Directed by: Howard Hawks
Written by: Dudley Nichols, Hagar Wilde, Robert McGowan
Starring: Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Charles Ruggles, Barry Fitzgerald, May Robson
Screwball comedies have the capability of making you laugh and while also giving you a bit of a headache with the complete chaotic energy on display. No one could quite capture all of the madness like the lovely duo brought together in this timeless classic. Through its incredible run of jokes and hilarious circumstances, Bringing Up Baby certainly holds up as an iconic feature in the comedy genre.
Set to be married soon and in search of a $1 million donation, David Huxley (Cary Grant) runs into the eccentric Susan Vance (Katharine Hepburn). While David attempts to set himself up for the future, he continues to run into Susan, as her affection grows for him. It all leads to complete chaos when Susan enlists the help of David when she received a rather docile leopard at her home.
Films like Bringing Up Baby very much feel of its era and do not exist in the current landscape of Hollywood. The screwball comedy lost its flavor, and this film may have been its apex in the way it lays out a truly preposterous scenario and leaves it all for the characters to react. The key to making these work comes from having those completely fine with everything occurring and the “straight man,” who witnesses the absurdity of everything occurring. In a way, they stand in as the audience, as we see how wild the circumstances become. The character of David does it well because he’s an unassuming person, who simply wants to do what is best for his career and help the museum he works for. He’s not asking to be dragged into the shenanigans of Susan Vance, but he suddenly cannot find his way out.
Perhaps the most iconic visual of the feature comes from the inclusion of the leopard working alongside the actors. I had to ensure through research whether or not it was a visual trick or if they actually filmed with a leopard. Much to my surprise, it was a trained leopard utilized to portray Baby and it works extremely well in the film. Baby is the opposite of everything everyone assumes it to be; instead of being a vicious animal, it’s very nice. I would not blame anyone, who would be startled at the sighting of a leopard in Connecticut, but it becomes apparent that it will cause no harm. The calmness Susan has towards the animal and the apparent fright harbored by David funnily reflects the demeanor of the actors portraying them. In the filming process, Cary Grant was terrified of the large cat, while Katharine Hepburn had no issues working with it. The inclusion of this animal sets the stage for every ridiculous incident about to occur.
The foundation of the story comes from the relationship between David and Susan in the way they begin as people appalled at each other’s behavior to a loving affection. Susan certainly feels it first and thus continues to drag David into her shenanigans. Every scene of the feature included the two characters and the film did well to focus on them. It certainly helps when you have two of the greatest actors in all of cinema portraying them.
It continually baffles me that people watched Katharine Hepburn and they believed they could ever get to her level. She could really do it all, but no one could do screwball comedies quite like her. She possessed a level of chaotic energy met by her distinguished class, which absolves her from being a hated character. If taking a look back at this character as a whole, she does have some troubling tendencies, which include manipulating David at every turn. However, not for one second does she become unlikeable in the feature because of Hepburn’s greatness. Her quick and snappy delivery of the dialogue carried such elegance and covered up for just how reckless she is as a character. We’re in for the ride along with David to see what other unfavorable circumstances they’ll find themselves in.
Being the entryway to the story, it begins with David, portrayed by Cary Grant. He’s also no stranger to screwball comedies with Hepburn, but he becomes such an interesting study as an actor. He could portray a manly man, while also taking on roles such as this one and Arsenic and Old Lace, where everything just happens to him. His reactions do not have the appearance of a man of stature, which makes his several appearances of films in this variety so appreciated. He had such a knack for it because he gives incredible faces of shock and the necessary physical comedy. He can hang in there with the quick delivery of Hepburn and succeed in other facets.
While some of the comedic situations may be repetitive, they are each constructed and executed in such an excellent manner, I don’t mind it. The simple gag of one character trying to warn another about an embarrassing situation but constantly gets interrupted worked every single time. Whether it be with the leopard or with a wardrobe mishap, each situation landed with its comedic intentions because of the investment in the characters. Even with David getting sidetracked on several occasions, his objective never changes or gets lost in all of Susan’s shenanigans. It’s truly some brilliant comedy.
Beautifully consistent and a great showcase for two of the greatest actors to ever appear on screen, Bringing Up Baby embodies what made screwball comedies a rage in classic Hollywood. The style has lost its favor in the modern era, but this brand of humor remains a cornerstone of comedy feature films. It allowed prestigious actors the opportunity to step into a different type performance opportunity, and the two leads made sure to take advantage of the wacky situation they found themselves in. It remains one of the greatest comedies of classic Hollywood and I agree wholeheartedly. It whips and snaps its way through the runtime and puts together a story where the stakes continually rise and the characters become more lovable each step of the way.