Bringing Up Baby is a 1938 American screwball comedy film directed by Howard Hawks, and starring Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant. The film tells the story of a paleontologist in numerous quandries involving an absentminded heiress and a leopard named Baby.
David Huxley (Cary Grant) is a benevolent paleontologist. For the past few years, he has been trying to assemble the skeleton of a Brontosaurus but is missing a bone. Adding to his stress, is his approaching marriage to the morose Alice Swallow (Virginia Walker) and the need to impress Elizabeth Random (Mary Robson), who is considering a million-dollar donation to his museum.
The day before his wedding, David meets Susan Vance (Katherine Hepburn) by chance on a golf course when she hits his ball. She is a scatterbrained, eccentric young lady. These qualities soon entangle Davis in sever agonizing incidents.
Susan’s brother Mark has sent her a leopard named Baby from Brazil. Its tameness is helped by the song “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love.” Susan thinks Davis is a zoologists and manipulates David into helping her take baby to her farm in Connecticut. Troubles arise when Susan falls in love with him and tries to keep him at her house as long as possible.
David’s bone arrives, but Susan’s aunt’s dog George takes it and buries it somewhere. Davis founds out that the aunt is donor Elizabeth Random and that the leopard is for her, as she always wanted one. Baby and George run off and the zoo is called to help capture Baby. Susan and David run to find Baby before the zoo, mistaking a dangerous leopard from a nearby circus for Baby, they let it out of the cage. After being jailed let go after comfirming their idenities, they get Baby back to the safety of the farm.
This a funny, cute movie that both animal and romance lovers would enjoy. It’s plot is simple enough that both older children and adults can enjoy it too. It’s equal parts, funny and romantic and has a little bit of intensity. There is some adult humor that will go over kids’ heads, but it is very mild and not to be really concerned about, unlike the fairly intense scenes involving Baby, especially the scene where Baby and George fight violently. Just because there is no blood seen, it still may frighten young children.
This film was a commercial flop upon relaease and only made a small profit after its re-release in the 1940s. It fact, it was panned by both audiences and critics. Today it is celebrated as one of the greatest not just comedy film, but greatest films of all time. It has quite a bit of adult humor. Like a scene where Susan takes all of David’s clothes and he has nothing to wear but her negligee and her aunt walks in and sees him and asks why he is wearing it and he replies: “I just went gay all of the sudden!” Not only does this play on the two meanings of the word gay, it was the first time that gay was ever used to refer to homosexuality, even if it was being masked by the other meaning of the word.
There are many other scenes where the literal and figurative meaning of words are used, like in the dinner with David, Mr. Applegate, Susan and Mrs. Random, Mr. Applegate is trying to get David to open up about himself, but he won’t and Mr. Applegate says: “Well at least I got a rise out of him.” Mr. Applegate was trying to get a rise out of david using the figuative meaning, but David rose out of his seat and left, using the literal meaning. This kind of play on words in the dialogue is so fast, you may miss it if you don’t pay attention, but enjoy it so much if you do.
While this kind of writing has been around for centuries, this tounge-in-cheek kind of dialouge had limitations put on screenwriters when it came out in 1930 with the Motion Picture Production Code, which limited references to anything sexual, either audilbly, or visually in script. All of the talented writers in Hollywood had to create their dialogue to exclude sexual innuendos. Consequently, the screwball comedy was born, also known as “sex comedy without sex,” full of innuendos to cheat the code limitations and make the audience happy. Much of the punny script in this film will only appeal to adults, as young kids will not understand it.
The acting is superb in this movie from all of the main cast, including Nissa who played Baby the leopard. It makes no sense why this film was originally panned, as it great and very entertaining from begining to end. Maybe audiences and critics were hoping for something more action packed and/or romantic. Well, to me it is the right amount of both.
Animal lovers will likely love this movie, if they just put aside the animal abuse that ocurred. Whips and chains were used as the American Humane Association wasn’t enforced to monitor the use of animals in movies until several years later. Katherine Hepburn was pretty much fearless around the leopard, except for one time when the animal made a lunge for her and the trainer had to use a whip to calm it down. Cary Grant was less warm to the big cat and a double was used where his character and the leopard had to come in contact.
This is not your typical rom-com, it’s not mushy gushy and laugh out loud funny throughout, which make it much more entertaining if you ask me. Had this movie been just stomach hurting funny and schmaltzy, it would have been very unenjoyable and I very likely would have turned it off or walked out of the theater had I been alive (and old enough) in 1938.
Despite the few negatives associated with this film, it is still proably the greatest not just screwball comedies, not just comedies, but greatest movies of all time. This story feels like the screenwriter wasn’t happy with the original plot and threw it in a blender, turned it on, and decided to go with the end result, which is this chaotic masterpiece, that shouldn’t dare be remade. Sorry Peter Bagdanovich, but What’s Up Doc? is no Bringing Up Baby. 10+ 4.5/5