“This is the story of a plaid overnight bag…”
Actually, it’s the story of four identical plaid overnight bags, and how they somehow miraculously end up in separate rooms on the same hallway of the same hotel in
The first bag, in the possession of a reporter, Mr. Smith (Michael Murphy),
contains top-secret government. Smith is being followed by a government agent
Mr. Jones (Philip Roth).
Bag #2 is owned by Mrs. Van Hoskins (Mabel Albertson), stuffed with jewels (the bag, not Mrs. Van Hoskins). It is being cased (no pun intended) by desk clerk Fritz (Stefan Gierasch and Harry, the house detective (Sorrel Brooke).
Bag #3 is in the possession of Howard Bannister (O’Neal), a mild-mannered musicologist from
visiting Ames, Iowa San Francisco for the
Congress of American Musicologists convention. He is competing for the Larrabee
Grant with his research on primitive music of igneous rocks. With him is his
domineering fiancé Eunice Burns.
In the hotel lobby, Howard runs into Bag #4, Judy Maxwell (no pun intended) played by Streisand, a brilliant but directionless young woman. Smitten with the nerdy scholar at first sight, she makes it a point to insinuate herself into Howard’s big weekend, first crashing his hotel room and later the awards dinner posing as his fiancé.
She deflates Howard’s pompous rival, High Simon (Kenneth Mars) and charms Frederick Larrabee (Austin Pendleton), who tells Howard that thanks to his fiancé, the $20,000 award is practically in the bag (no pun intended). However, love goes out the door when money comes innuendo, and in fear of blowing the $20k award, Howard denies Eunice upon her arrival at the convention dinner.
As the night progresses, it becomes a game of four-bag monty, as bag #1 is stashed in Mrs. Van Hoskin’s room, whose bag (bag #2) is stolen by the house detective and hidden under Howard’s bed, amazingly right next to Judy’s bag (bag #4). With all the bags being shuffled around from one room to another, inevitably everyone ends up with the wrong bag.
The next morning, Howard wakes up in what’s left of his hotel room, and the manager (John Hillerman) asks that he leave. On his way out, he runs into Judy, who informs him that he’s been invited to Larrabee’s home for brunch. Meanwhile, Judy overhears Harry and Fritz discussing their plans for their jewel heist, and the address as to where the exchange is to take place. She takes the opportunity to send Eunice to that location so she can accompany Howard to brunch.
Of course, the would-be thieves’ partners are none to happy to discover they’ve been handed a bag full of seemingly ordinary stones, and even less so when Eunice arrives demanding the return of Howard’s igneous rocks. Under duress, she reveals the location of Larrabee’s brunch and the other bags.
It is here that the revelation that Judy is the judge’s daughter saves the day. A quick screen wipe and we’re back at the airport where everything started. Howard has his igneous rocks back, Mrs. Van Hoksins has her jewels back and is willing to split the reward for their return evenly between Howard and Judy. However, with all the property damage that has been incurred, it leaves a total of only $25 each.
The damage is done to Howard’s betrothal, and Eunice has taken up with Larrabee, who arrives with Simon, the designee of the $20,000 grant. But because Judy is brilliant, she recognizes he’s cribbed the research from a 60-year-old paper never translated into English. Howard wins.
The film was directed by Peter Bogdanovich from a script by Buck Henry, David Newman and Robert Benton. It is a pleasantly enjoyable update of the classic screwball comedies of the 1930s and ‘40s, even going so far as to sub-reference Bringing Up Baby (1938).
O’Neal is only passably believable as the nerdy professor; too good looking to be that socially awkward. A less handsome actor might’ve worked better, but O’Neal was a hot property at the time. (Ivan’s note: O’Neal was also chosen because of his strong resemblance to director Bogdanovich.) And to no great surprise, Madeline Kahn was in high demand soon after, appearing in high Madeline mode in such films as Paper Moon (1973), Blazing Saddles (1974) and Young Frankenstein (1974).
I hadn’t seen the movie since a handful of TV airings in the 1970s, and now that I can appreciate the film for more than it’s not-so-subtle nod to a certain wascally wabbit, I can appreciate the film on a much higher level. It’s not a great film, but for those that haven’t seen it (or haven’t seen it in years), it worth a peek.