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What's Up, Doc?

Reliving classic screwball comedy in 1970's San Francisco

If you have spent time watching silent comedy films, 1930s screwball comedies, Laurel and Hardy and assorted Warner Bros cartoons, this film from 1972 will likely seem like a send-up, spoof, love-letter and mash-up of all those genres. It liberally borrows routines and moments from many other films and puts them together in a tale of mistaken identities and impossible situations. Streisand does segments of the fast, snappy dialogue in the manner of a classic Howard Hawks film, and is as successful (or not) at it as, say, Jennifer Jason Leigh in the Coen Bros Hudsucker Proxy (1994) which travels similar routes through film history.

Standing and firing off all those lines at such a high rate of speed was a style originally born of necessity and then became a stylistic emblem of a whole cinematic era that was in a hurry, and seeing it tried in much later films (like Doc and Hudsucker) is interesting but also shows off how much distance there is between the two eras of film (if not American history, too). Which is to say, its simply not the same.

But, still, this movie, with Streisand and O'Neal, is an affectionate big, fat kiss to that old style of film comedy that consisted of subtleties and gross overexaggeration, and the fun of it all makes the film a first-class treat.

What's Up, Doc? Directed by Peter Bogdanovich and released in May 1972, featuring Barbara Streisand, Ryan O'Neal, and Madeline Kahn.

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