I rewatched for the nth time (I’ve lost track) Howard Hawk’s Bringing Up Baby (1938). Apart from being great fun each time I watch it, this time was a bit different having read Marc Eliot’s book, Cary Grant: A Biography and having previously watched Cary Grant: A Class Apart (a documentary on the second disc of the two-disc special edition DVD).
Here’s why this is interesting: Seeing Bringing Up Baby, at least as I do, you would think Cary Grant is in full command of what he’s doing — the ever skillful and brilliant, Cary. However, what you find out is that that is anything but the case.
Grant had had huge success with the previous year’s The Awful Truth (1937). However, he never took credit for its success because he had no idea how he had done it. He felt it was a fluke. He had been extremely anxious over his character, not sure how to play him, copying many mannerisms and stances of his then director, Leo McCarey.
Following closely on The Awful Truth, he was worried again about how to play his character in Bringing Up Baby and, compounding this, “… he was afraid to make a movie that was too stylistically similar in which his performance would not be as good.” (From Eliot’s biography of Cary Grant, p. 178.)
“Hawks then suggested to Grant that he look at some of the films of Harold Lloyd. Grant did and was so taken with the comedian’s style of acting that he actually copied it, almost gesture for gesture, in putting together his interpretation of David Huxley, down to the thick horn-rimmed glasses, one of Lloyd’s cinematic trademarks.” (Eliot’s biography of Cary Grant, p. 178.)
Still, while his template may have been Harold Lloyd what ends up on screen is pure Cary Grant, albeit with a Lloyd influence and the Cary Grant of a certain period of his career (younger, pre-Hitchcock etc.).
Of course, background isn’t necessary to enjoying this comedy classic. It may even get in the way until you’ve seen it a few times. It’s one of the great screwball comedies, peppered with absurdities and the better for it.