Ooops! Thank you Kainat, I somehow got confused in my head and thought we had decided on His Girl Friday. Oh well, for those of you who also know His Girl Friday, go check out that fun post!
Bringing Up Baby! One of the classic screwball comedies, and Howard Hawks’ first defining Hawksian film. It was his second comedy, Twentieth Century was his first. Twentieth Century is pretty good, but he hadn’t quite figured out his rhythm yet. It’s a little slow in parts, and a little too serious, and at the same time too cynical. Bringing Up Baby is Perfection.
I saw Bringing Up Baby as a kid, when I was going through my Cary Grant phase and watching all his movies. It was fine, but not nearly as good as His Girl Friday or The Awful Truth or My Favorite Wife. And then years later in college I saw it in a packed movie theater at a Saturday matinee and it was HILARIOUS. Comedy in particular changes a lot depending on whether you see it with a crowd or alone. And Bringing Up Baby is a movie that is at it’s best in a crowd.
If I think about it as a comedy, it is structured more like a classic stage farce than a screwball comedy. The 1930s screwball comedies are funny straight through, the narrative escalates but the jokes hit at the same pace start to finish. A stage farce relies on the audience picking up the jokes. It starts slow, gets you comfortable, maybe there are a few titters. And then it grows more and more elaborate and crazed as the show goes on and the audience fully gives in to this crazy illogical world. That’s Bringing Up Baby. We start with a nice sort of “normal” rom-com. Our hero is dull and shy, our heroine is vibrant and wacky, she brings an element of chaos to normal situations like a golf course or a nightclub. The over the top plot device is our heroine’s pet tiger, “Baby”. It’s a movie about how love is the chaos, two people who should never be brought together falling in love.
But then in the last third, Grant ends up at Katherine Hepburn’s aunt’s country cottage, and we enter into a new world of absolute illogic. Her aunt is crazy, her guests are crazy, the whole world is crazy. Watching alone at home as a child, the movie felt strange at this point. The first bits were fun and funny and familiar, the last bit was just too weird. But watching with an audience, by that last bit we were laughing so hard, as a group, that you could barely hear the dialogue. We were completely swept away.
This stage farce nonsense ending is something Hawks never really achieved in any of his other comedies, I don’t think he even set out looking for it again. It was lightening in a bottle with this movie, getting the audience to a point where they could accept this sort of story. Too risky to try again, better to stick with films that feel like the first 2/3rds, man and woman with very different personalities meet and clash.
In terms of romantic chemistry, this film is perfection. Cary Grant with his acrobat training can sometimes be almost too much onscreen, too broad, too extreme. And Katherine Hepburn can come off as stiff, too mannered, too upright. Having Hepburn’s stiffness balance Grant’s slapstick and vice versa made them into a lovely onscreen couple. On the other hand, having Hepburn with her stiff intelligent manner playing the wacky socialite, and Grant with his charm and confidence play the shy scientist put an extra sort of verve and challenge to their performances. Just ideal casting. Grant would find this again with a variety of screen partners, from Irene Dunne to Doris Day, always shining when the woman is a bit stiff. While movies with Sophia Loren, Marilyn Monroe, and Shirley Temple just aren’t quite right. And Hepburn of course had her partnership with Tracy, Tracy playing the soft sweet emotional type to her harder version.
Anyway, things to talk about!!!!
- Why does Hepburn fall for Grant right away? And when does she fall for him? Their first few meetings are coincidences, but then she seeks him out and I’m not sure why.
- Did everyone else see the sexual element? Grant was pushing his proper fiancee for a honeymoon and so on, and she wasn’t interested. I read that as Grant having a healthy sexual appetite and needing a partner who embraced it.
- Do you think this is more Hepburn’s movie or Grants?
- Of the Hepburn-Grant films, which is your favorite? This one, Holiday, or Philadelphia Story? I’m a Holiday person myself.