With his famous nostalgia for (truly) old movies, Peter Bogdanovich was right to make in the early ’70s a screwball comedy—What’s Up, Doc? (’72)—for he directed with a fine sense of pacing and a flair for sight gags. The flick is mere entertainment, but it stays unassuming—not always having funny lines, but sufficiently laugh-inducing nonetheless.
In her first movie role, Madeline Kahn plays the scolding fiancee of a musicologist (Ryan O’Neal) with amusing poise and impeccable timing. O’Neal is passable and occasionally more than that, and some of the other actors are invariably more than that. The woman Kahn vies with for O’Neal’s affections is, unfortunately, Barbra Streisand—the movie’s most important flaw. I suppose Streisand looks right for musicals, but she doesn’t look right at all for a Carole Lombard role in a romantic comedy. She is unglamorous and unfunny and hollow. She nearly wrecks the entire film.
But not quite. What’s Up, Doc? is still pleasurable, an inspired tribute to the screwball productions. Possibly it is the best Bogdanovich movie I’ve seen.
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