Plot: “Once upon a time there was a plaid overnight bag,” this movie begins. But actually there are four, identical on the outside, but with very different contents. One contains a set of rare rocks on their way to being presented at a conference of musicologists. One contains a very valuable collection of jewelry. One contains top secret government documents. The last one contains nothing more than a change of clothes. All four bags converge in a large hotel to provide the framework for an affectionate valentine to the classic screwball comedies of the 1930s. Like “Bringing Up Baby,” this centers on a madcap young woman (Barbra Streisand), Judy Maxwell, who decides to show her appreciation for a shy professor in spectacles (Ryan O’Neal), Howard Bannister, by disrupting his life as much as is humanly possible and then some. The attempts by a spy to steal the bag with the documents and a thief to steal the bag with the jewels help to make things a bit more complicated.
Professor Bannister is at the hotel to present his findings about the musical qualities of rocks used by ancient societies as primitive instruments. He is accompanied by his stuffy and overbearing fiancée, Eunice (Madeline Kahn). He hopes to get a research grant from wealthy Mr. Larabee, who will be attending the conference. Judy, who came to the hotel to cadge a free meal, is drawn to Howard, and stays on to be near him. She impersonates Eunice at the opening dinner, utterly captivating Larabee. She then proceeds, as Howard says, to “bring havoc and chaos to everyone,” including the destruction of a hotel room (and Howard’s engagement), and a wildly funny car chase through the streets of San Francisco, before it all gets straightened out.
Discussion: This movie is a lot of fun, but it does not come close to meeting the standards of the movies it is trying to emulate. The main flaw is that Judy and Howard (and the actors who portray them) are simply not as appealing as their prototypes in classics like “Bringing Up Baby.” For example, as we meet Judy, she is stealing a meal from a hotel, something which may have had more appeal in the “anti- establishment” early 1970s, but which now seems less than charming. The big laugh line at the end of the movie, a poke at O’Neal’s overwhelmingly successful previous movie, “Love Story,” will not mean anything to today’s kids.
Questions for Kids:
· What do you think about the way Judy behaved? Did she ever think ahead, or did she just do what seemed right at the moment?
· Eunice tells Howard that she does not want romance because she wants something stronger — trust. What is the point of view of the movie about that? How can you tell?
· Which is the funniest part of the movie? Were there any parts that were supposed to be funny that you did not think were funny? Why?
Connections: See “Bringing Up Baby” and compare it. Some of the other classic screwball comedies are “My Man Godfrey” and “The Lady Eve.”