With the recent TCM Classic Film Festival now in the books officially for 2017, whose featured theme this year was comedy, thought to complete my unofficial Cole Porter Week in movies. All care of a film that had a rousing screening at the Egyptian Theatre1 on the event’s last day, with the fine local blogger and friend Richard Kirkham, his daughter, and Moi in attendance. She, unlike her elder “‘festers” accompanying her, had never seen it before.
All of it enough to make me appreciate What’s Up Doc?‘s straightforward opening credits anew2.
To say page-turning an artistic device and a well-worn motif of movie titles sequences means you’re somewhat familiar with classic fare. Especially, It’s a Wonderful Life and others that took a sportive route with inscription graphics by filming someone turning the leaves of a book filled with them. Cute. On occasion used by filmmakers to drive the point the source of the material was literary3. It’s uncomplicated compared to some later ventures, like any of David Fincher’s.
To say the least.
Still, they can be entertaining, like here in Peter Bogdanovich’s wonderful 1972 homage to the screwball comedies of the ’30s and ’40s, What’s Up Doc? Whether the hands performing the deed belong to star Barbara Streisand or not. Right off the bat, the underlying intent beyond this display of credits is to coax the audience over to the heroine’s side. Judy Maxwell and her soon-to-be-apparent quest to secure the love of the daft professor, Howard Bannister (Ryan O’Neal), she’s fallen for.
“Yeah, you know Banister? As in “sliding down the-”?”
While the sequence exhibits an old-fashion tenor, which was intentional as the film is a throwback, as it happens, here it’s more a seduction. We hear a woman’s alluring sigh before we even glance the tome. As well, the hand interacting playfully with the pages and titles hints at it, too. A come hither caress the tumultuous period it’s set in loosed. All drawing us into the movie with the fabulous “Babs” personally liberating those lovely murmurs for our ears, and we imagine nuzzling.
At words poetic, I’m so pathetic
That I always have found it best,
Instead of getting ’em off my chest,
To let ’em rest unexpressed.
No surprise the words she’s singing reap our attention from the start. The accompanying piece, “You’re The Top”, another of Cole Porter’s stellar songs used in the film4. Introduced by Ethel Merman and William Gaxton in the 1934 musical, Anything Goes. Usually sung in duet5 as it’s about a man and a woman taking turns complimenting each other. The number a means to an end…enticement, in a word. And so voiced by the woman who could breathtakingly belt out a show tune.
A spirited love song, overlaying simple movie titles, meant to stir up…well, you know…made clear its desire, even if you weren’t the top.
- The Egyptian Theatre used by this year’s festival to project many 35mm prints, more than a few the rare “nitrate” variety. Warmed this old projectionist’s heart, even if they missed a changeover during a screening. ↩
- The featured movie title image care of Steven Hill’s Movie Title Screens Page. ↩
- “The idea to begin the film with someone opening up a book for the opening credits and the first shot of the film, is a reference to Howard Hawks’ Red River. Peter Bogdanovich is a huge fan of Red River.” ~ IMDB ↩
- “Four songs from Cole Porter‘s musical “Anything Goes” are featured in the movie. They are “Anything Goes”, “Night & Day”, “You’re the Top” and “I Get a Kick Out of You”.” ~ IMDB ↩
- The same song would be reprised for the What’s Up Doc?‘s closing credits, this time with Ryan O’Neal joining in as we know the seduction complete. ↩