Dippy, unsatisfied music expert Howard Bannister comes to San Francisco with his bossy fiancé. Here he meets Judy Maxwell, a college drop-out and whirlwind of a girl, and love, theft, conspiracy and all round chaos soon ensue.
The then hot director Peter Bogdanovich had landed himself a studio deal to make a movie with then hot stars Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neal. What he didn’t have was a hot script. Or any script at all. So, he called screenwriters David Henry and Robert Benton (hot off Bonnie And Clyde) with the simple request that they provide him with a modern version of screwball classic Bringing Up Baby.
They come fairly close. With Bogdanovich directing with a lovely lightness of touch against a sunlit San Francisco (the perfect location for romantic comedies), and Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neal while never finding the sparkling energy of Katharine Hepburn and the prim exasperation of Cary Grant, working up a kooky charm more befitting of the hippy-era of the early ‘70s. Again, the pitch is the robust and amorous woman aiming to snare a shrinking violet of the male species. Streisand’s Judy is part libertine, part nutcase, and alarmingly sexual, the actress never ever been so alive on the screen. O’Neal’s doc is a music geek after a grant, his natural good looks and effervescence corseted by Bannister’s frazzled over-education and self-importance.
For the plot to crackle with necessary screwballing mania, the script tosses up first Madeleine Kahn’s controlling fiancé Eunice as rival, then jewel thefts, matching luggage (yes, that staple) secret papers, prehistoric rocks and, of course, a grand chase sequence (de rigueur for San Fran) as well as a fabulous sequence at a banquet which the leads play under the table. Bogdanovich is busily paying reference to all his favourite flavours of humour efficiently packing them into the brief 94 minutes, hurtling from buffoonery and slapstick, to impersonations and word-play, and lets Babs have the one song to smooch up a romantic moment. It’s never quite as tight or fierce as the original screwballers, but is fizzy and loveable and always worth watching.
Trying too hard and generally too trying. Seek out Howard Hawke's Bringing up Baby instead and be done with it.
Reviewed by Ian Nathan