Welcome back to Outside the Confines: your relaxed retreat for night owls, early-risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. We’re getting close to Opening Day, so everyone around here is getting excited about the after game foot traffic around here. Be sure to renew your membership card before the place gets so crowded that nobody comes. No dress code tonight. Bring your own beverage. The hostess will seat you now.
BCB After Dark is the place for you to talk baseball, music, movies, or anything else you need to get off your chest, as long as it is within the rules of the site. The late-nighters are encouraged to get the party started, but everyone else is invited to join in as you wake up the next morning and into the afternoon.
Last week I gave you another chance to pick who would lead the Cubs in saves in 2021, since your earlier pick, Codi Heuer, appears to be out of the running after Tommy John surgery. Your choice, with 47 percent of the vote, was the incumbent, Rowan Wick. Second place went to Mychal Givens with 27 percent and David Robertson got 18 percent.
Here’s the place where I talk about jazz and movies. You’re free to skip ahead to the end if you want. You won’t hurt my feelings.
I’ve got a present for all you Beatles fans out there tonight as I have saxophonist Joshua Redman playing “Let it Be.” I honestly have no idea when this clip is from or who is playing on it with Redman. But is starts out as a very melancholic interpretation and then becomes a bit more upbeat at the end.
I do want to make a confession that I don’t hate The Beatles, even though I sometimes enjoy making people think I hate The Beatles. I actually like The Beatles, even if I think they’re overrated. On the other hand, I cannot and will not deny the incredible cultural impact that they’ve had over the past sixty years. I don’t think that part is overrated.
Congratulations to all the winners of last night’s Academy Awards and especially to CODA, which was the little indie that could. As far as the rest of the nonsense that went on at the ceremony, I’m going to keep my trap shut about that and hope to forget it one day.
But I promised you that I’d write about a fifty-year-old film this week, and I sometimes keep my promises.
Director Peter Bogdanovich called his 1972 film What’s Up, Doc? a “wacky screwball comedy with absolutely no redeeming social importance.” It is also a very funny farce full of smart dialog and slapstick humor that holds up amazingly well after fifty years.
Bogdanovich was a comet that burned brightly across the stars at the start of the “New Hollywood” movement that began in the late-sixties. Much like the French New Wave directors Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut, Bogdanovich started out as a film critic. But unlike those French directors who tended to dismiss most of the earlier French cinema, Bogdanovich worshipped the great classic Hollywood directors. He had interviewed, wrote about and befriended such legends as John Ford, Howard Hawks and especially Orson Welles, before giving up criticism for his own career as a director.
Bogdanovich told the story of how What’s Up, Doc? came about many times before he passed away this past January. In May of 1971, he got a call from the head of production at Warner Brothers saying that Barbra Streisand had just seen a screener of his first major studio film, The Last Picture Show, which had not yet been released to the general public. Streisand was so impressed with the movie that she told Warners that she wanted to make a film with Bogdanovich.
So the head of production just straight out asked “What kind of film would you make with Barbra?” and Bogdanovich replied “I’d probably make a screwball comedy like Bringing Up Baby,” which had been directed by one of his idols, Howard Hawks. The executive then said “Great. Barbra’s got some free time in August to shoot it.”
So Bogdanovich had three months to write a script and get it ready for shooting and all he knew was that it was going to be a screwball comedy starring Barbra Streisand. He took the basic idea of Bringing Up Baby, an uptight college professor is engaged to marry an uptight, killjoy woman until a crazy woman decides that he’s going to marry her instead. Bogdanovich adds an additional farcical element of four identical plaid suitcases that are constantly getting mixed up. Once he had the basic story mapped out, he handed it over to three of the hottest screenwriters at the time to hammer out a shooting script: David Newman and Robert Benton, who co-wrote Bonnie and Clyde; and Buck Henry, who wrote The Graduate.
The final script is a fast-paced slapstick farce that borrows not only from Bringing Up Baby, but as the title indicates, Looney Tunes cartoons. Bogdanovich used his knowledge as a film critic to drop other references to films such as To Have and Have Not, Casablanca, Bullitt, Buster Keaton’s silents and several other films. I’ve seen What’s Up, Doc? at least five times and I’m sure I haven’t caught all the references. But they are mostly Easter eggs for film fans—missing the references probably won’t hurt your enjoyment of the movie.
Streisand stars as Judy Maxwell, who is a combination of Susan Vance, Katherine Hepburn’s character in Bringing Up Baby, and Bugs Bunny. Over the decades, there has been a lot written and many debates held about Bugs and his role in the history of American humor, but pretty much everyone agrees that much of Bugs’ comedy derives from him being an agent of chaos.
And that’s what Judy Maxwell is—an agent of chaos. When we first meet her, she’s wandering the streets of San Francisco with one of those four identical suitcases. She watches a man toss a pizza crust in the air—it never comes down. She crosses the street against traffic—two motorcyclists crash trying to avoid her. Very early in the film, Bogdanovich makes it clear that wherever Judy goes, chaos follows. He even reinforces this later in the film by having Howard (Ryan O’Neal) tell her “You bring havoc and chaos to everyone!”
Judy is a perpetual student who has been kicked out of dozens of colleges and has had dozens of different majors. This gives her a very broad knowledge base that serves as both a plot device and for comedic effect, such as when she tries to explain her more recent school expulsion.
Judy: Nothing, nothing really. It was just a little classroom. It sort of burned down.
Howard: Burned down?
Judy: Well, blew up, actually.
Howard: Political activism?
Judy: Chemistry major.
Another example Judy’s broad knowledge being used for comedy is when she is asked if she knows the meaning of propriety and Judy is able to quickly quote the dictionary definition of “propriety.”
Streisand is terrific as the fast-talking and always-scheming Judy. She’s even good at the physical comedy. She’s so good, in fact, that it’s kind of a shame that she didn’t make more pure comedies over the course of her career. (Although the few she did make after this were definitely a mixed bag. I’m blaming the scripts and not Barbra for those.)
Those who want to hear Streisand sing, however, are likely to be disappointed. She only sings the Cole Porter tune “You’re the Top” during the opening and closing credits and she sings part of “As Time Goes By” from Casablanca before the one love scene with Howard. But for how quickly the movie was put together, a real musical number really wasn’t in the cards.
The part of Howard Bannister, the object of Judy’s affection, was made for Cary Grant. Unfortunately, in 1972 Grant was both too old and too retired to take the part. Ryan O’Neal isn’t Cary Grant, but at times he comes close. Howard is a musicologist from Iowa who is visiting San Francisco with his fiancée Eunice in hopes of securing a $20,000 award to further his research on the musical properties of prehistoric rocks. In fact, those silly prehistoric rocks are what Howard (whom Judy inexplicably calls “Steve,” a reference to To Have and Have Not) has in his suitcase.
O’Neal has the harder role as the straight-laced, uptight professor, and there are moments early in the film where he has trouble playing off of Streisand’s manic energy. But there are also a few moments where he approaches “Cary Grant-ness,” especially near the end of the film where he comically tries to explain all the events of the picture, On top of that, he’s very good in the famous slapstick chase scene through the streets of San Francisco and his presence in the movie allows it to end with a hilarious punchline at the expense of O’Neal’s breakout performance in Love Story.
The third star of What’s Up, Doc? is Madeline Kahn in her first film role. You could tell that Kahn was destined for comedic greatness from this. Eunice Burns is that stock character in these films: a shrewish, shrill and sexless woman somehow engaged to male lead. The character always has to be awful, or otherwise the audience will hate the female lead (Streisand, in this case) for breaking up the relationship. Because of that, Kahn can’t really add any depth or humanity to Eunice. Instead, she does the next best thing. She makes Eunice hilarious with her over-the-top reactions to everything. For a normal film, Kahn’s portrayal would seem to be too much, but she seems to intrinsically understand that she’s making a live-action Looney Tunes cartoon and embraces it. Taking her shrillness to eleven works here. Kahn’s reactions when she gets dragged out of a ballroom or when she ends up alone at some mobsters’ hideout as they torture someone are just about perfect.
The plot of What’s Up, Doc? revolves around a mix-up surrounding those four identical suitcases. Howard’s has his musical prehistoric rocks in his. Judy has her underwear and a dictionary in hers. A third suitcase is full of a wealthy old lady’s jewels that the mobsters are trying to steal and the fourth one is full of secret plans that a government agent is trying to recover from an enemy spy. As you can probably guess, those suitcases get mixed up all the time. I’ve read that if you watch the film closely enough, you can tell who has which suitcase at all times. But I’ve always been laughing too hard to keep track of them.
Bogdanovich keeps the film moving at such a rapid pace that you really don’t have time to worry about the absurdities of the plot. It also checks in at a brisk 94 minutes long, which is a nice length for a comedy and not a bad length for most films, to be honest. Yes, there are some films that need three hours, but there are way too many directors these days that stretch out thin plots to absurd lengths.
The most famous part of What’s Up, Doc? Is the 11-minute comedic chase scene through the streets of San Francisco that parodies the car chase scene in Bullitt and pays homage to the chase scenes of Buster Keaton and if we’re being honest, the Keystone Cops. One bit of trivia that’s always tossed around from that car chase is that they did not have permission to drive the cars down the concrete steps at Alta Plaza park in San Francisco and they badly damaged said stairs. That damage has never been repaired and you can still check it out today.
What’s Up, Doc? was a huge hit, earning $66 million off of a budget of $4 million—$1 million of which went to the chase scene alone. It was the third-highest grossing film of 1972, behind only The Godfather and The Poseidon Adventure. Bogdanovich followed it up by teaming up again with Ryan O’Neal (and his daughter Tatum) and Kahn to make another huge hit in Paper Moon. Nine-year-old Tatum O’Neal is still the youngest actor to win a competitive Oscar. After that, Bogdanovich’s professional and personal life went off the rails. You can read up about all the setbacks he suffered and Bogdanovich was always more than willing to talk about most of them. But while he directed many movies after Paper Moon, he really only had one more unqualified success—1985’s Mask. Still, few directors had a better start to their career than Bogdanovich, and he certainly was an important voice in the “New Hollywood” of the 1970s.
But really, this movie a lot more than that famous chase scene. What’s Up, Doc? may have no redeeming social importance, but it’s a heck of a lot of fun. I think a lot of us could use that right about now.
Because I don’t want to spoil the chase (and because I can’t find a complete copy of it on-line anyway), here’s the scene where Judy meets Howard/Steve. She’s got a paperboy cap on and a stolen carrot in her mouth when she utters the famous words, “What’s Up, Doc?”
Welcome back to everyone who skips the jazz and movies.
Tonight I’m just going to ask you what your favorite move the Cubs made over the off-season. I have a feeling that the vote is going to come down to two choices, but I’ll give you a few more choices so as not to leave anyone out.
The two obvious choices are the signings of right-hander Marcus Stroman and the outfielder Seiya Suzuki. But there are several of other moves the Cubs made that many of you have praised in the comments around here and so I wanted to give everyone a chance to express there love for those players again.
Those other moves are the waiver claim of pitcher Wade Miley and the free agent signings of catcher Yan Gomes, outfielder Clint Frazier, infielders Jonathan Villar and Andrelton Simmons, and pitcher Mychal Givens.
I’m also using the word “favorite” instead of “best,” because maybe you think Marcus Stroman is the best addition, but you also think the Cubs deal for Villar is a real steal and you’ve always been a fan of him. So it’s up to you to determine what “favorite” means.
So which player was your favorite addition to the Cubs this past winter?
Who was your favorite addition to the Cubs this winter?
This poll is closed
Someone else (leave in comments)
It’s now last call for the night. So glad you could join us on this spring evening. We hope you’ve been able to relax for a bit and take your mind off your troubles. Drive home safely. Tip your waitstaff. And join us again tomorrow for another edition of BCB After Dark.