Screwball Comedy Month: Bringing Up Baby


Greetings, readers! Last month you may recall I did a spotlight on movie villains. This month I’m going in the opposite direction. My April spotlight is going to be on screwball comedies. To start things off, I’ll be writing about the 1938 classic Bringing Up Baby. Directed by Howard Hawks and starring the dynamic duo of Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn, it’s one of my favorite screwball comedies ever.

Let me start this piece off by making a confession. As much as I love dramatic Cary Grant, I adore screwball comedy Cary Grant. Arsenic and Old Lace, The Philadelphia Story, His Girl Friday…the man had a real flare for comedy. Bringing Up Baby is another great example. Here’s the plot to get you up to speed:

Dr. David Huxley (Cary Grant) at the Stuyvesant Museum of Natural History is absorbed in his work with skeletons of prehistoric animals, and so is his assistant Alice Swallow (Virginia Walker), whom he is going to marry the following day. She sees their marriage only as a practical arrangement, and dismisses his thoughts of a honeymoon and of having children. The museum is vying for a one million dollar donation from Mrs. Carleton Random, and David is sent to a meeting with her lawyer, Mr. Peabody (George Irving). There the introvert and impractical David bumps into the extrovert and energetic heiress Susan Vance (Katherine Hepburn). When a psychiatrist explains to Susan, that the love impulse in men often reveals itself in conflict, she interprets David’s behavior as an example of this, and falls in love with him. From now on she has only one thought in her mind: to stop David from marrying his assistant, and to win him for herself. Without knowing how it happened, David suddenly finds himself with Susan in a car, transporting her tame leopard Baby to her aunt’s farm in Connecticut. Susan’s aunt Elizabeth (May Robson) turns up, and she happens to be the prospective donor David has been looking for. Suddenly David is entangled in a hodgepodge of misunderstandings and a nocturnal chase after animals on the run.–IMDB

The plot is preposterous. But what else would you expect with a screwball comedy? Bringing Up Baby is hilarious from beginning to end. Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn have superb chemistry on-screen together. They starred in another classic screwball comedy: The Philadelphia Story. When two of the best actors team up for a movie the results aren’t always successful. But this movie is a home run.

Credit for this comic gem must go not just to its A-list lead actors. Some of it has to go to Howard Hawks. His signature rapid-fire dialogue is on prime display here. And that’s one of the many reasons it works, along with the physical gags and increasingly ridiculous situations. Cary Grant would re-team with Hawks on His Girl Friday, featuring some of the fastest comedic exchanges ever put on film.

There are too many great lines and gags in Bringing Up Baby to put in one blog post. But let me highlight a few. There’s a scene early during Grant and Hepburn’s first meeting where Hepburn accidentally tears the back of Grant’s tuxedo. Grant then accidentally tears the back of Hepburn’s dress. He comically tries to conceal the missing part of her dress by covering it with his hat as the two walk through the restaurant having a heated argument.

Another great scene is when Grant and Hepburn go to meet Hepburn’s aunt. Along the way, Grant’s wardrobe goes missing. So naturally Grant ends up rocking one of Hepburn’s bathrobes. When he goes off wandering through the house looking for more appropriate attire, he runs into Hepburn’s aunt. When Grant tries to explain why he’s wearing such a ridiculous outfit, he blurts out, “because I just went *GAY* all of a sudden! ” It’s one of the film’s many priceless lines.

There’s also the scene where Grant and Hepburn end up in jail and Hepburn tries to get out of jail by channeling characters she’s seen in different movies. As Grant exclaims,”constable, she’s making all this all up out of motion pictures she’s seen!”

There are of course a lot of great comic bits with the leopard, including a great scene where the leopard is in the car with them. And of course there’s Grant’s priceless comic reaction to seeing the leopard for the first time.

One of the great things about Bringing Up Baby is that it gets funnier the more exasperated Grant gets with the Hepburn, the funnier it gets, The film works as a screwball comedy, a buddy movie, a road picture, and a star vehicle. If you ever need a movie to put a goofy grin on your face, I recommend Bringing Up Baby.


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