Bringing Up Baby (1938): A Classic Movie Review

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.

  • Blair Kramer.

    I’ve always felt that the two other Grant/Hepburn rom-coms, “Holiday” and “The Philadelphia Story,” were every bit as good as “Bringing Up Baby.” But the scene in “Bringing Up Baby,” during which Grant hysterically declares that he just decided to “…go gay all of a sudden…,” is an interesting tidbit of Hollywood history. You see, between marriages, Grant often shared a large mansion with cowboy star Randolph Scott. As a result, the notion that Grant was ACTUALLY gay surfaced in the press. And yet, no one ever suggested that Scott might be gay. Anyway. despite the fact that Cary Grant certainly was not a gay man, a great many people still believe the story is true. It hardly matters that his numerous wives all emphatically declared him to be decidedly heterosexual (and let’s not forget the many female stars with whom he had affairs, one of whom was Sophia Loren). Oh well… You know what they say in Hollywood: Never let the truth get in the way of a good story!

  • Tito Pannaggi

    Why bringing it up; gay or not gay, what does it matter. I cannot recall CG in any gay movies.

  • eddie quillen

    Blair, I’m not sure of your age, but everybody knew Randolph Scott was gay. It was an accepted part of common discourse when I was growing up. When I was little my parents and siblings in Brooklyn even referred to him as the “Queen of Hollywood”, and this was well before we knew of Rock Hudson’s homosexuality (the old Rock marrying Jim Nabors on Fire Island myth was already prevalent by the late ’60s) and it was the fact that Mr. Grant lived with Mr. Scott, in particular, that gave weight to the Grant was gay rumors.

    Back to “Baby,” though. My wife and I recently played the DVD for my 15 year old daughter as part of her cinema education (and to teach her there is more to film than “Harry Potter” and Hugh Grant and Colin Firth movies, not that there is anything wrong with them). She hated “Baby,” and made us turn it off. She felt the characters and the actors were annoying, and couldn’t suspend any disbelief and didn’t buy any of it. The only other movie she ever made me turn off before was “Sunrise.”

    I found it interesting since I had always loved “Baby,” and had fallen in love with the film when I wasn’t quite her age yet (although my wife and I both loved the Grant-Hepburn version of “Holiday” more). And my daughter is a kid who has watched everything from “The Searchers” to “The General” to “Stalag 17” to Chaplin to “Oxbow Incident” to Casablanca with me, so I found her reaction to “Baby” very odd.

    But when I told my then 92 year old father, who was largely responsible for my cinematic education, about her comments, he agreed with her, and surprised me by telling me that he never got that movie, nor the characters, either. I found that interesting since it was rare that I found a movie that he liked, but I didn’t (the reverse was not true, of course, but I attributed that to a generational difference).

    Anyway, my wife and I still love this movie.

    • Blair Kramer.

      Cary Grant’s sexual orientation is irrelevant, of course. But what IS relevant is the truth, no matter what the subject or issue may be. Untrue stories about Hollywood stars have always been in the press. I was just trying to set the record straight where Cary Grant was concerned. As for Randolph Scott, I confess that I never heard any rumors that he might have been gay. However, I DO know that he was twice married, his second marriage having lasted 44 years. And like Grant, he was said to have had numerous affairs with a number of female stars, one of whom was with Dorothy Lamour. As I think about it I suspect that the truth is really very simple. Scott and Grant became close friends when they worked on a picture together early in their careers. They were both also known to be notorious tightwads (Grant in particular was in constant fear of poverty, since his family was dirt poor when he was growing-up in Britain). Sharing a mansion (and a large swimming pool) was a way to save money. But it was also a way for the two movie stars to be photographed together when they were between marriages (although, there was a time when Grant shared the mansion with Scott AND Scott’s wife). Anyway, I think it’s very clear that it was all a matter of the press jumping to a conclusion. But the conclusion was clearly wrong.

    • Charles Bogle

      The rumor about Grant and Scott being gay has been very persistent but has never been attested to by anyone who knew both men well, including their multiple wives. Two tightwad bachelors sharing a mansion out of convenience, frugality and friendship do not a gay couple make, though one can easily understand why tongues would wag. Frequent Scott director Budd Boetticher called the rumor B.S. only without the initials. Repeating gossip does not make it true, or even likely.

  • DKW

    While certainly good, The “Philadelphia Story” has always seemed stiff to ME; Maybe the fact that it was adapted from the Stage Play, and that it has the Super-Slick MGM production values are the reasons. But ANYWAY, “Bringing Up Baby” is THE BEST of the Grant-Hepburn films, one I NEVER get tired of watching.

  • Juanita Curtis

    Agree with DKW – I never get tired of watching Bring up Baby and find it incredulous that it bombed when it was released. Thank goodness future generations have been able to restore it’s reputation. I love that line ” I have gone gay all of a sudden” but I think you have to remember that gay in 30’s referred to original meaning of happy.

  • Doug

    It’s one of my favorites. Hawks hired Walter Catlett to play the constable (the guy who throws everyone in jail) because his comedic timing was so good from being in vaudville. He was hired to help Hepburn learn timing because she was so bad at comedy. One day I was watching this movie and low and behold, in the scene at the carnival where the carnies are talking about the bad leopard, there is Jack Carson at the right delivering a line. He played one of the carnies. His name wasn’t in the titles because he wasn’t well known then. That was kind of delightful to find in the movie.
    It’s a great movie.

  • Jim Foster

    Love “Baby” and screen it often. Sorry, today’s generation of moviegoers, no car chases or glitzy special effects. Just 102 minutes of pure fun in — heaven forbid, black and white! No one could have done it better than Cary and Kate. An inspired pairing.

  • Jack Jones

    While I can watch Holiday and The Philadelphia Story repeatedly Bringing Up Baby has never had that appeal for me.

    I agree with Doug; it’s always fun to see some later star in an earlier obscure role.

  • ed cohen

    “Bringing Up Baby” is #1 of the so called screwball comedies, with “The Awful Truth” coming in 2nd place. Many people do not feel Cary Grant is an actor worth mentioning, but I would like to differ on that point. He was one of the most versatile actors ever, which is what I measure a good actor to be. Simply look at his body of work and I think you’ll agree. From nerds as he portrays in “Baby” to the suave, debonair characters he was known for, the man was able to do it all, and quite convincingly.

  • Mr. Ed

    Even though I have seen it advertised many times on TCM, I never got around to watching it, until just a month or so ago. I loved it and thought it was great. I had genuine belly laughs, something rarely experienced watching many of today’s so-called “comedies. “Bringing Up Baby” is a must addition to my DVD library.

  • Naturally Curlie

    Just because you are married doesn’t mean you are solely hetrosexual. Has no one on this site ever heard of being bi-sexual? It is obvious that many of the Hollywood stars of old (present day too most likely) were/are equal opportunity sexual beings.

    • Charles Bogle

      The point you make is true enough but irrelevant to this discussion. The point that I and others are trying to make is not that Grant and Scott couldn’t or shouldn’t have been gay (or bisexual, whatever), but rather that the evidence for that supposition in their particular case is pretty thin and seemingly based on pure gossip, whether malicious or not.

  • Jean Noah

    My first time viewing “Baby” came when I was home sick from school in the 60’s. It hurt even to breathe, but I got started watching the movie and laughing so hard I ached afterwards. Still one of my all-time favorite movies. The Peter Bogdonovich remake with Ryan ONeal and Streisand was okay (with Madeline Kahn stealing the movie away from everyone). But the original is classic screwball. Think I’ll watch it right now!

  • Ellen Urie

    I have never seen “Bringing Up Baby” but it does sound like an interesting movie & a good comedy. I like Cary Grant’s movies – he was a good actor. Also Katherine Hepburn is one of my most favorite actresses![I just don’t like to call women “actors’ for whatever reason it was changed]. I would rather watch these old comedies than what they put out today. Even in black & white! It’s interesting what they say about Grant & Scott. I have always liked Scott’s movies & have bought some of them. I show my grandson when he mentions it, in books & movies where “gay” is used to describe fun & happiness. Too bad you cannot use it now without getting strange looks. the information posted on here is very helpful!

  • Ken

    Some people are just mean. Calling people gay or anything else when they aren’t around to comment or defend themselves is being small minded. What so and so said or what your Dad’s Aunt Tilly said means nothing. They are great actors and let it end there> Get over it…….

  • Jackie

    Ken..You are SO right..I wish we were neighbors instead of the scum bags that live next door. My career has been so messed up by lies because no-one was ever silent enough to listen to the truth except one person..then all those idiots who believed the lies said ” Oh Really?, Gee I never knew that!”

  • Netherlandj

    I can’t understand why everyone thinks this is a great movie. Yes, it was funny, as far as the physical humor; but Katharine Hepburn’s character Susan was a horrible person. She stole cars, lied whenever it suited her, stole Cary’s clothes, sabotaged his life (even if his fiancée was awful), and did anything she wanted to get what she wanted. A spoiled rich brat who was used to having her way. I cringe every time this film airs, all because of Susan. I wish I could find a redeeming quality (the fact that she loved David isn’t enough), but I can’t. And as far certain actors being gay, what does that have to do with the film? If they’re good actors, I could care less. I never turn to people after watching a movie and have a discussion of whether they were straight or gay.

    • dpharrington

      “Gay” in this 1938 film is truly puzzling — CG, dressed in a pink(?) frilly bathrobe, says “I’ve just gone gay” or something similar, where it seems to mean homosexual. Yet the word continued to be used without irony in its original sense of merry or cheerful for decades to come. Can anyone cite this usage in another film from the 30s, 40s or 50s?

  • Angela57

    love,love this movie!!!

  • Frogman

    This movie is like ” His Girl Friday” with the talk over’s and such. i belive it’s a real classic, you can’t get that realistic with Suan, it’s a comedy, enjoy it for what it is.

  • stldjen

    Kate was not at her best in this film. Her laughter and character come off as artificial. It’s my understanding that Hawks asked Walter Catlett (the constable near the end of the film) to come aboard to assist Hepburn with her comedic timing because she was having a difficult time coming across as funny. But she does give a few good funny lines in the jail cell while talking to the constable.

    I also spotted Jack Carson with a one-line role. He’s one of the guys in the circus scene when they are talking about what to do with the naughty cat. This was before he was a star.

    The dog was funny.

    Not one of the best rpmantic comedies like the ones Grant did with Dunne but it has a lot of good moments.

    One of the more interesting scenes is Grant (who was rumored to have had a relationship with Randolph Scott while living with him) dressed up in Kate’s night gown exclaiming he’s gone gay when Kate’s aunt enquires about his outfit.

  • Daisy Brambletoes

    Not being a Hepburn fan (that may seem like sacrilege to some), it was still a cute movie. I suppose we might call it “A Girl and Her Cat”, but like most Hepburn characters, she is very annoying, quite unlike the far more likable Cary Grant.

    P.S. All the comments made by others over the line “I’ve just gone gay” probably hasn’t anything to do with homosexuals. The term “gay” either didn’t exist at that time, or else was inner-circle slang. I think Grant was being sarcastic and flippant, as if to say, “Look what you did to me! I am just so deliriously happy and full of gaiety that I could just laugh!” It is interesting how the meaning of words change. On the other hand, maybe it was an in-joke. Grant wasn’t gay, but he may have been subject to jokes and innuendo because of his curious accent, somewhere between American and his native English.

  • Tom S

    In all of the discussion about assorted people’s sexual orientation and whether or not Hepburn really is great or not in this, one important part of the film has been overlooked. The wire-hair fox terrier is Skippy, the one who played Asta in the Thin Man series. A great actor in his own right.

  • Old_Politico

    Give some credit to the supporting players – May Robson ISusan’s aunt), Charles Ruggles (the aunt’s old beau), Barry Fitzgerald (the aunt’s gardener), Walter Catlett (the constable) who coached Hepburn on comedy technique, and Fritz Feld as the slightly daffy psychiatrist. And don’t forget “George” the dog, played by the same adorable wire-haired fox terrier who played Asta in the Thin Man series.

    • Charles M Lee

      And even a small appearance by Shemp Howard of the Three Stooges Fame

  • Vicki

    Bringing Up Baby is definitely a film classic. Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant were two very versatile actors who could play comedy as well as drama. In fact, I think all of the players in the movie were hilarious….the dog, Charlie Ruggles, the sheriff….all great parts to compliment Katherine & Cary. Screwball comedies were the rage when this was made; but it is still so funny, that it always makes me laugh out loud in several scenes.