‘Hello, Gorgeous!’: revisiting Barbra’s films

A very entertaining new podcast, “Hello, Gorgeous!,” has been taking a deep dive into the films of Barbra Streisand since September, with a new episode released every Tuesday.

Hosted by actor/comedian Jamie Pierce, the series is alternately affectionate and slightly scathing toward the movies Streisand has appeared in over the past 50 years (she made her screen debut in September, 1968, with “Funny Girl”).

Like most of us, Pierce has a love/hate relationship with the star who has gone through many phases (and many hairdos) over the years (“hate” might be slightly too strong a word for the reservations Pierce has about some of his idol’s choices).

Streisand is one of a handful of entertainers who has triumphed in every entertainment medium – Broadway, nightclubs, recordings, TV, movies, arena concerts – and she has the EGOT to prove it (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony).

Streisand started out with a bang in movies, with an Oscar for best actress for “Funny Girl.” Very quickly, she became the top grossing female movie star of the 1970s. While she has had many ups (“The Way We Were”) and downs (“Nuts”), the singer-actress retained her clout and kept starring in films for five decades, during a period when many of her peers fell by the wayside. The star has also directed films (with middling results).

It has been a rocky ride for those of us who have been fans since her start, but what’s really fun about Jamie Pierce’s podcast is the unique perspective of the young host and his actor guests who came in late and are just now discovering some of the early films that have fallen off the radar. Even many longtime fans missed “Up the Sandbox” and “For Pete’s Sake” when they opened in the early 1970s. The forgotten films were often failed experiments in being hip to the zeitgeist or, in the case of the abysmal “Pete’s Sake,” a desire to fulfill Streisand’s contractual obligation to producer Ray Stark, who forced the performer to sign a multi-picture contract in order to land the leading role in the film version of her stage hit “Funny Girl.”

There is a refreshing feeling of affectionate objectivity in the way “Hello, Gorgeous!” deals with the problematic aspects of a movie like “The Owl and the Pussycat” (above), the 1970 attempt by Streisand to get past her first three, musical comedy films, and move on to vehicles where she just acted. The podcast wrestles with some of the now-homophobic elements in a film made by a gay icon.

The episodes are filled with good laughs as well as analysis. Adam Ceschin who did the just-released episode devoted to “What’s Up, Doc?” takes apart the plot mechanics – especially those four identical plaid suitcases – while zeroing in on what is perhaps the strongest element in the movie, Madeline Kahn’s sensational work as Ryan O’Neal’s kvetching fiancé. Ceschin rightly notes that it was rather amazing for Kahn to steal scenes, in her first film, from the two stars.

“Hello, Gorgeous!” has only gotten up to 1972 in the star’s filmography, and I can’t wait to hear what Pierce and his guests will make of “For Pete’s Sake,” “Nuts” and “The Mirror Has Two Faces.”