Bringing Up Baby (1938) starring Katharine Hepburn & Cary Grant

Whenever this movie comes on TCM, I recall what my dad said- “it’s too crazy.” Well, this isn’t inaccurate, BUT it’s crazy in a fast-paced/fun way. There is SO much (OK, maybe TOO much) going on in this screwball comedy; you need to pay attention. I saw it for maybe the 3rd time last week; I found myself laughing at several scenes. FYI: Katharine Hepburn had never done comedy before, and was coached by director Howard Hawks (and several veteran actors) he employed. Cary Grant was already well versed in comedy; he also used his acrobatic skills in this film. The two leads have great chemistry; they became friends and even double-dated w/ their significant others (during filming).

She has an amazing body – like a boxer. It’s hard for her to make a wrong turn. She’s always in perfect balance. She has that beautiful coordination that allows you to stop and make a turn and never fall off balance. This gives her an amazing sense of timing. I’ve never seen a girl that had that odd rhythm and control. -Hawks on Hepburn

A young/nervous zoologist, Dr. David Huxley (Grant- wearing thick glases), is VERY excited by the news that an intercostal clavicle bone has been found to complete his brontosaurus skeleton, a project 4 yrs in the construction. He is anxious re: securing $1M for the museum where he works from a wealthy/widowed donor- Mrs. Random. David is engaged to be married to his uptight assistant, Alice. He still refers to her as Miss Swallow; he is disappointed when she says their marriage will be ALL business b/c his work comes first. Who says that classic films don’t have dirty jokes/meanings!?

A lawyer, Mr. Peabody, will make the decision on behalf of the donor, so David needs to make a good impression. Troubles arise when the straight-laced David meets a flighty young heiress, Susan Vance (Hepburn), who keeps doing things which make him look bad in Peabody’s eyes. (BTW, Christopher Reeve based his performance as Clark Kent in Superman and its 3 sequels on the character of David.) The more David wants her to go away, the more Susan keeps showing up, then purposefully drawing him in (b/c she finds him attractive). Susan has a “wardrobe malfunction” at a fancy gathering; such a state of undress was rarely seen in films approved by the Hays Code. David eventually learns that Mr. Peabody is Susan’s good friend (who she calls “Boopy”), and her “Aunt Elizabeth” is Mrs. Random!

The “baby” of this title is a young leopard that was sent from Brazil by Susan’s brother. She thinks that she can keep him in her NYC apt (LOL… and also scary)! Hepburn had a very close call with the leopard. She was wearing a skirt lined with little metal pieces to make it swing in a pretty way. When Hepburn turned around quickly, the leopard made a lunge for her back; the trainer had to intervene w/ his whip to save the actress. This film employed a great number of split screen and optical tricks, such as rear screen projection, so that having the leopard in close proximity to the actors could be kept to a minimum.

[1] 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. 

[2] In “Bringing Up Baby” her Susan Vance is a very interesting diversion from her more usual type of character… 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.

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…

[3] Grant’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. 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.

[4] While many films regarded as classics in the ’30s seem somewhat dated now, Bringing up Baby seems as fresh as it ever did, thanks largely to the energetic central performances. Grant is terrific as the professor who gradually loses his inhibitions, but Hepburn steals the show as a self-absorbed young woman who wins the audience over through her lack of inhibitions.

[5] Notwithstanding the obvious physical humor and improbable situations, it’s almost impossible to miss the obvious anatomical references played to the hilt with every mention of the word “bone.” Not only was Grant’s character misrepresented by the unfortunate name, but he seemed to be having a lot of fun while on the chase for the elusive brontosaurus piece – “My bone. It’s rare. It’s precious. What did you do with it?” How many takes do you think it took to get through those scenes? 

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

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