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- Bringing Up Baby
- Runtime:102 min
- Release Date:2014-03-19 11:43:00
- Director: Howard Hawks
- Genres: Comedy, Romance
MOVIE REVIEW:Bringing Up Baby
Madcap socialite Katharine Hepburn (as Susan Vance) snares handsome
zoologist Cary Grant (as David Huxley) while they search for her
escaped leopard "Baby" and a bone he loses while showering. Honest.
"Bringing Up Baby" should have been a big box office hit and secured
industry and critics' awards for its co-stars, director Howard Hawks,
writers Hagar Wilde and Dudley Nichols, editor George Hively, at the
very least. Watching Mr. Hawks and his crew tickle so many funny bones,
it's difficult to comprehend this witty classic's failure to catch
fire. But, this was just before Cary Grant reached his super-star
status, and the public had decided Katharine Hepburn's affectations
were tiresome. In this case, those who laugh last, laugh best.
********** Bringing Up Baby (2/16/38) Howard Hawks ~ Katharine Hepburn,
Cary Grant, Charlie Ruggles, Fritz Feld
Let's admit: We are all biased towards the oldies, including myself. I
do enjoy watching them and in fact I feel something utterly naive and
unstained in the monochrome world, the childhood of cinema..
..But not this. A huge fan of Grant and even Hepburn as I am, I could
barely stand the plot, an unnecessarily long and weak sense of humor as
it is. The same sort of humor is going and going all over again, the
characters become unbearable.
Sorrily I have seen the film up to the end, tried to like it, and as a
person, for instance who considers the "Dr. Strangelove" as the most
hilarious film of all times, I guess it is not my cup of tea. And sorry
The screwball comedy, classic romantic sub-genre of the 1930s, may not
have one hard and fast definition, but almost all of screwball comedies
revolve around the same idea. A man and a woman are thrown together by
circumstance take an instant dislike to each other, and yet it is
immediately obvious to us that they are made for each other. What
follows is simply the fun and games they go through before they realise
it themselves. It seems that the closer a screwball follows that
pattern and the more it makes those elements work, the better it is.
Bringing Up Baby is a perfect example, although rather daringly it
pushes the antagonism between the leads further than ever before. With
this wild and witty screenplay by Hagar Wilde and Dudley Nichols, it's
not simply a case of personality clash. Katherine Hepburn's character
is a genuine disaster area, leaving a trail of destruction behind her
that puts her on a par with Harpo Marx. And like Harpo, she has that
quality that means she would be infuriating in real life, but is
instantly likable on screen. Cary Grant, as a relatively regular and
rational man, ought to be the character we sympathise with, and yet
it's delightful watching him getting wound up by Hepburn's antics. A
real turning point occurs in the story when we realise Hepburn is
falling in love with him. She suddenly becomes our heroine because we
want her to gloriously sabotage his wedding to the frumpy Virginia
Walker, and we'll enjoy watching her do it.
Of course a lot of this likability and chemistry comes from the actors.
Hepburn had occasionally demonstrated a flair for comedy in her earlier
films, but never before had she been able to really throw herself into
such an oddball creation. The trick to her appeal here is the way she
uses her typical Hepburn sophistication to make it look like she knows
what she's doing which, along with her impeccable comic timing, makes
it all the funnier when things fall apart around her. Grant on the
other hand does a perfectly styled reasonable-man-driven-loopy act, his
reactions crazed, but no more so than situations he finds himself in,
meaning he is both funny and believable. The fact that we can laugh so
much at these two tussling makes us want them to become an item.
The extra factor here is director Howard Hawks, who had a great touch
with comedy. Importantly, Hawks doesn't cut into the scene with two
many close-ups or angle changes, generally keeping all the characters
in the shot at once in long takes, so that everything is just allowed
to play out before us. Whenever he does focus on one character, you
know the moment is really important. This is not to say Hawks doesn't
pay attention to the intricacies of shot composition. He has a great
use of space especially when it comes to the eponymous leopard.
Whenever Baby is about to appear, Hawks often has a conspicuously empty
spot for him to walk into, for example when he sits down next to Barry
Fitzgerald. Earlier, when Grant first encounters him, the leopard is
already in shot in the foreground. These brilliant entrances are all
the funnier for how Hawks arranges them, in what is a kind of visual
and spatial equivalent of comic timing.
What's perhaps best about Bringing Up Baby is that it is almost
continuously funny. I'm reminded again of the Marx brothers, who a few
years earlier saved the talkie comedy by showing that verbal wit that
could be just as madcap as slapstick. With its overlapping dialogue and
dialogue running alongside action Bringing Up Baby is a fast-moving and
witty treat, with barely a quiet moment in it. It proves that contrary
to what many modern critics and filmmaker manuals say, this isn't a
purely visual medium and actions don't always speak louder than words.
Sadly Bringing Up Baby was not received well in its day. This is partly
because Katherine Hepburn was not at her most popular, and the sharp
change in her screen persona was perhaps a little hard to accept after
all the dainty teenage roles with which she had made her name. Mostly
however I suppose it was because it took screwball too far into the
wackiness and anarchy of more riotous comedy forms, this being an era
when breaking a genre's mould generally meant poor box office takings.
But often, genres are recognised in retrospect, and it's now possible
to see the chaotic silliness as what brings the characters' charms to
the surface, and Bringing Up Baby as screwball comedy's finest
I have sat through this screwball "comedy" two times and I never
laughed. I remember watching one of those dreadful "Police Academy"
movies which left me guffawless, chortleless. In short, when you make a
"comedy", it's supposed to be funny.
I understand that people find this film a screwball comedy "classic".
When the movie premiered in 1938, it was a flop. Now, some seventy
years later, it is considered one of the best movies of the screwball
genre. How much of this is revisionist Hollywood history is anybody's
Of course we all miss debonair Cary and the great Katharine Hepburn.
But you can't turn a sow's ear into a silk purse, and this movie
remains to me a sow's ear. Let's get right to it. Katharine Hepburn has
no flair for this type of comedy. She is devastating perfect as Tracy
Lord in "The Philadelphia Story". Lovely, vulnerable, fully in command,
Hepburn was born to play the pompous socialite. There is much humor in
the story's telling, but it is all quite natural.
"Bringing Up Baby" looks like a movie, sounds like a movie. I seem to
be constantly aware that Hepburn is trying to be funny. I don't believe
her for a moment as a scatterbrained dunderhead.
I don't even enjoy Cary Grant as "Dr. Huxley". The whole movie seems
forced. I do believe this is Hepburn's one attempt at "screwball
comedy" and thank God for that. Grant is hilarious in "Arsenic and Old
Lace". The energy he generates seems genuine. Although the film is a
bit "stagey" (since it came from Broadway), I do find the gallows humor
of "Arsenic" a fine comic turn for Grant.
One reviewer who loves this movie says that "it's not supposed to make
sense", like I am not getting it. I could say that easily about "Duck
Soup" with the Marx Brothers. That also was considered a "flop" at the
time, but is deservedly recognized now as probably their best film. The
Marx Brothers were Jerry Seinfeld sixty years earlier. "Duck Soup" is
truly about nothing, makes no sense and is all out Marxian anarchy.
And perhaps I am a bit too enamored of one Carole Lombard, who was
gorgeous and funny at the same time. That is no mean trick for a woman,
but Carole could do it. You want to see one of the best "screwball"
comedies? I suggest "Nothing Sacred" with Fredric March and Lombard.
"Twentieth Century" with Carole and John Barrymore.
Of course, art is so subjective. One man's meat is another man's
poison. I do not find "Bringing Up Baby" funny. Not at all.
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