Bringing Up Baby (1938)
As one of the most delightful screwball comedies of the 1930s, Bringing Up Baby has been enjoyed by generations and all ages. Directed by Howard Hawks, it is the story of befuddled boy meets impulsive girl and she gets in the way of his museum’s grant for one million dollars. Not the best way to capture his heart. But she can keep him beside her if he thinks that she is in danger from a leopard in her apartment. Don’t worry, Baby is as docile as a kitten…I hope.
The boy in question is Dr. David Huxley (Cary Grant in thick glasses). We meet him contemplating high in the air next to a brontosaurus skeleton. He is engaged to marry Miss Alice Swallow (Virginia Walker) tomorrow and their match seems less than romantic. She clearly states that, “Our marriage must contain no domestic entanglements of any kind.” Looks like all work and no play coming up for David.
The girl is Susan Vance (Katharine Hepburn in her first comedy). At first, she just seems daffy, accidentally taking David’s ball at the golf course, then his double-parked car, against all his logical explanations that it is clearly his. Later, we see it is all a ploy as she attempts to win his heart. After she realizes that taking him away from the golf course had cost him a million dollars, she tries to make it up to him, but her live-wire antics keep getting in the way. When he is about to leave, and get married on top of that, the luck that she has a leopard in her apartment brings them together again and out to her aunt’s home in Connecticut.
Winning over a no-nonsense paleontologist is not easy when the fossil he has been waiting for has been snatched up and buried by your dog. Or when he has had the misfortune of meeting your aunt in nothing but a fluffy-cuffed bathrobe. Clearly, David is just annoyed by Susan for a good duration of the film, but watching him endure such frustrations and embarrassments is fun and makes him a more likable character. Who knows, maybe all that screwy fun will bring him around to Susan.
The film is filled with delightfully hilarious moments. David and Susan working together to get out of a formal party with their wardrobe malfunctions unnoticed had me in stitches. The misadventures on the road with Baby in the car were a riot. Misjudging the depth of a stream whole leopard hunting ends in a huge laugh. And Susan repeatedly stealing cars out of the blue never gets old.
Bringing Up Baby is a wonderful hoot of a film. Hepburn and Grant play off each other with perfect chemistry. Unfortunately, the film bombed at the box office so badly that Hepburn became labeled “box office poison.” That certainly didn’t attract the Academy. Yet today Bringing up Baby is a treasured film, showing how a screwball comedy should be played and winning over more and more viewers, including me.
“There is a leopard on your roof and it’s my leopard and I have to get it and to get it I have to sing.”
With a life long love of film and writing, Alyson Krier has decided to watch and review all the Best Picture nominees throughout the history of the Academy Awards on her ever expanding blog, The Best Picture Project.