Bringing Up Baby (1938)

Directed by Howard Hawks
Written by Dudley Nichols & Hagar Wilde

My familiarity with Howard Hawks is not very extensive, though I have seen a few of his films now. My first experience was with His Girl Friday, which was a fast paced, quick witted romp through a night in the shoes of a journalist. It was massively entertaining, but something which I fear I was not yet accustomed to in order to fully appreciate. Now with that film under my belt, I was much more prepared for the style in Bringing Up Baby, which I didn’t actually know was Hawks until I looked it up. Instead I was excited to see Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn dual it out on screen, which I was certainly treated to.

Dr. David Huxley (Grant) is a paleontologist at a museum and he is putting together a great dinosaur, he just needs the funding to complete this great work. He is set to be married soon to his assistant Alice, but must make the rounds in order to scrounge up the $1 million donation he so covets. So he plays golf with the representative of one such potential donor, but never quit gets off the first tee. Instead he encounters the strangest woman he’s ever seen, Susan Vance (Hepburn), who seems to be following him to ruin his chances at the donation. Soon enough he is whisked away by the woman who unknowingly threatens him with her pet leopard “Baby”. They travel to Connecticut where David makes a fool of himself in front of Susan’s aunt, the donor he has been seeking. With all the madness will David make it back in time for his wedding, or to secure the lucrative donation?

This film is mad, but in the best way possible. Katherine Hepburn is sensational as Susan, even if I really didn’t care for her character very much. She comes off as quite dense, hitting David’s ball on the golf course, stealing and wrecking his car, and essentially framing him as a purse snatcher. But all of that doesn’t stop her from being irresistibly charming all the same. She was implausibly stupid, but Hepburn has so much fun in the role that I couldn’t help but be entertained. Grant on the other hand plays more a straight shooter who has been caught in the web of blunders orchestrated by Hepburn’s Susan. Every wacky comedy has to have its straight man and who better to play the part than Cary Grant? The two play off each other very well in the film.

The story itself almost played a back seat to the hilarity of the interplay between the two main characters, and I sort of took exception to that because I couldn’t help but disagree with some of the things that Dr. Huxley was doing. Why on earth would he leave for Connecticut the day before he is to be wed? And with such a wacko!? He had to know it wouldn’t end well, even if it meant being stuck with the leopard. With that being said I can overlook the minor gripes I have with the film in order to enjoy myself with the more hysterical scenes. The one that sticks most out in my mind is the final scene with the dinosaur, which so beautifully bookends the movie and showcases the amazing physical humor of Hepburn.

More than anything watching this film made me want to revisit His Girl Friday, with the instinct that now I would be able to appreciate the style so much more. I can remember Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell being a great pair in that film, not too dissimilar from Grant and Hepburn here. Whatever the case may be, I look forward to more fast paced romps from Hawks. Cary Grant is a great actor, but I would have to say that he is only 1/3 against his female counterparts in the Howard Hawks films I have seen. I preferred Hepburn here and Jean Arthur in Only Angels Have Wings. But then again that is just a testament to the strength of these films because by no means do I ever find Cary Grant not entertaining.


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