SCREWBALL COMEDY MONTH
BRINGING UP BABY ( 1938 )
We’re down to the concluding chapter of Screwball Comedy Month for February, so for my final review for this month, I’m reviewing my favorite Screwball Comedy, and quite possibly my favorite movie of all time, “Bringing Up Baby”.
“Bringing Up Baby” is a perennial Screwball classic starring Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant, in what is considered one of their most hellacious film efforts. Superbly directed by Howard Hawks, and adapted by Dudley Nichols and Hagar Wilde from a short story, which originally appeared in Collier’s Weekly Magazine on April 10th, 1937. With a script written especially for Hepburn, and tailored to suit her personality, the film remains the apogee of Screwball comedy right to this day.
The film revolves around the story of Susan Vance and David Huxley ( Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant ). David, a temperate Paleontologist has been assembling the skeleton of a Brontosaurus for the past four years. The model is almost finished, but all he needs to acquire to complete the project is the Intercostal Clavicle.
For David, things couldn’t be better. Elizabeth Random ( May Robson ) is considering donating a million dollars to his museum, and to add to more happiness, he is engaged and set to marry Alice Swallow the following day. That afternoon he has a golf engagement with Mrs Random’s lawyer Alexander Peabody at the local golf course. There he encounters Susan Vance, a frivolous and scatterbrained heiress who without David’s cognizance happens to be Mrs. Random’s niece. From the moment David first laid eyes on Susan nothing followed him but a trail of disaster. Later that evening David annunciates to Susan that he does not to want to see her again, only to wake up to a call from Susan to discover that her brother has given her a tame leopard from Brazil named Baby to give to her aunt. Thinking that David is a zoologist, Susan invites him to her country home in Connecticut to help with Baby. Though he dejects the offer at first, he ends up getting deluded in Susan’s ploy and ends up in Connecticut. Altercations ensue when Susan suddenly becomes infatuated by David, and tries her hardest to prevent his marriage with Mrs. Swallow by keeping him detained in Connecticut for as long as possible.
More trouble arises when David discovers that George the dog has taken off with the Intercostal Clavicle and buried it. Without this bone he is not able to complete his construction, so he goes digging around in the dirt looking for the missing bone. In the meantime, Elizabeth Random arrives, and is caught in the cobweb of the chaos that is surrounding David and Susan. Elizabeth is unaware of David’s identity as Susan has introduced him as David Bone, but is sentient of the fact that Susan is enamored by David, though she dismisses any kind of plans as her first impression of him isn’t positive.
As the film rolls on, David finds himself swept into an array of disasters, including a stint in jail after being found by a befuddled policemen in town. Now that he is stuck in this erratic situation, David realizes that it is getting even more difficult for him to masquerade as Mr. Bone, until Elizabeth elicits that he is putting on a false façade, and discovers who he really is.
Katharine Hepburn is delightfully charming in her portrayal of Susan Vance, the flighty heiress who pursues David Huxley, the insouciant Paleontologist. Hepburn had occasionally demonstrated a flair for comedy in her earlier films, but never before had she been able to really throw herself into such an oddball creation. The trick to her appeal here is the way she uses her typical Hepburn sophistication to make it look like she knows what she’s doing which, along with her impeccable comic timing, makes it all the funnier when things fall apart around her. Cary Grant on the other hand does a perfectly styled reasonable-man-driven-loopy act, his reactions crazed, but no more so than situations he finds himself in, meaning he is both funny and believable.
“Bringing Up Baby” is the true definition of Screwball Comedy. In the annals of cinema this is most arguably the funniest and wittiest movie ever made. It combines all the elements of Screwball such as zany and maniacal characters who live at a frenetic pace, and the delivery of absurd and nonsensical lines that are poured out at one another. More than seventy years later, the film remains one of the most meritorious comedies of all time, and in my opinion the best.
Katharine Hepburn had one very close call with the leopard. She was wearing a skirt that was lined with little metal pieces to make the skirt swing prettily. When Hepburn turned around abruptly, the leopard made a lunge for her back. Only the intervention of the trainer’s whip saved Hepburn. The leopard was not allowed to roam around freely after that, and Hepburn was more careful around it from then on.
The film flopped on it’s release, but now over seventy years later it is considered one of the greatest Screwball Comedies ever made.
The scene in which Susan’s dress is ripped was inspired by something that happened to Cary Grant. He was at the Roxy Theater one night and his pants zipper was down when it caught on the back of a woman’s dress. Grant impulsively followed her. When he told this story to Howard Hawks, Hawks loved it and put it into the film.
David Huxley: “You don’t understand: this is *my* car!”
Susan Vance: “You mean *this* is your car? *Your* golf ball? *Your* car? Is there anything in the world that doesn’t belong to you?”
David Huxley: “Yes, thank heaven, YOU!”
Mrs. Random: “Well who are you?”
David Huxley: “I don’t know. I’m not quite myself today.”
Mrs. Random: “Well, you look perfectly idiotic in those clothes.”
David Huxley: “These aren’t *my* clothes.”
Mrs. Random: “Well, where *are* your clothes?”
David Huxley: “I’ve *lost* my clothes!”
David Huxley: “How can all these things happen to just one person?”
Susan Vance: “You mean you want *me* to go home?”
David Huxley: “Yes.”
Susan Vance: “You mean you don’t want me to help you any more?”
David Huxley: “No.”
Susan Vance: “After all the fun we’ve had?”
David Huxley: “Yes.”
Susan Vance: “And after all the things I’ve done for you?”
David Huxley: “That’s what I mean.”
Mrs. Random: “But why are you wearing *these* clothes?”
David Huxley: “Because I just went *GAY* all of a sudden!”
Mrs. Random: “Now see here young man, stop this nonsense. What are you doing?”
David Huxley: “I’m sitting in the middle of 42nd Street waiting for a bus.”
Katharine Hepburn: Born Katharine Houghton Hepburn on May 12th, 1907 in Hartford, Connecticut. Died: June 29th, 2003 in Fenwick, Connecticut. Aged 96.
Cary Grant: Born Archibald Alexander Leach on January 18th, 1904 in Bristol, England. Died: November 29th, 1986 in Davenport, Iowa. Aged 82.