Bringing Up Baby
Director: Howard Hawks
Starring: Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant
Every filmgoer, no matter how hard they may try to be pretentiously objective and critical about the movies they watch, has a weak spot. Maybe a certain director, maybe a certain actor or actress, maybe a certain genre. Me? I have plenty. Loads, even. And one of them, a huge one, is Cary Grant.
Cary Grant can do no wrong. Cary Grant is reason alone for me to watch – and most likely love – a film.
Paleontologist Dr. David Huxley (Grant, the original GQMF) thinks he’s having a good day when the last missing fossil for his dinosaur skeleton is found AND he’s about to marry his boring-as-dirt fiancée Alice (Virginia Walker). But fate has other plans and soon, while trying to solicit donations for his museum, he meets madcap heiress Susan Vance (Hepburn) who starts by stealing his golf ball, then steals his car, then rips his suit jacket, then tries to get him to take care of a pet leopard, then steals his clothes and makes him wear marabou-trimmed nighties and ill-fitting equestrian costumes.
When it comes to screwball comedies, Bringing Up Baby might possibly take the largest piece of cake in the entire world, because I don’t think it gets much screwier than this. All hope at sticking to a strong central and sensible plot gets thrown maniacally out the window as soon as a leopard, of all things, gets thrown into the mix about a third of the way through the film. It was hardly tending towards sanity previously, what with ripped clothing and mad dinner parties and Cary Grant riding a side board, but a leopard? And then a dog stealing a dinosaur bone? And a kooky uncle back from big game hunting in Africa? AND THEN A SECOND LEOPARD WHO IS NOT TAME LIKE THE FIRST ONE?!?!?!? Bringing Up Baby does not do shenanigans by halves, oh no indeed. You want screwball? This, THIS is screwball.
Really, though, considering this was directed by Howard Hawks, this makes sense. Hawks directed a myriad of genres of films, but even if he was making a western (Red River, Rio Bravo) or a noir (The Big Sleep) or a historical drama (Sergeant York), there is always a sense of zaniness somehow, somewhere. Frankly, it’s something I’ve come to appreciate about his films, something I actually look forward to when I see his credit at the opening of a movie. Hawks has a habit of embracing the crazy and being unafraid to let a situation escalate quickly and not at all realistically, and I like that. I’ve come to the realization in the past year that I tend to prefer films that eschew reality. I like suspension of disbelief; it’s a good friend that has served me well over the years. You certainly need quite a bit of suspension of disbelief for Hawks’ Bringing Up Baby but if you’re willing, it’ll take you on quite the ride.
On several occasions, Bringing Up Baby’s kookiness threatens to derail completely and fall apart at the seams, but somehow it manages to maintain forward momentum, thanks both to Hawks and to its two legendary leads. I adore Katharine Hepburn as Susan in this film because she is utterly bereft of seriousness. Susan is all over the place, a perfectly addle-brained, madcap heiress. She goes from zero to sixty in about two seconds and then maintains that speed for as long as the scene requires it. Most Hepburn films I’ve seen have Hepburn playing something more serious than this, but man, is she great at playing funny as well.
And what’s more, I like Susan’s character. I think she’d drive me crazy in real life, but that’s the thing: she doesn’t exist in real life, she’s a crazy fictional character from a movie that’s practically a Looney Toons short. What I like about Susan the most is her take-charge attitude towards… well, her entire life. She meets David quickly, drives him crazy, then decides that he’s in love with her, then finds out he’s actually engaged to someone else, then she immediately decides it doesn’t matter and by gum she’s going to do what she needs to do to win her perceived man. It’s the not-so-hidden feminist in me that responds incredibly well to a film from the thirties showing a woman with a backbone. The fact that Susan is also utterly crazy is just an added bonus. (And shoot, she goes out and catches the un-tame leopard on her own. She’s kind of badass.)
And then there’s Cary Grant.
I honestly don’t know where to begin because it’s goddamned Cary Grant. He’s perfection. Utter perfection. In everything. Ever. EVER. And the fact that he spends a majority of this film with that little wayward curl falling over his forehead just makes… oh, oh no, there go my ovaries. Blast.
Trying to be a bit more objective, I love Cary Grant in Bringing Up Baby because he isn’t afraid to play the fool. David Huxley spends most of the movie in over his head and dumbfounded, and Grant plays befuddled incredibly well. David walks around in a daze, and I just can’t get enough of seeing Cary Grant – usually so damn suave and sophisticated – taking pratfalls, wearing silly negligees, and exerting utterly no control over a zany situation. The stuttering and hapless Cary Grant, contrasted with, for example, his role as uber-serious and sadistic government agent in Notorious, is a reminder that Grant wasn’t just famous for his looks. Dude had it in him to play such a great variety of roles. And while I think I personally prefer my Grant suave and debonair, I do rather adore him all geeked out, bespectacled, and nebbish as well.
Basically, as I said at the beginning, Cary Grant can do no wrong. And him continually saying "intercostal clavicle" is like a gift from heaven.
There is little in this world I find sexier than my Holy Trinity of Classic Hollywood Actors, of which Grant is most definitely a part, and I love watching him stand absolutely no chance against the force of nature that is Katharine Hepburn in this film. This film is fun and zany and absolutely unrealistic but for me, that is its charm.
Arbitrary Rating: 9/10.