Watching What’s Up Doc?, remembering my youth

When I was just a lad I romanticized my future as is the want of youth. One of those inner visions that fueled my imagination was the mythical life of the stuntman. Yes I wanted to be a stuntman. There are certain moments in cinema that have stuck with me from that time in my life, not least of which is the grand finale to the outrageous car chase sequence in What’s Up Doc? (1972).

Consider this moment:

I wanted to be the guy who is jumping out of the back seat. To me that looked like such a thrill, and it still does. And it’s funny, which is what I like about the stunts in What’s Up Doc? They’re great stunts and they’re funny.

The car chase really got going when our heroes stole a delivery bicycle/tricycle thing and tried to get away with the four identical bags (no time to explain here). We knew that these two were in trouble in the blink of a single edit.

Here we see them round a corner and watch their expressions.

Then we cut to their point of view.

This might be considered the visual equivalent of a humorous expletive. At this point they are committed. And so are we, because now we know we’re in for a great ride. When it comes to car chases, thank you San Francisco!

But then again, we could have guessed that the chase would be totally wacky and finish in the bay. Just prior to the chase was the fiasco in the hotel room. Needless to say this image speaks volumes:

You might have also guessed, and correctly I might add, that What’s Up Doc? has now become a part of Lily’s ongoing cinematic education. We watched it this past weekend, along with The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938). I foisted it on her and, I am glad to report, she loved it.

What is sometimes great about the DVD extras is the behind the scenes moments when we get to see the filmmakers applying craft. The What’s Up Doc? DVD has a little documentary called Screwball Comedies… Remember Them? which, though not particularly well made, offers some nice glimpses behind the scenes.

Here is a shot from the feature:

And here are a couple of shots the documentary of the same scene:

And then I started thinking about László Kovács. Kovács lensed What’s Up Doc? We see him above sitting at the lower left. Peter Bogdanovich is next to him in the striped shirt with his face hidden by the camera.

Kovács, who passed away this past July, came to the West from Hungary in 1957 as a political refugee. He brought a great work ethic to his craft and became one of the most significant cinematographers of the “new generation” of filmmakers in the 1960s and 1970s.

I didn’t know it at the time, but László Kovács was playing a role in my formation as a cinephile and, because films have been so significant in my life, as a person. While watching What’s Up Doc? again and remembering how much I have loved this film over the years, and now, again, realizing how well photographed it is, I just have to say thank you Mr. Kovács. Rest in peace.

4 thoughts on “Watching What’s Up Doc?, remembering my youth

  1. >”Don’t you dare strike that brave, unbalanced woman!”I remember when you brought What’s Up, Doc? movie home from the video store one day, Tuck, and you asked me if I wanted to watch it with you. I had never heard of it before so I though I’d gaie it a try. Naturally I loved it and subsequently showed it to my family (it has since become one of my sister Deb’s favorite movies). Later I saw the film that served as a major inspiration for it, Bringing Up Baby. I loved that too.Watching it again recently I was struck by the fact that there was no score to it. Aside from the Streisand song that is heard during the opening and ending credits (and some source music in one or two scenes) there is not one single note of music score in that entire film… and it works… quite well as a matter of fact. I might be willing to say that the film is funnier without the use of a music score.Glad to hear Lily loved it. 🙂

  2. >Damian, I never thought of that, but you’re right. Kinda odd that there’s no score, but it does work. Of course I would expect you to notice that!What’s great is how well the film holds up after all these years. I think it’s because it’s so rooted in the great comedies of the even more distant past – which also hold up.

  3. >Great post. Just stumbled across it while looking for images from the film.”What’s Up, Doc?” has so many things going for it. An incredible cast, a great cinematographer, perfect editing, and a phenomenal Buck Henry script. This movie was really responsible for the way my sense of humor developed, I think.

  4. >Howard, thanks for stopping by. Glad you liked the post. Like for you, this film was formative for me as well. I find it thoroughly enjoyable each time I watch it.

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