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Bringing Up Baby

March 25, 2011

118. Bringing Up Baby
Directed by Howard Hawks
USA, 1938
IMDB | allmovie

Reviewed by Ally
Umpteenth viewing

Synopsis:

Mild-mannered paleontologist David Huxley (Cary Grant) prepares to marry his stern fiancée, Alice Swallow (Virginia Walker), who insists that they will forgo a honeymoon in order for David to continue his work — he has spent four years assembling a Brontosaurus skeleton, for which the last piece will soon be delivered. David is also expected to ingratiate himself with Mrs. Random (May Robson), who is considering donating a million dollars to the museum.

The day before the wedding, David meets Susan Vance (Katharine Hepburn), a brash but hapless young lady with a knack for creating awkward situations. Susan falls for David and, determined to keep him close, forces him to help deliver a pet leopard (the eponymous Baby) to her aunt. Unbeknown to David, Susan’s aunt is none other than Mrs. Random, and a series of positively screwy incidents puts the museum donation, the Brontosaurus bone and the wedding in jeopardy.

Essential Scene:

Having met earlier in the day, Susan and David meet again in a restaurant. David storms out after Susan accidentally gets him accused of theft. She follows him to the stairs.

Susan: Now please listen, dear, you certainly can’t think that I did that intentionally.

David: Well if I could think, I’d have run when I saw you!

Susan: No, well if you’d only wait while I explain, I just gave you my purse while I–

As David tries to leave, Susan grabs him by the coat, which promptly tears in two.

Susan: Oh, you’ve torn your coat…

David approaches Susan angrily while she spouts apologies and excuses at a dizzying pace.

David: Look, will you do something for me?

Susan: A needle?

David: No, it’s simpler than that. Let’s play a game.

Susan: Oh? What?

David: Well, watch. I’ll put my hand over my eyes and then you go away. Then I’ll count to ten, and when I take my hand down, you will be gone. One…

Susan: [offended] Well I like that, I was only trying to be nice!

As Susan stomps off sulkily, the back of her dress rips off, having become caught under David’s foot. He rushes after Susan, who is oblivious to her wardrobe malfunction, and tries to hide her shame with his hat.

Thoughts:

Anyone who thinks old movies are slow ought to try keeping up with Bringing Up Baby. Katharine Hepburn delivers her lines at lightning speed, and the rest of the cast aren’t far behind her. Plot points accumulate at a similarly alarming pace, and the situations are so absurd that characters telling the truth are dismissed as crazy. Take for example a scene where Susan steals David’s clothes while he’s in the shower, forcing him to answer the door in a frilly negligee. He becomes increasingly agitated under questioning —

Mrs. Random: [to Susan] Does he want to wear those clothes?

David: No, I don’t want to wear this thing, I just want to get married!

While a few scenes involving growling leopards, yapping dogs and shouting humans can get a bit headache-inducing, Bringing Up Baby is, for the most part, a classic example of screwball comedy. It’s quite likely that you’ll have “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” stuck in your head for quite a while afterwards though…

Reviewed by Rachel
Umpteenth viewing

Essential Scene:

Susan, David and George the dog have traced Baby to a house — a house that happens to belong to the psychologist that Susan rather annoyed the night before. They try to coax Baby down by singing her favourite song.

Susan: Oh, look David! Baby’s on the roof! Come on, Baby, come on down! Come on! Oh David, make him get down.

David: I suppose you’d like me to climb up and push him down.

Susan: Well… maybe we’d better sing. I can’t give you any — well, sing David. [David winces]

Both: [singing in harmony] I can’t give you anything but love, baby
That’s the only thing I’ve plenty of, baby

[George starts to howl]

Dream a while, scheme a while

[Baby starts to caterwaul]

You’re sure to find
Happiness, and I guess
All those things you’ve always pined for

Gee, it’s great to see you looking swell, baby
Diamond bracelets Woolworths doesn’t sell, baby

[Dr Lehman leans out of his window]

Till that day, you know darn well —

[Susan points out the doctor in the window]

David: Oh, Baby! [leaves]

Susan: Oh, David where are you going?

David: [offscreen] I’ll be back!

Susan: Oh dear! I can’t give you anything but love… [to Doctor] Not you — it. [sings] I can’t give you anything but —

Doctor: What are you doing, may I ask?

Susan: Singing. [sings] I can’t give you anything but love —

Doctor: If you are playing a bet there must be somewhere else you can do it.

Susan: I’m not playing a bet, there’s a leopard on your roof.

Doctor: I’m not going to bandy words with you at this time of night.

Susan: Dream a while, scheme a while — But 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! You’re sure to find —

Doctor: There’s nothing on my roof.

Susan: [to Baby] Come on you fool — [to Doctor] There’s nothing on your roof? [titters] Alright, there’s nothing on your roof. [sings] Happiness, and I guess, All those things you’ve always pined for —

While Susan continues singing, the Doctor’s wife convinces him that Susan is obviously a patient in need of help, and the Doctor agrees. The Doctor’s arrival downstairs frightens Baby away so the Doctor cannot see to what Susan has been serenading. He promptly pulls Susan into the house to treat her delusions.

Thoughts:

Susan: You’ve just had a bad day, that’s all.

David: That’s a masterpiece of understatement.

Bringing Up Baby is one of those films where the plot is beyond farcical, but it’s not to be taken too seriously. It’s the screwball that paved the way for all other screwballs. Both leads and the minor characters all show real flare for comedy. It’s incredible to me to learn that Katharine Hepburn had never done comedy before, and was trained by veteran vaudevillians prior to shooting. She also wore gorgeous trousers, got wet and muddy, and stayed very near to a very large leopard. For this, I’d call her a very cool lady.

I must admit, I am very biased when it comes to Bringing Up Baby. I have known this film for as long as I can remember and it’s never failed to entertain me. It’s fast, well written, infinitely fun — and it has Cary Grant in a fluffy dressing gown! Come on, what more could you ask for?

Fascinating Fact: Director Howard Hawks based Cary Grant’s character on silent comedian Harold Lloyd, even down to the horn-rimmed glasses.

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