What's Up, Doc? and six more movies

What's Up, Doc?

I'd seen this only once, when it first came out, and remembered it as delightful and hilarious, but would it hold up fifty years later?

Well, I started laughing at the two minute mark, and pretty much never stopped. The movie ended half an hour ago, and I'm still giggling.

It's a top-flight screwball comedy, deserving to be mentioned alongside the original screwballs from a generation earlier, like It Happened One Night or The Awful Truth.



Feb. 7, 2023

The story starts with, "Once upon a time, there was a plaid overnight case," but actually there are several. One is filled with top secret documents, another is stuffed with igneous rocks, a third has ladies' underwear, and a fourth identical case has bazillions of dollars worth of jewels.

Of course, the overnight cases get mixed up, and so does Ryan O'Neal when he meets Barbra Streisand. She's playing a kooky and accident-prone woman who decides to make him miserable, and succeeds.

Some people are rumored to be immune to Streisand, but I am a fan. Her character here makes no sense, but it's a comedy, not algebra, and she's hilarious. She was never lovelier nor funnier, and she sings Cole Porter's "You're the Top," and "As Time Goes By" from Casablanca.

Written by Buck Henry (Get Smart, The Graduate), David Newman & Robert Benton (Bonnie and Clyde, Superman), and Peter Bogdanovich (The Last Picture Show, Paper Moon), who directed.

And what a supporting cast — Mabel Albertson, Sorrell Booke, Liam Dunn, John Hillerman, Kenneth Mars, Michael Murphy, Austin Pendleton, Randy Quaid, M Emmet Walsh, and "introducing Madeline Kahn," who of course steals every scene she's in. 

"What do you mean, you can't find me? I'm right here."

The exteriors were filmed in San Francisco, and it's always nice to revisit that place.

I'll give away only one joke, because it's so subtle I almost didn't notice: During the Chinatown chase scene, the traditional Chinese marching band is playing "La Cucaracha".

Verdict: BIG YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1969)

A young woman may have witnessed a murder, or she may have imagined it, so she turns to her love for murder mystery novels — Agatha Christie, Mickey Spillane, Edgar Wallace — and starts collecting evidence to determine just what she might've seen. 

The movie is Italian, but John Saxon has a key role, speaking English that's dubbed into Italian.

The whole thing has a nice vibe that I enjoyed. The lady is smart, not a typical horror movie screamer, it's built more on tension than violence, and there are a few laughs, too. Also, tobacco cigarettes "laced with marijuana" are a plot point. 

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Hanna (2011)

In the wilds of SomeplaceCold, ex-CIA man Eric Bana has raised his daughter Saoirse Ronan to be an assassin and nothing else. Her father is the only human she knows, and he's taught her only facts from an encyclopedia and how to kill, and like in lots of movies, she's impossibly good at the killing.

"I'm ready," she announces, after she's finally beaten him in one of their daily fist- and weapons fights, so he sends her off to kill another CIA op (Cate Blanchett), who's cold-hearted and seems to be management (but I repeat myself).

"Not you, but everyone else — we need paper and computers so we don't have to ask people their names or look them in the face."

This is a fast, smart action movie, with a shallow story and a high body count. Each of the three principal characters are exactly what you'd expect if you've ever seen an action movie, but that doesn't mean it's not fun. Who doesn't love a good action movie?

This one's a well-made thriller with thrills, and would've been a perfect popcorn movie but I'm on a diet and do you have any idea how many calories are in popcorn? It's a perfect carrots and celery movie.

Pulling back for a wider angle view, though, I'm starting to feel that I've seen enough movies about girls and young women who've been raised to be killing automatons — Colombiana, Kick-Ass, Stranger Things, and probably others I've forgotten. Give me tough female assassins, sure, but preferably women who've chosen that career, not children who've had it chosen for them.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Princess Mononoke (1997)

I've heard about Princess Mononoke for 25 years, and nobody's ever mentioned it to me without saying it's great, so let me be the first.

It's a cartoon about a heroic quest, amidst mysticism and spirit-wolves and ancient gods and demons of the wilderness. The animation is very well done indeed, apart from every human character's anime-standard big-eyed look, which always reminds me of Margaret Keane or Precious Moments or "Go, Speed Racer, go!"

Princess Mononoke is a Japanese cartoon, dubbed into English by major league American actors including Billy Crudup and Minnie Driver and Claire Danes, but the voice work sounds like a first table-read. The original Japanese voices, subtitled, must've been better because they couldn't be worse, but between the big eyes and the spirit-wolves there's no way I'm subjecting myself to another two hours of this, in any language.

If you can get past the big eyes (I couldn't, obviously) it's visually beautiful, but I'm reminded of something my wife sometimes said as we talked about movies: If the reviews keep telling you a movie looks terrific, and that's all they can say, it means the story sucks."

Unless the movie is Koyaanisqatsi, the story is what matters, and the story in Princess Mononoke is boring.

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Seven Days in May (1964)

This is a taut thriller about a coup against America, plotted by high-ranking military officers and masterminded by a treasonous General (Burt Lancaster). The General's #1 man (Kirk Douglas) is the only person who catches a whiff of the plan, and he takes it to the White House, leading to much intrigue and drama.

This film is almost 60 years old, but it's only slightly dated, and only in terms of style — the characters and the film itself are surprised that this is happening, but I don't think such events would be very surprising today. To anyone who's visited reality, it feels like tomorrow's headlines.

Directed by John Frankenheimer (Birdman of Alcatraz, The Manchurian Candidate), from a screenplay by Rod Serling, who needs no parenthesis. Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Ava Gardner, and Fredric March star, with Richard Anderson, Martin Balsam, Whit Bissell, Andrew Duggan, John Houseman, Hugh Marlowe, and Edmond O'Brien.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Take Me Out to the Ball Game (1948)

The Wolves won the World Series last year, but the team's two star infielders (Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra) are late to spring training. They're not holdouts, just tap dancing on stage in Pottsdown, Illinois.

When they get to Florida, the news is that the team's owner has died and the team is now owned by a distant relative who's — uh, oh — a woman (Esther Williams). Yes, she swims.

Story by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen. Directed by Busby Berkeley, but without his ordinary flourishes. It ends with a nice number that cleverly acknowledges that you've been watching a movie.

There's nothing great here, or memorable in any way, and there's almost no baseball, but there are a few laughs, the songs are pleasant, and Kelly and Sinatra both get a girl. 

Seems the metaphors of baseball and sex have progressed a lot since the '40s. In one scene, Kelly draws Ms Williams off to the side of a giant hotel ballroom for a private conversation, and this is referred to as "rounding third."

Verdict: MAYBE.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Voyage of the Rock Aliens (1984)
a/k/a Let's Dance Tonight

This was intended to be the next Rocky Horror Picture Show, or perhaps a spoof of 1960s 'bikini' movies.

It's a science fiction musical, wherein an alien robot on a guitar-shaped shape ship traverses the universe looking for the source of rock'n'roll. This leads them to Dee Dee (Pia Zadora), a high school girl first seen singing a duet with Jermaine Jackson (who isn't seen again).

Dee Dee is in love with bad boy rocker Frankie (Craig Sheffer), but he doesn't want a girl singing in his band. Ruth Gordon plays a sheriff obsessed with finding the space aliens, but she's hardly in the film. Everyone except Ms Gordon sings, and none of the music is of Rocky Horror quality, but all of it's catchy and on-key, and there's even some good dancing.

Yeah, I know — Pia Zadora was a struggling actress until she married a very rich financier and businessman, whose money got her some starring roles and bought her a Golden Globe Award as Best New Star of 1982. Her husband funded this movie, too, but at some point his money stops being outrageous and seems instead like a warped version of True Love. About 75% of Hollywood success comes from nepotism, so I overlook it by habit, and anyway, Zadora is not the problem here.

There is no problem here. It's an objectively bad movie, sure. Most of the jokes fall flat, and the costumes and especially the hair reeks of the '80s, but I enjoyed it more than the actual 1980s. I also liked the monster with the long tentacles, and the alien band, played by an actual Christian rock band called Rhema, though there is no mention of Jesus in the film.

Verdict: YES. 

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Coming attractions:

• Horse Feathers (1932)
• Inside Moves (1980)
• The Kiss (1988)
• Laboratory Conditions (2022)
• Love Streams (1984)
• McLibel (2005)
• The Visitor (1978)


There are so many good movies out there — old movies, odd or artsy, foreign or forgotten movies, or do-it-yourself movies made just for the joy of making them — that if you only watch whatever's on Netflix or playing at the twenty-plex, you're missing out.

Some people even access films through shady methods, though of course, that would be wrong.
— — —
Illustration by Jeff Meyer. Reviews are spoiler-free. Click any image to enlarge. Arguments & recommendations are welcome, but no talking once the lights dim, and only real butter on the popcorn, not that fake yellow stuff.

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  1. Looking forward to Horse Feathers.

    Groucho (playing the college president) to Zeppo (playing his son, a student) You're a disgrace to our family name of Wagstaff, if such a thing is possible. What's all this talk I hear about you fooling around with the college widow? No wonder you can't get out of college. Twelve years in one college! I went to three colleges in twelve years and fooled around with three college widows! When I was your age, I went to bed right after supper. Sometimes I went to bed before supper. Sometimes I went without my supper and didn't go to bed at all! A college widow stood for something in those days. In fact, she stood for plenty.

    1. I watched it about a week ago, it's hilarious of course, and I remember about half those lines. Did you pull that whole collection out of memory? Pretty good memory, if so.

      Mostly I remember the song. So sweet.

    2. I wrote it from memory, but then looked it up. I was pretty close (Groucho has a rhythm -- it's almost like remembering a poem) but I made half a dozen corrections. With Groucho, every word and syllable counts, and getting it right is like a Christian quoting from a gospel. Hearing Groucho is like going to church.


  2. I know that I have conversed with someone here - JTB, maybe, I don't remember - about Spike Jonze. Have you seen Adaptation, Being John Malkovich, and / or Her, Doug? He has directed four feature films, I have seen three, and all three are home fucking runs, IMO.

    Not sure what made me think of that just now.

    1. I'm always happy to converse, but would be more likely to talk about Spike Jones. Any bandleader who believes that a pistol is an important part of a brass band is my kinda guy. My Dad just loved the original Spike, and I still check him out from time to time, although he was an early victim of cigarettes and left us too soon.


    2. I concur

    3. When I was about 20, so 1993-ish, I asked for, and got, from my parents for Christmas, a Spike Jones anthologu CD. It was good.

    4. Dad's brother owned an early TV store and repair shop. He also sold some early sound equipment. So Dad got significant discounts on that stuff. We had an early b/w t/v and an early stereo console/radio. Dad always played his old 78s on the turntable. I learned something about the music of the 30s and 40s, and even the 50s. Spike Jones and His City Slickers was a regular on the turntable. "Cocktails for Two" was one of my favorites, and prominently featured Spike's pistol.

      Here is a pre-MTV music video of the record. . .



    5. I was crazy for BEING JOHN MALKOVICH, less so for ADAPTATION, and HER and WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE are on my list but I haven't seen either yet.

      Dude has some talent.

      The other guy, Jones, had some talent too, and that video is funny.

      My Grandma Holland had a lot of 78s, and I played every single one of them I think. Definitely some Jones in there. Der Fuehrer's Face.

  3. Seven Days in May was one of the first books I fell in love with. The subplot with Ava Gardner, as I recall 60 years later, was very small in the book, but movies at the time were required to have "something for the ladies", so they expanded it in the movie and gave Ava 4th billing.

    Interestingly, President Kennedy offered to assist John Frankenheimer in making the movie. He helped arrange permission to film outside the White House and gave general encouragement to the production.

    He didn't live to see the movie.

    Curtis LeMay did, but refused to go see it. He was a real whacko, and part of the inspiration for the story.


    1. Burt Lancaster played Curtis LeMay, I assumed. Having never read the book, Ms Gardner seemed the weak link in the movie.

      That Kennedy infonugget is a head spinner, wow.

      Kennedy was enough before my time that I don't remember him, not even the assassination. Still found him intriguing for many years, and paid some attention to all the winds of conspiracy around his headshattering day in Dallas, a mystery never to be unraveled. If the truth ever came out and it really was LHO acting alone, I probably still wouldn't believe it.

    2. Yeah, ten years between us, and a pretty big ten. I was in 8th grade science class, taught by Miss Clark. She told us the President had been shot and that he wasn't likely to survive. School let out at noon that day, and I went home and turned on the TV. Walter Cronkite told me everything I needed to know. We had rules about how much the TV was on, but my mom came in the living room and said, "Watch as much as you want. You're watching history." I pretty much watched from Friday afternoon through the funeral on Monday. Watched Oswald get shot. Seemed fishy then -- seems fishy now.

      I was a huge Kennedy fan. I still watch his Berlin speech annually and I still shed some tears. It's been 60 years and I still cry for what we lost. It's short, a little over ten minutes. Here it is if you're interested. I'm sure you know the historical context . . .



    3. Kennedy's "We choose to go to the moon" speech always moves me as well, especially its placement at the beginning of my all time favorite documentary, For All Mankind.


    4. Good double feature with this:


    5. Maybe it's because of my youth and lack of exposure to the living Kennedy, but I hear almost any political speech, including Kennedy in Berlin, and assume it was written and tweaked by cynical bastards who might or might not care about what the words mean, but definitely care about how the words play.

      That said, as a political speech it's quite good.

    6. The moonshot speech I've heard more than the Berlin speech. It is rousing, and I don't want to be Mr Cynical today, but I don't think it was about science and "Because it's there" so much as it was about kicking the Ruskies' ass.

      Man, I used to dream about space exploration, not even doing it myself but just reading about it. Now I wonder if it's even a good idea. Chances are we'd fuck up the whole universe like we've fucked up this small corner of it.

      Yeah, guess I am Mr Cynical. Sorry.

    7. Less Pessimistically, FOR ALL MANKIND 1989 was the first last and only movie I took my pop to see, and yeah, I loved it too. He was way into aerospace, worked on the Saturn 5 project, and I thought he'd dig the movie. Saw it at the Neptune. He liked it, I loved it.

    8. APOLLO 10½ looks delightful.

    9. APOLLO 10½ is the best thing Linklater's made since Scanner Darkly. I know you hated Everybody Wants Some, but APOLLO 10½ is so great, highest recommendation. As usual, the trailer sells it short. It *is* utterly charming, but man, it is so much more too. Laugh out loud funny, some of the deepest nostalgia I've seen conveyed in film, and a profoundly melancholy sense of loss. It's wonderful.

    10. For a bit, the "coming in April" had me thinking I'd have to be patient, but this movie opened *last* April. I am so disconnected from present day pop culture.

      APOLLO 10½ is now near the top of my list.

  4. The Berlin speech was first drafted by Ted Sorensen, who drafted all of Kennedy's speeches from notes made by Kennedy himself. It was rewritten by Sorensen from notes from Kennedy and Sorensen's own ideas. It was polished by Sorensen with final edit from Kennedy.

    All of Kennedy's major speeches were created this way, including his memorable Civil Rights speech, a speech that isn't remembered enough. It was certainly true of the Berlin speech and the book Profiles in Courage.

    It was a simpler time. No test audiences, no key fundraiser words, no computer analysis. 99 percent Sorensen and Kennedy.


    1. What a wonderfully simpler and more honest time. Never have I ever heard of such a thing. Was that level of (something akin to) honesty a Kennedy thing, or an artifact of the time?

      I cannot imagine Nixon's speechwriting process was in any way similar, but perhaps Humphrey's or McGovern's, or another Democrat of some integrity...

    2. Nixon had a half dozen speechwriters on staff at any time, most notably Ray Price and Ben Stein with help from Pat Buchanon. Nixon's addresses to the nation were written iteratively by this team with notes from Nixon. The speeches, to my knowledge, were not tested as speeches sometimes are today.

      Surprisingly, Nixon preferred to speak from notes rather than from text, and in his more informal addresses he might have a 3x5 card that he glanced at before the speech. A President makes a dozen little speeches a week, and Nixon's vast preference was to speak extemporaneously. You'd never guess that of Nixon, but he was genuinely a professional politician. He wasn't eloquent and he wasn't charming or funny, but he got the job done.

      These days, most Presidents speak from a digital prompter. It's just the way it's done.

      This is not comparable, but I spent a few years as a slightly professional speaker. I'm pretty shy with people, but standing at a lectern and delivering a ten minute speech about why former Army general and Rhodes Scholar Wesley Clark should be the Democratic nominee for President is easier for me than talking with someone one-on-one.

      I wouldn't do it now, but I talked to several hundred people at a time and, on occasion, over a thousand, back in my mid-life. I can assure you that it's easier when one is younger.

      In any case, Kennedy had a primary speech writer and Nixon had a team. It got slowly more sophisticated after that. I'm not sure that it's significantly different between Democrats and Republicans, but politicians keep the process behind institutional walls.


    3. Just a note on the 60s. Kennedy grew into the job, which surprised just about everyone who knew him. Nixon grew out of the job, which surprised almost no one. Johnson occupied the job like an army that won't leave. In the end, like Nixon, Johnson was fired.


    4. I remember the day LBJ announced he wasn't a candidate. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer published an "Extra" edition headlined LBJ WON'T RUN.

      "Exry extry, read all about it!"

      That's the first and only "extra" edition of a newspaper I've ever seen, outside of the movies.

      As always, you are a fountainhead of good info.

      I had my doubts about Wesley Clark because he was always *General* Wesley Clark, but if you vouched for him he'd get my vote.

      Pat Buchanon was an asshole. Still is, but also was.

      Do you think public speaking would be easier when you're younger? I dunno. When I was young I hated having to speak to even the smallest groups, but now I'm old and pretty much don't care what anyone thinks about me or about anything. I'd wing a speech without much worry, I think.

      But I still don't want to.

    5. I belonged to a Toastmasters club in my 20s, then again in my 30s. I participated in a Toastmasters speech contest in Reno in front of an audience of about 400. There were eight or nine speakers and we were all backstage in a green room with a full bathroom at our disposal. I went in to piss for the third or fourth time and two of the contestants were in stalls vomiting and a third was recovering from puking at a sink. I was nervous that night, and I didn't give my best performance, but I decided after that that I would try to channel the nerves into an emotional connection with whatever speech I was giving and try to have a good time. I didn't finish in the top three that night. But I challenged myself to do my best and to try to have fun. I couldn't run or swim well, so this was as close as I came to participating in a competition. I don't think I could do that at 72. I don't much care anymore what people think of me, but there's a physical rush that my body probably wouldn't handle well today.

      In 2004, I was an official County spokesperson for General Clark, and gave a three or four minute speech to a crowd of a thousand or so at a large combined precinct caucus. I was 54 and used the muscle memory of Reno to try to have fun and I wasn't overly nervous.

      I was much more nervous talking to people one on one after the speeches. My candidate got creamed, so I guess I wasn't very persuasive. I was going up against the Democratic establishment and they had the caucuses wired. I still think I had the best candidate.

      I never stopped being shy -- it's who I am. I decided to accept that.

      I hate writing a comment with so many I's in it, but live and be well.


    6. Someone once told me joining Toastmasters would help me overcome my introversion, and I considered it. That must've been in my 40s, and I figured by then it was too late for overcoming, and an introvert was who I was, and I didn't want to overcome who I was.

      My skin's comfy.

      But that's just me, of course. You joined as a self-improvement strategy, and it improved you — that's excellent and as it should be.

      I'm actually and sincerely impressed and pleased at what you accomplished with TM, and if it sounds otherwise blame 5AM and barely awake writing.

      Nothing wrong with using lots of I's, long as the story is interesting and yours are. We are the world's foremost experts on ourselves, what we've done and accomplished, and that expertise deserves to be recounted.

      I am serious, I am I am. Eye-eye-eye, captain, aye-aye.

  5. May I suggest Hamlet 2 starring Steve Coogan? I wish the featurette on the making of the film was available with the movie, since it's hilarious to hear the writers discuss how they were trying to imagine what would be the worst idea for a play and then a school play and they decided on the follow-up to Hamlet, since everyone in Hamlet -- spoiler alert -- dies. I still chuckle at the crap musical they put on. Basically, the staff just kept trying to top one another on what would make this play worse. And they succeeded. I hope the movie holds up. -- Arden

    1. This movie exists! Wow. I'm pretty sure it was a gag in Schwarzenegger's LAST ACTION HERO, but either I wasn't aware of a real HAMLET 2 or I've blocked its existence from my consciousness.

      Goes on the list, mos def, thanks.


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