It’s time to look into a screwball comedy that I’ve long looked forward to getting to! That, of course, would be the 1938 film Bringing Up Baby, starring Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant!
Coming Up Shorts! with… When The Wind Blows (1930)
(available on Blu-ray as part of The Little Rascals: The ClassicFlix Restorations, Volume 1 (1929-1930) from ClassicFlix)
(Length: 19 minutes, 47 seconds)
On a windy night, Jackie (Jackie Cooper) accidentally locks himself out of his house, and is mistaken for a burglar as he attempts to get into the homes of the various Rascals. This was another fun one, which provided quite a few good laughs! Farina (Allen Hoskins) provides a few of them as he gets scared by the wind (especially when he assumes Jackie is a ghost trying to get in). Edgar Kennedy is back as Kennedy the cop, who keeps claiming that he “always gets his man” (even as he himself keeps getting scared by every little thing). Another fun one for sure, and one I look forward to revisiting again in the future!
And Now For The Main Feature…
At the Stuyvesant Museum of Natural History, paleontologist Dr. David Huxley (Cary Grant) is looking forward to his wedding to his assistant Alice Swallow (Virginia Walker) and to the coming arrival of an intercostal clavicle, the final bone from a brontosaurus skeleton he’s been trying to put together for years. Before their wedding, Alice pushes him to talk with lawyer Alexander Peabody (George Irving), an advisor to a Mrs. Carleton Random (who is considering donating one million dollars to the museum). Over a game of golf, David tries to talk to Mr. Peabody, only to be interrupted constantly by Susan Vance (Katharine Hepburn), who first plays through with David’s ball and then tries to take his car. That night, David tries to meet with Mr. Peabody at a restaurant, but, once again, he runs into Susan, who causes trouble for him and makes him miss his appointment. The next day, a package containing his intercostal clavicle arrives, and with his looming wedding, he is quite happy. Then Susan calls, asking for his help with a leopard named Baby (Nissa) that had just arrived from her brother. David refuses, until she fakes being attacked by Baby, and he runs right over. He’s furious when he finds out she fooled him about being “attacked,” but she pushes him to help take Baby out to her home in Connecticut. Along the way, they run into a truck carrying crates of chickens, and when they stop to buy some meat for Baby, Susan takes someone else’s car (mainly because Baby had jumped into the back). While David tries to clean himself up at her home, Susan sends his clothes out to the cleaners (hoping to delay him from returning to the city for his wedding). While he dons her dressing gown so he can walk about the house (and try to find some more appropriate clothes), Susan’s aunt Elizabeth (May Robson) arrives. She quickly comes to the conclusion that David is crazy (not helped by Susan’s attempts to explain what was going on), so when David learns that Elizabeth is the Mrs. Carleton Random who was considering donating to the museum, he asks Susan not to reveal who he is. To make matters worse, Susan’s dog George (Asta) finds David’s intercostal clavicle (which he had brought with him) and buries it somewhere. David and Susan try to follow George everywhere and dig it up, but they only find other stuff that George had buried. Meanwhile, one of the servants, Mr. Gogarty (Barry Fitzgerald), accidentally releases Baby. With David and Susan now also trying to find Baby, they quickly find themselves in trouble with the law when they come upon the home of psychologist Dr. Lehman (Fritz Feld) and are quickly arrested. Will they be able to get themselves out of this mess and find both the bone and Baby?
In 1937, producer and director Howard Hawks was in the midst of trying to work on the movie Gunga Din. Casting and script problems left him with a desire to do something different. He was recommended a short story called “Bringing Up Baby” by Hagar Wilde (which had appeared in a 1937 issue of Collier’s magazine), which he liked. He planned to do the film as a vehicle for Katharine Hepburn, who hadn’t really done much in the way of comedy up to that point, and needed a change in direction for her failing career. At first, she struggled with the comedic aspects of the film by trying to act funny (and failing), so the director asked vaudeville comedian Walter Catlett to help coach her. With his help, she was able to act more natural (and actually be funny), and she returned the favor for Catlett by insisting he be retained (by playing the part of Constable Slocum in the movie). While he wasn’t the first offered the role of David Huxley, Cary Grant ended up taking the role at Hawks’ insistence, using silent film comedian Harold Lloyd as an inspiration. The film suffered a number of delays, partly because the two leads would ad-lib and frequently have laughing fits. At the time, Katharine Hepburn had been branded as “box office poison,” and this film did little to mitigate that. She was essentially given the choice to either star in the film Mother Carey’s Chickens or buy out her contract (she chose to buy it out, and went to Columbia to make Holiday, also with Cary Grant).
For those that have been reading my blog for awhile, you’ve seen that I have a fondness for films of the screwball comedy genre, second only to my love for film musicals. But, that hasn’t always been the case. Sure, for a number of years, I had seen (and enjoyed) the Astaire-Rogers film Carefree (which is the one in the series most closely associated with the screwball genre), but I didn’t really actively seek out other screwball comedies. It wasn’t until I got a one-two punch of seeing the Cary Grant films Arsenic And Old Lace and Bringing Up Baby that I started seeking out more of the genre. Coming off Bringing Up Baby for only the second time, I find it’s still just as good!! I haven’t really seen much of anything Katharine Hepburn did before this film, but I can certainly say that whatever Walter Catlett did to help her as a comedienne worked! This is just about the funniest role that I’ve seen her do. And Cary Grant is equally as fun here (and, now that I’ve finally seen it a second time, I understand the Harold Lloyd reference better, as I hadn’t seen any of Harold Lloyd’s films/shorts yet when I first saw this film). The gags are fun, as everything slowly builds up, from the torn dress bit early on (which, as I recall, was later done by Glenn Ford and Debbie Reynolds in It Started With A Kiss, although not as well as here), to all the mishaps both with Baby the leopard and George stealing the bone, to the jail scene at the end. By the end of that jail sequence, I’m guaranteed to be in stitches, with all the madness going on! I know this is one of those movies that some will love, some will hate, and others’ opinions will vary depending on their mood/timing in watching it. For me, it lives up to the hype of being one of the greatest film comedies, and I would certainly not hesitate in recommending it!!
This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Criterion Collection. This new transfer utilizes a 4K scan from a 35 mm nitrate duplicate negative (from the British Film Institute) and a 35 mm safety fine-grain positive. With the original camera negative long gone, these were the best options still available. In restoring this film, a lot of mold had to removed from the nitrate negative to get the best possible image from that, and the fine-grain positive was several generations away from the original negative. Personally, I think this film now looks fantastic after all their hard work! The film might be a little grainier than some would prefer, but that comes with the territory, considering what they had to work with. Short of something better eventually being discovered or somebody managing to pull off time travel, this IS the best we can hope for. I certainly have no qualms in recommending this release!!
Film Length: 1 hour, 43 minutes
My Rating: 10/10
*ranked #8 in Top 10 Disc Releases Of 2021
**ranked #10 in Top 10 Movies Watched In 2021
List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections
Katharine Hepburn – Holiday (1938)
Barry Fitzgerald – The Sea Wolf (1941)
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