Bringing up Baby (1938)

“Well, I followed George around for three days. I dug holes with him, and he dug holes with me, and I found your bone!”

‘Bringing up Baby’, directed by Howard Hawks in 1938, is an American screwball comedy. Katherine Hepburn plays Susan Vance, a free-spirited agent of chaos who latches on to a palaeontologist David Huxley, played by Cary Grant. Huxley is on the eve of getting married and in the process of negotiating a large donation to his museum, and Vance’s incursion into his life throws everything in jeopardy. Vance comes complete with the habit of accidentally stealing things, a habit of saying the wrong thing, and a tame pet leopard called Baby. The two stars of the film play off each other amazingly – Grant as the buttoned-down scientist who is constantly trying to reassert order in his life and Hepburn as the liberated typhoon of madness that has been launched at him. This conflict between the characters is one of the central pleasures in watching the film, they are drawn so perfectly as to maximise the comedic potential with every scene. As well as this, the relationship and chemistry between the two actors is a key part of the film. Reportedly, the actors delayed the production because they kept corpsing, and this is clear throughout the scenes, at one stage you can actually see it happening. Hawks wisely decides to minimise the effects around the actors so the focus is on them – so the camera is often static and the pace of the film is down to the movement of the characters within the frame. It’s a light, frothy film to watch, but the craft of Grant and Hepburn raises it to another level.

Would I recommend it? Yes – it’s fun, bouncy and a key entry in the screwball genre. Watch it in a double-bill with either ‘His Girl Friday’ or perhaps an earlier comedy – something with the same sense of physical chaos, maybe ‘A Day at the Races’ or ‘Sons of the Desert’.


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