Bringing Up Baby (1938)

  • Director: Howard Hawks
  • Rating: PG
  • Starring: Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Charlie Ruggles, May Robson
  • Screenplay By: Dudley Nichols, Hagar Wilde
  • Music By: Roy Webb
  • Premiered: February 18, 1938
  • Running Time: 102 Minutes
  • DVD Release Date: March 1, 2005

Synopsis: While trying to secure a $1 million donation for his museum, a mild mannered paleontologist is pursued by a flighty heiress and her pet leopard “Baby.” Dr. David Huxley finally receives the much anticipated intercostal clavicle bone needed to finish the brontosaurus skeleton. He is equally excited about his upcoming nuptials to his uptight secretary. The museum desperately needs the $1 million endowment from Mrs. Carleton, so David sets out to win her and her lawyer’s approval. However, the flight heiress Susan Vance-Mrs. Carleton’s niece-continues to involve David in a series of screwball misadventures.

Review: I cannot believe this movie flopped. There are all the elements needed for a perfect comedy: a leopard, an overtop heroine, and an uptight hero. This is one of my favorite screwball comedies and I wish Hollywood still made movies in this vein. Imagine a comedy without any crudeness, cuss words, or disgusting physical situations.

This is the second film starring Cary Grant made with Katharine Hepburn. The other films included Sylvia Scarlett (1935), Holiday (1938), and The Philadelphia Story (1940). Bringing up Baby is a romantic comedy that borrows inspiration from the classic Shakespeare plays of Much Ado About Nothing and As You Like It. Hepburn’s character follows in the tradition of strong women with a fiery wit and ready supply of comebacks. Unfortunately, the character of Susan Vance is one of the reasons that Bringing up Baby flopped. Film critics of the 1930s found the character to be flighty, unsubstantial, and unconvincing. And of course I disagree with this assessment. The film is merely a light hearted comedy, not a complex study of the romantic entanglements that men and women find themselves entangled within.

Thankfully, the film managed to gain a strong fanbase after it was shown on TV in the 1950s and 1960s.  This managed to increase the popularity of the film. The 1972 film, What’s Up Doc?, is meant to be a reinterpretation/tribute to Bringing up Baby. In this adaption Barbara Streisand plays the over-the-top heroine and Ryan O’Neal is the hapless scientist. Personally, I think the ‘remakes” humor is enhanced after seeing the original film.

Modern romantic films could learn a lesson or two from the screwball comedies of the Golden Age of Hollywood. The romantic films of today tend to be overly contrived, incredibly sentimental, poorly written, and mainly create unattainable expectations.  Screwball comedies are meant to be light entertainment and slightly ridiculous. Film viewers are meant to feel happy and uplifted after watching not groaning due to overly dramatic and soppy sentimentalism.  Bringing up Baby is a great comedy and worth watching at least once. After all, how many other films use a leopard named Baby as a plot device?

 

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