of Mel Brooks' best leading ladies.
What's Up, Doc? wasn't made to be a great work of art -- it is, for all intents and purposes, a movie to make the you laugh and that's it. Unlike the post-American Pie comedies of today, the film doesn't rely on sperm/poop/urine/vomit/flatulence gags to get its humor across. It relies on a clever script and delightful performances. Though it may not be one of Bogdanovich's best works, it may just be one of his funniest. Recommended to comedy fans and lovers everywhere.
What's Up, Doc? is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Fans will be delighted to see this film's first ever DVD presentation in glorious vibrant colors and black levels. While some of the tones and colors look dated (especially by today's crisp, perfect looking DVD standards), overall Warner has done a fine job at making sure this transfer looks better than average. A few edge halos are present in a few scenes, though they're never overly intrusive to the picture. All in all I was happy to see this print in decent shape. On a different note, does anyone else think Barbra looks a bit too much like a copper penny?
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono in both English and French. This is slightly surprising considering the fact that most of Warner's bigger catalog releases have been given hefty 5.1 remixes. Though this isn't a bombastic sound mix, overall the dialogue, music, and effects are clear. Seeing as What's Up, Doc? was filmed in the early 1970s, it's not shocking to find the dynamic range and fidelity slightly limited. Also included on this disc are English, French, and Spanish subtitles.
While the back of the package seems to list a plentiful amount of extra features, the fact is that there's only a handful of extras on this first ever DVD version of What's Up, Doc? The most enticing feature, I presume, will be the scene specific commentary track by star Barbra Streisand. Unfortunately, these is less than 15 minutes worth of discussion on this track, and it is quite literally broken up into just a few scenes. While fans may be thrilled to hear her thoughts on the film (none of which are very deep), casual viewers will want to pass. However, for those disappointed in the Babs track, there's a second commentary by director Peter Bogdanovich who has oodles to say about the film, its conception, and what it was like working with the queen of all divas. For both fans of the film and Streisand nuts, this is a worthwhile commentary track.
Also included on this disc is a short but entertaining "Screwball Comedies...Remember Them?" featurette from the '70s that includes behind-the-scenes clips (and no narration), a brief list of awards the film won, and an original theatrical trailer presented in anamorphic widescreen.
Zany! Wacky! Goofy! Throw in a few more adjectives and you've got yourself What's Up, Doc? Comedy fans and hopeless romantics will get a kick out of this early Streisand effort. With a winning cast, a delirious script and lightning fast zingers, What's Up, Doc? is worth a second (or third, or forth, or fifth) look on DVD.
What's Up, Doc? is cleared of all charges brought against it. Everyone's gotta laugh sometime, and What's Up, Doc? is just what the doctor ordered.
Review content copyright © 2003 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Release Year: 1972
MPAA Rating: Rated G
* Selected Scene Commentary by Barbra Streisand
* Commentary Track by Director Peter Bogdanovich
* "Screwball Comedies...Remember Them?" Featurette
* Awards List
* Theatrical Trailer