Mild mannered zoology professor Dr. David Huxley is excited by the news that an intercostal clavicle bone has been found to complete his brontosaurus skeleton, a project four years in the construction. He is equally excited about his imminent marriage to his assistant, the officious Alice Swallow, who is interested in him more for his work than for him as a person. David needs the $1 million endowment of wealthy dowager Mrs. Carleton Random to complete the project. Her lawyer, Alexander Peabody, will make the decision on her behalf, so David needs to get in his favor. However, whenever David tries to make a good impression on Peabody, the same young woman always seems to do something to make him look bad. She is the flighty heiress Susan Vance. The more David wants Susan to go away, the more Susan seems not to want or be able to. But David eventually learns that Alexander Peabody is her good friend, who she calls Boopy, and Susan's Aunt Elizabeth, with whom David has also made a bad ... Written by
Utter perfection. Howard Hawks, Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant make the most exquisite comedy of the sound era
In his glorious Bringing Up Baby, Howard Hawks ratchets screwball comedy up to its tautest and springiest level. In clumsier hands, screwball all too often gallops into the frenetic, fraying the nerves; Hawks maintains a presto pace, but never lets the mixups and misunderstandings grow implausible he just glides serenely to something else. (And he makes it look easy, which it isn't: Peter Bogdanovich fumbled in his loose remake What's Up, Doc, making it labored and literal-minded.)
Hawks could barely go wrong with Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant as his leads, but the rest of the cast he assembles, human as well as animal, can't be faulted either (with the redoubtable May Robson earning extra credit). And while he draws on stock characters and stereotypes that probably date back to commedia dell'arte the stuffy professor, the blithe rich girl, her crusty dowager aunt, the bumbling sheriff he freshens each one up, making them distinctive, memorable and endearing.
Behind a pair of repressive spectacles, Grant plays the single-minded paleontologist whose path crosses with that of madcap Hepburn, never again to uncross. The plot revolves around a leopard named Baby, a million dollars, an intercostal clavicle bone, a dog named George who buries it....well, it all makes perfect sense while you're watching.
Underneath all the antics, Hawks never loses sight of the pastoral romance that Bringing Up Baby at its core really is (at its most magical in the woods under a full moon, and captured by Russell Metty's lovely photography). Grant's been rooting around in the dirt for so long looking for dinosaur bones that it takes him forever to 'get' Hepburn an airborne sprite who never comes down to earth. (Their alchemy here is rarefied, not the commoner sort of reaction they kindled in the stage-bound The Philadelphia Story.)
Last but not least, the movie features the canine talents of Asta (né Skippy), who appeared as himself in the Thin Man series Nick and Nora Charles' lovable cur. Here he plays George, who, barking his stubby tail off, has no qualms about tangling with Baby the leopard. Is there any question that this high-strung wire-haired terrier is and will forever be (pace Rin-Tin-Tin and Lassie) Hollywood's top dog? How fitting that he should lend his considerable talents to Bringing Up Baby, the most exquisite comedy of the sound era.
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