Fifty years ago today, the film What’s Up Doc? premiered. This film is a screwball comedy created by people that love screwball comedies. Everyone turns in ridiculously brilliant performances. I can watch it over and over and still not believe it is happening. What’s Up, Doc? is by far one of my all-time favorite movies. If you ever get a chance to carve out a bit of time to watch it, you will be so much the better for it.
Directed by: Peter Bogdanovich
Produced by: Peter Bogdanovich
Written by: Peter Bogdanovich, Buck Henry, David Newman, Robert Benton
Starring: Barbra Streisand, Ryan O’Neal, Kenneth Mars, Austin Pendleton, Sorrell Booke, Michael Murphy, Madeline Kahn
Music by: Artie Butler (uncredited)
Cinematography: Laszlo Kovacs
Edited by: Verna Fields
Distributed by: Warner Bros.
Release date: March 10, 1972 (United States)
Running time: 94 minutes
Country United States
Budget: $4 million
Box office: $66 million
Writers Guild of America 1973: Best Comedy Written Directly for the Screen
2000: AFI’s 100 Years…100 Laughs – No. 61
In the fictional Hotel Bristol in San Francisco, four parties arrive, each carrying identical plaid overnight bags.
- The mysterious “Mr. Smith” is carrying top-secret government papers. There is at least some indication that he has them illegally and wishes to make them public, as a whistleblower. The equally mysterious “Mr. Jones” identifies himself as from the government, and is on a mission to recover the documents.
- Dr. Howard Bannister is carrying a bag of igneous “tambula” rocks that have certain musical properties. Bannister, a musicologist from the Iowa Conservatory of Music, and his tightly wound, overbearing fiancée, Eunice Burns, have come to San Francisco to obtain a grant offered by Frederick Larrabee. Howard, who struggles to be patient with Eunice, has a theory that ancient man may have used rocks to create music. Howard’s rival for the grant is the ethically challenged, dubiously-accented Hugh Simon, who is apparently from Yugoslavia but seems to be doing work in Western Europe.
- Judy Maxwell’s overnighter is filled with her clothing and a large dictionary. No matter where Judy goes, trouble happens, from car crashes to spontaneous combustion of hotel rooms. She never finished college, but nevertheless has amassed a considerable amount of knowledge from all of the courses she took at the many institutions of higher learning from which she was expelled.
Wealthy socialite Mrs. Van Hoskins has a bag containing her sizable collection of valuable jewels.
- Howard, Eunice, Mrs. Van Hoskins, and Mr. Smith all check into the Hotel Bristol at the same time. Judy, trying to score a free meal, lodges herself there without paying, notices Howard and begins pursuing him (to his bewilderment). Two hotel employees, Harry and Fritz, attempt to steal the jewels, while Mr. Jones attempts to retrieve Smith’s bag. Over the course of the evening, the bags get switched haphazardly from room to room as the four parties unwittingly take one another’s suitcases. Howard ends up with the jewels, Judy with the documents, Mr. Smith with the clothes, and the thieves with the rocks.
Meanwhile, Judy uses her humor, charm and academic knowledge to secure the grant for Howard, while masquerading as Eunice at the musicologists banquet hosted by Larrabee. She then indirectly contributes to the destruction of Howard’s hotel room (after Howard finds her taking a bubble bath in his tub, and Eunice suddenly appears). The following day (after Howard and Judy share a romantic moment), everyone makes their way to a party at Larrabee’s upscale Victorian home, where a major fight scene occurs involving guns, furnishings and pies.
Howard and Judy take all the bags and flee through San Francisco, first on a delivery bike, and then in a decorated Volkswagen Beetle stolen from a wedding party, pursued by the thieves, Mr. Smith, Mr. Jones, Eunice, Simon, Larrabee and a few roped-in bystanders. They go through Chinatown disrupting a parade, down winding Lombard Street, through wet cement, through a panel of glass, and eventually into San Francisco Bay at the ferry landing, after causing several collisions.
All the protagonists finally end up in court, under the gavel of the world-weary, medication-dependent and curmudgeonly Judge Maxwell who turns out to be Judy’s father. At the shock of seeing his daughter revealed to be the root of the trouble (she was hiding in a blanket during the proceeding), he leans on his heavily gaveled bench, which collapses under his weight.
In the end, everything is cleared up: Howard gets his rocks back, Mrs. Van Hoskins pays the considerable damages in Howard’s name with the reward money he would have received for the return of her jewels, the hotel thieves are forced to flee the country and the papers are put back in the hands of the government. Judy exposes Simon as a fraud and plagiarist, thus getting Howard the grant. Eunice leaves Howard for Larrabee, and Judy announces she is making one more attempt at college, studying Music History at the Iowa Conservatory of Music with Bannister as her professor. Howard and Judy proclaim their love for one another, sharing an airborne kiss while their in-flight movie is the Bugs Bunny cartoon that gave the film its name.