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It's not just a classic - It's a timeless one! Katharine Hepburn (by
her own accounts) was in two minds about playing screwball comedy. But
she pulls off the characterization of the mad-cappest heroin/heiress
ever portrayed on film. It's NOT Kate. It's Kate brilliantly breaking
out of her 1930s typecast. The pace is fast, Cary Grant is brilliant as
the professor Kate harasses/helps/falls in love with throughout. And
what about Susan's aunt and the major? Priceless! Kudos to Baby, as
well. I think maybe a few reviewers have been taking their humor from
watching 1930s European comedies. Unless it's all out and out
vaudeville or cabaret transpositions you're watching, I wouldn't
recommend making those your standards for judging "Bringing Up Baby".
Worse still if you're judging by American/European standards of the
21st Century. I'm not saying you're wrong, I'm just saying since you
can't compare this to virtually anything of those, just enjoy the ride.
The Acting you CAN compare, though. And I put my money & soul on
Hepburn, Grant & Baby every time.
"Bringing Up Baby" is a film I unconditionally love; it is so utterly
sublime a comedy that I was truly sighing, awed, 'it can't get better than
this...' at many points. Yet it regularly does; Hawks keeps the momentum
going majestically; it is one incredibly surreal, bizarre tangent going off
unexpectedly into another, at every juncture. He photographs and presents
his actors in the most charming and amusing possible ways, and the film is
certainly a more leisurely, perfectly pitched film than "His Girl Friday",
which I nonetheless admire. There is a beauty in the photography and simple
choice of perspectives and angles that matches the
There is not one actress in the annals of film who I adore more than Katharine Hepburn; she is a compelling performer, of great charm, intelligence and wit; of very real, idiosyncratic looks that to this eye are beautiful, vivacious, impish. In "Bringing Up Baby" her Susan Vance is a very interesting diversion from her more usual type of character - the slightly superior, in-control ice maiden, as shown in say "The Philadelphia Story". She is phenomenal in that film, yet here beguiling in a completely different fashion, playing a slightly scatterbrained, sprightly, charmingly delinquent woman, who seems to have no control over anything; least of all her feelings for Grant. Her giddy, breathless exuberance and anarchic helplessness are really endearing; it's a wonderful film that stretches out the credulity of Grant's wonderfully straight-laced character's resistance to Miss Vance. The ending is a gorgeous, satisfying pay-off, as he finally gives way, as would we all! It's a charming, suitable ending that rectifies the slight fall-off of the preceding jail section of the film. That is very amusing, but in a more predictable, slightly laboured way. In stark contrast to the first 70-80 minutes of the film, which amounts to about the finest sustained American comedy I have seen of that length - "Way Out West" and "Duck Soup" being shorter in total.
Cary Grant, truly an institution of a comedic player, is very different to his more remembered persona of later years. It's remarkable to see this absurd little man, bespectacled, unworldly and cutting an orthodox figure played so perfectly by the suave Grant. This is gleefully played on with the sublime scene where Hepburn and Grant are trying to catch the leopard - Kate butterfly net in hand! She accidentally happens to break his glasses and is even more taken with him without them... The tension between how we usually remember Grant and the character he is playing here does add an extra layer of amusement to the film. Need I really add that the rest of the film's company are note perfect? Charles Ruggles, Barry Fitzgerald and many more really give the perfectly matched stars a fine backdrop.
I shan't spoil too much of this heady, sublimely silly film... just go and watch it and see Howard Hawks, a master craftsman, at his best - there are no pretensions but making a quite wonderful character comedy - and Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant on insurmountable form. With these delightful stars and anarchic, scintillating comic material, what we have on our hands is an unutterably fine film, one of my very favourites of all time. Where else are you going to get such plot threads running simultaneously as: a hunt for a rare archeological find buried by a dog, an absurd upper-middle-class family dinner and an escaped leopard?
Those people who don't like this movie seem to miss the point; IT'S SUPPOSED TO BE RIDICULOUS AND MAKE NO SENSE AT ALL! THAT'S WHAT MAKES IT FUNNY! Now that I've gotten that off my chest, I want to say that I really did have a laugh a minute. Both Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn are very adapt at this kind of comedy, in top form here, and work very well together. They have a great, very funny supporting cast, as well; though most are long dead and forgotten, many were well-known character actors in the 30's. They knew their craft, and are great at it here. Howard Hawks must have been some director to be able to fashion such a great movie out of a madcap pace and a script in which everyone talks at the same time and is always ad-libbing. (I've heard those were his trademarks, though.) One scene after another at breakneck pace, but never a dull moment. As soon as one laugh stops, another one begins. In case you haven't gotten the point, I highly suggest you see this movie. It may be 60 years old, but it's still hilarious.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A complete disaster when it was released, BRINGING UP BABY is screwball
comedy to the extreme: absolutely absurd, crackling with dialogue
moving faster than a bullet, and unapologetically zany. Starring
Katharine Hepburn in her only real foray into playing a "scatterbrained
heiress" and Cary Grant as a befuddled paleontologist who's life she
disrupts from the moment they meet on a golf course, the story looks
almost seems like deliberately crazy plotting: An uptight
paleontologist loses the last bone he needs to complete his
reconstruction of a dinosaur to an heiresses' dog. This heiress is
Katharine Hepburn, and she doesn't make it easier for him, since she's
totally self-involved with her own eccentricities, and in one hilarious
montage after another we see Grant trying to fetch his bone while
getting entangled in the wildest of circumstances, one in particular
which includes a tame tiger that is meant for Susan's aunt (May
Featuring one classic comic scene after another, BRINGING UP BABY is a prime example of a film that was reviled when it came out, most notably because of the arrogant personality of the lead actress and her stature as box-office poison, but one that with repeated views over the years has gained a strong critical praise. While it may be a little too fast in dialogue (and in self-referential in-jokes that only hardcore movie fans will point out) for some people's tastes, just the absurdity of the situation makes it worth watching, and of course, the remarkable chemistry of an athletic Hepburn paired with a dashing Grant.
Remade horribly in 1987 as WHO'S THAT GIRL? with Madonna and Griffith Dunne, it's always good to seek this one out on TCM (which plays it often). Lunatic, but fascinating.
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.
They certainly don't come any funnier than this film. The hilarious
golf course scene at the beginning is followed immediately by the
equally riotous nightclub scene. This is followed by more memorable set
pieces & quotable stick-in-your-mind-forever lines than any movie I can
think of, including Bank Dick & Night at the Opera.
Grant & Hepburn are brilliant & innovative. I read some place that when Cary Grant was having trouble finding the David character, Howard Hawks gave him the horn rims & told him to do Harold Lloyd. Which he does. Brilliantly.
I can watch this repeatedly with no more flagging interest than listening to a Beethoven symphony or sonata.
Hard to believe it was a big flop when it first came out.
Casting Katharine Hepburn in the role she plays her would have been
unthinkable years later when her image as a feminist icon was cast in
bronze. But she's doing some serious poaching on a young version of the
kind of roles Mary Boland or Billie Burke would play. Think of the
parts these two women played and you can definitely see Hepburn in
Bringing Up Baby if you imagine Boland and Burke years younger.
Bringing Up Baby is one of those beautiful films that really doesn't have a plot. Try to tell someone verbally the plot of this, it cannot be done. From the moment airheaded Kate gets into uptight Cary's car in that parking lot with him chasing her, it's just one madcap situation after another. Howard Hawks directs this film with the appropriate light touch the material requires.
Cary Grant is not the usual suave sophisticate you normally find him cast as either. He's an uptight paleontologist who's biggest thrill up to that point is the arrival of a brontosaurus vertebrae so that he can complete a skeleton. He's also getting married, but the woman he's engaged gives him hints that married life will not be any bed of roses for him. Whether he knows it or not he's ready for the romp Kate has in store for him.
Thirties audiences definitely loved seeing the rich at play. Bringing Up Baby is the definition of escapist entertainment. But one who hasn't the means shouldn't indulge it what Hepburn is doing. They've got a padded cell waiting for anyone who's not rich who indulges in this kind of behavior. Only the rich can afford to be eccentric.
Baby by the way is a tame leopard who Kate's brother sends up from South America. That would be a jaguar by the way, but that's just mere details. Anyway Baby escapes at the same time another leopard from the circus escapes and he's dangerous. I won't go into the confusion there, I couldn't describe it in any event.
May Robson and Charlie Ruggles lend good support. Ruggles who was normally cast against Mary Boland teams up well with May Robson. And my favorite in the supporting cast is Walter Catlett as the small town constable who doesn't know quite what he has on his hands, but is determined to bluff the situation through.
Maybe the prototypical example of the breed, in fact. Zoologist Grant (we'd
call him a paleontologist nowadays) goes to a golf course to try to wrangle
money out of a potential donor: along the way he meets up with Katherine
Hepburn, and they have all sorts of wacky misadventures.
Grant's great, though it's not a typical role for him -- he's uptight, buttoned down, smothered. He's clearly the superego character, straitlaced and repressed and anti-life (it's no accident he works with bones). Hepburn was never lovelier than she was here -- she's the id character, all action and movement. There's a dedicated minority of people who hate this movie, mostly I think because they see the things Hepburn's character does as cruel. That's the point. Hepburn's not supposed to be nice -- she's id. We laugh partly because Grant needs to be loosened up, but partly because some of Hepburn's actions are shocking. Ideally, we should be in the same position as Grant in the movie: half-attracted, half-afraid.
Great "rat-a-tat" dialog in the classic Hollywood tradition. I can't think of many screenwriters today who could deliver such dialog. Highly recommended, one of the great Hollywood comedies.
I saw Bringing Up Baby for the first time just under a month ago, and have
since rewatched it about five times. Not only does it stand up to repeated
viewings, it seems almost to *require* them; there's no way to absorb
everything at one go. The best part is that the funny bits are just as
on the sixth viewing as they were on the first, if not even funnier,
you've grown to really love the scatter-brained chatterbox Susan, and the
befuddled, confused David.
It's impossible to imagine anyone else playing either Susan or David: Hepburn and Grant are perfect for their roles, and their characters are perfect (foils) for each other. Most people would consider Hepburn a dramatic actress, largely because of her later body of work (e.g. The Lion In Winter). But BUB proves she is a dazzling, charming comedienne, well able to go toe-to-toe with the funniest men in the business. Grant is wonderfully generous in allowing her to dominate the movie by playing the straight man, and he does so wonderfully as well.
Watch this for Hepburn, watch this for Grant, watch this for Hepburn *and* Grant... and, oh yes, watch it for the leopard. ;)
I really enjoyed this classic screwball comedy. Grant was brilliant as the exasperated zoologist and Hepburn also shines as his troublemaking foil. The supporting cast is also uniformly excellent. The entire cast is of course blessed to be working with first rate material. Baby starts slowly and gradually builds momentum before becoming a comic frenzy. It's hard to believe today that this Howard Hawks masterpiece was a bomb in 1938, causing RKO to drop Hawks and Hepburn. I don't usually gravitate towards films of this sort but I'm glad I gave this gem a chance. I was thoroughly entertained. 9/10.
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