Howard Hawks' 1938 screwball comedy Bringing Up Baby was selected for the National Film Registry in 1990, and over the years has consistently made "top" lists regarding comedy films. Nonetheless, while not a total flop upon its release, Bringing Up Baby did not match or exceed box office expectations.
Director Hawks examined his work and felt obliged to comment that he had failed because the characters were "too madcap" with no "normal" characters to ground the situations. I can understand this analysis as I live with a couple of people (husband, daughter) who simply get annoyed at the flighty characters. Far be it from me to disagree with a master of his craft and my loved ones, but when it comes to screwball, I say the screwier the better. Bringing Up Baby always makes me laugh and giggle out loud.
Written by Dudley Nichols (Man Hunt) and based on a story by Hagar Wilde (Carefree), Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant were teamed in the third of four film collaborations (Sylvia Scarlett, Holiday, "Baby", The Philadelphia Story). Grant plays David Huxley, a paleontologist devoted to his work and his recently discovered intercostal clavicle required to complete a full model brontosaurus skeleton.
David is anticipating his upcoming wedding to assistant Alice Swallow, who is even more dedicated to David's career than the man himself. Alice informs David that their marriage will entail no emotional entanglements of any kind including a honeymoon. David lets himself get kicked around by others and he doesn't even realize it. David is presently tasked with getting a museum grant from the wealthy Mr. Peabody and this brings him into the whirlwind that is Susan Vance.
Susan: "He's three years old, gentle as a kitten, and likes dogs." I wonder whether Mark means that he eats dogs or is fond of them?"
Katharine Hepburn as Susan Vance is always thinking. Her thinking is not altogether what we customarily expect of a bright and privileged young woman. Susan is indeed a madcap. When you meet her Aunt Elizabeth played by May Robson we begin to understand Susan better. Aunt Elizabeth has "always wanted a leopard" and Susan's brother Mark has sent Aunt Elizabeth said leopard from South America. Susan accepts the leopard easily into her present circumstances.
David: "The only way you'll get me to follow another of your suggestions is to hold a bright object in front of my eyes and twirl it."
Susan also accepts David as now part of her life and in her effort to keep him in her life, she nearly drives him crazy with her antics, her family, and her (Aunt Elizabeth's) leopard.
David: "I wasn't going to hit George!"
David, for the sake of his now missing intercostal clavicle, has followed Susan and the leopard called "Baby" to her Connecticut home. There the madcappery (should I trademark that word?) continues with relatives, a big game hunter, a drunkard, law enforcement, psychiatrists, the "gentle as a kitten" Baby, a mean-spirited circus escapee leopard, and the scene-stealing Asta as "George."
I will admit to wishing some judicious cuts had been made to the ending jail scene, but even so I cannot help but be impressed by Katharine Hepburn's first foray in the world of screwball comedy. Her lack of experience led Hawks to mention the veterans on the scene such as Walter Catlett who could guide her in this new endeavour and Miss Hepburn was wise enough to accept the helping hand. She was certainly an apt pupil. Hawks' suggestion that Grant base David on Harold Lloyd's glasses character was genius and they had so much fun that they used the absent-minded professor bit again in Monkey Business, 1952.
If you haven't seen it recently or you have yet to get around to marking this classic title off your "must-see" list, take advantage of the TCM airing this coming Tuesday, September 14th. Theodora Goes Wild and Vivacious Lady are some of the other screwball romances in the lineup.
PS: Keep your ears peeled for a reference to "Jerry the Nipper" from The Awful Truth. I was so proud of my husband when he caught that the one time he didn't leave the room while I was watching Bringing Up Baby.
Others in the series Caftan Woman's Choice running since September 2011.
Speaking of comedy I remember that THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW is one of your favorite shows. ED ASNER died AUGUST 29 (SUNDAY) at the age of 91. He, of course, played the boss LOU GRANT on that comedy and also on his later show LOU GRANT, a newspaper drama. Like you, I like both of those shows. Ed won seven EMMY AWARDS. Do you know him from any other shows? He was in HEARTS AFIRE and THE TRIALS OF ROSIE O'NEILL. (I didn't watch those shows).ReplyDelete
I have seen Ed Asner in many programs: Rich Man, Poor Man, Roots, Gunsmoke, The Virginian, The Fugitive, Ironside, Police Story. He was on the animated series Gargoyles which my daughter adored when she was young.Delete
It wasn't until Mary Tyler Moore that I saw him play comedy, and play it very well.
Like KATHARINE HEPBURN, ED ASNER worked with JOHN WAYNE. Ed played a villainous role in EL DORADO(67). He did two eps of GUNSMOKE and three eps of THE FUGITIVE. Like his MTM co-star GAVIN MACLEOD Ed was a guest star on HAWAII 5-0. I read that he played the same character on a couple eps of the more recent HAWAII 5-0. (Ed's passing came just three months after Gavin's passing).ReplyDelete
I remembered the original 5-0 episode and when they revived the character for the reboot I was very pleased. It had a very dramatic ending.Delete
I just love BRINGING UP BABY. I loved it the first time I saw it and I've loved it again every time I've seen it since.ReplyDelete
It's the only movie in which I actually like Katharine Hepburn.
On the subject of Howard Hawks screwball comedies, have you seen his final screwball comedy, MAN'S FAVORITE SPORT? Not everybody likes it but I adore it. Rock Hudson and Paula Prentiss were perfect screwball comedy players.
I enjoy Man's Favorite Sport? more these days than I used to. Rock was a very good comic actor and Paula Prentiss is a treat.Delete
I imagine I'll be watching Bringing Up Baby on my own and laughing away, as my husband puts it, "as if I'm in my right mind."
I don't think there are words for how much I love Bringing Up Baby. From Cary and Kate's delivery of the dialogue, to Baby, George, and the fact that Susan calls Alexander Peabody "Boopy", it is just my cup of tea. It does require some energy to keep up with though, no bones about it (couldn't help myself).ReplyDelete
I put it on for a loved one who was going through a rough time and was delighted at the effect it had on her and her caretaker.
"...no bones about it..." I did an early morning spit take with the coffee! I'll be chuckling about that all day.Delete
Yes! It perfectly embodies "screwball" and nothing vanquishes a rough time like laughter.
I'm with you in the screwball preference department -- I love how just about ALL the characters in this film are madcap, up to and including Baby and George! Long live Bringing Up Baby!ReplyDelete
It isn't as if my family doesn't have a sense of humour, but they certainly do have a blind spot!Delete
Bringing Up Baby is the ultimate screwball comedy! There are just a handful of movie comedies that can make me laugh out loud and this is one of them. The entire cast is perfect--though I have a soft spot for the incredibly natural performance given by George the dog.ReplyDelete
Do you think Skippy realized he was a scene stealer? I'm positive his co-stars knew what they were in for, and knew it was good for the movie.Delete
Always loved "Bringing Up Baby," and I think one of the reasons Hepburn's turn at comedy in this role was so successful is that (going back to the remark that there should be at least one serious person in the movie) she plays it as if her character thinks everyone else is nuts and she's the only sensible person, with an impatience for their slowness of mind. Fun movie.ReplyDelete
Indeed! That is Susan Vance to a "T." I shall use your astute observation when next I try to turn the family to the screwy side.Delete
great review. This is one of my fav Screwball comedies, and one of my favorie Hepburn movies. She's a bulldozer, but a charming well-meaning bulldozer, who just runs over everyone. It a tribute to the cast they make this film work so well. If you want to see a cast do the more or less same type characers, much less well, see "what's up doc".ReplyDelete
I always have to work myself up to a Streisand or O'Neal mood. Of course, once I do that I generally enjoy the movie experience but I haven't gotten around to What's Up, Doc? after all these years. Perhaps next opportunity, I will unfold my arms, put away the "side-eye" and give it a shot. "Much less well" you say. H'm.Delete
It's curious to think that the 1938 Best Picture Oscar winner, You Can't Take It with You, has even more madcap characters than Bringing Up Baby - everybody in that family is weird! But, as you mentioned, there was a normal character in YCTIWY to balance things. I'm glad people revisited Bringing Up Baby and it's now rightfully praised as a great screwball comedy.ReplyDelete
There will never be a time when we won't need or want to laugh, and the classic screwball comedies pass the test of time beautiful. "Baby" always works.Delete