I Saw A Film!

In which a pesky, petite Barbs chases, stalks and inexplicably aggravates a stiff played by Ryan O’Neal (who was great in Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon a few years later) until they’re in love (romantic stalking from a cute lady has been shown to be perfectly acceptable, even adorable behavior in the movies- it’s only stalking per se if you’re not attracted). Along the way, of course, she creates magnificently preposterous hi-jinx that seemed to thrill movie-goers of the era. Everything from food fights, to lunatic car chases, to gun-play, to trashcans ganging up and causing Kenneth Mars to leap over a wall and land on diners at an outdoor restaurant. The thing is Barbs is just reprising her role from an earlier more scandalous film called The Owl and the Pussycat. More scandalous because her role was of a prostitute, which was also an unlikely cuteness that was popular at the time (see Irma La Douce). All of this leads us to mirth, presumably. Laughs, guffaws, yucks. Or at least a few chuckles and eye-rolls.

OK so it’s fantasy. When it turns out that Barb’s father is the judge they’ve been hauled in to court to meet with, the entire court basically literally collapses under the weight of the revelation. The bench itself falls into neat pieces. Was this absurdity of a more artistic sense or merely slapstick that forces us to disappointed wonder? Is it funny? At any rate, each gag finishes a problem without resolution, and one is left considerably in the realm of magic. This is a sit-com standard even today. Husbands and wives begin to argue, something funny happens and the scene switches without a storm out, or a thrown cooking utensil. So perhaps the entire point of the escapade is that human foibles of love, academic achievement (our story takes place at a grant award ceremony for musicologists, one of which is played by a young Randy Quaid!) and perhaps all established process of civilization are little more than goofball absurdity comparable to rolling wildly down a San Francisco street on an ice cream cart with a Chinese celebratory dragon draped over and trailing wildly behind.

I mourn the destruction of an old VW micro bus as one of the gags involved every car in a particular chase managing to sideswipe it. I also mourn great comic actor Ken Mars’s bogus accent and glossolalic Russian, which I feel could only be humorous to a child in our current world. Which makes me wonder, were people more child-like in decades past or is it a matter of mindset? When confronted by the absurdity of a particular comic surrealism are we meant to leave off critical examination and somehow merely flow with the idea of it? Barbara gets a bathtub scene and then a towel scene in both this and the previous movie mentioned. She was clearly thought to be something of a hawk-nosed sex goddess. But I am much more of a Madeline Kahn guy myself.

Madeline plays a frumpy, overbearing and unsympathetic fiance to O’Neal’s absentminded professor of rocks (I should mention that said rocks are somehow associated with music and are kept in an overnight bag that is exactly like several other overnight bags containing government documents, jewels, and something else (maybe LSD) that all converge to create the mayhem of confused thievery). But Madeline is still sweetly lovely. She’s completely sympathetic and while somewhat whiny and clearly in need of affection from her totally sterile romantic interest, she’s obviously the comic genius of the film. With a well placed eye-roll or some half-hearted struggles as she’s dragged off by thugs, she presents our hapless wonder at the entire enterprise. O’Neal is meant to be the straight man, but he goes through the motions as if heavily sedated. Madeline (who deserved and for a time had her own little TV series) is perfectly lively, rosy-cheeked and wholly devoted. OK I’ve been a fan of the late comic actress since I was a child seeing her on The Muppet Show and in Young Frankenstein. That she left us so young is a tragedy. She stole the whole show along with Mr. Quaid who got to tower over the popular actors and swing a haymaker at a thug. They did not know the talents they had at hand in 1972!

But back to my pondering. My misunderstanding of the slapstick device as prop for scene solution reminds me a bit of the idea of armored rhinoceroses being aimed at the Greeks by the Persians in the film 300. Were we supposed to imagine the beasts that were equipped and thrust at the Spartans actual or were they merely intended to give us the gist of a greater overall hell-on-earth? Did the comic book rendition of the famous battle of Thermopylae choose to up-the-ante in terms of terror, not by asserting these things were true but simply by alleging that if you were one of the sorry Spartans you could basically tell any story you wanted. Or in other words, is the John of the bible’s Revelations telling us actual prognostication or is he just tripping on the fact that he’s witnessing his own personal hell? After all, anyone having a heart attack during a favorable celebration or sex during a tragedy can’t really possibly be representative of the unfolding of overall events. The poor fellow trying to repair a road with a cement float as Barbs and O’Neal drive their “just married” stolen VW beetle through it has no possibility of providing us a case for hilarity. As the newlyweds who lost their car, or the poor rich woman who lost her jewels, or Madeline Kahn who lost her fiance. In each case, the hilarity seems to be to be about this random universe and our responsibility to be kinder than the lead characters portrayed. I’m feeling certain that that was Bogdanovich’s main thrust here. I have to admit to being somewhat lost when it comes to these cinematic climaxing comic things.

For a time I thought the phrase “What’s up, Doc?” might have meant something that I didn’t realize before. Like perhaps there was an old jazz meaning that had been lost to us kids raised on Bugs Bunny using it. But by the end of the film we’re treated to the actual Bugs Bunny using it and that clearly signified that the entire escapade was to be thought of as nothing much more than a Warner Brothers’ Saturday morning romp.

If the world paid more attention to the entertainment of the past, would we get better entertainment? Or would it still be just more rehashed material? Who knows? It’s a theory of mine.

Quite cheap on Prime

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