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  Bringing Up Baby Woman Chases Man, Leopard Chases Woman And Man
Year: 1938
Director: Howard Hawks
Stars: Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Charles Ruggles, Walter Catlett, Barry Fitzgerald, May Robson, Fritz Feld, Leona Roberts, George Irving, Tala Birell, Virginia Walker, John Kelly
Genre: Comedy, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  9 (from 2 votes)
Review: David Huxley (Cary Grant) has a big day coming up, as tomorrow he will receive the missing bone from his beloved brontosaurus skeleton that he has been building, gifted to the museum he works for by an expedition, and maybe more importantly, but maybe not, he will be getting married to his colleague Miss Swallow (Virginia Walker), a very prim and proper researcher who will not tolerate any silliness or frivolity of any kind in her fiance. That's fine with him, he believes life to be a serious subject, especially when money is involved: he needs a donation of a million dollars to the museum to sustain it, and will be golfing with the lawyer of the potential donor today...

Boy, Miss Swallow is in the wrong movie. If you know what an intercostal clavicle is then you will likely be a fan of Bringing Up Baby, the work from director Howard Hawks that came to define the genre of screwball comedy, some of which he contributed to, some of which were the efforts of other hands. But this is the work that immediately springs to mind for most when recalling the screwballs of the nineteen-thirties and forties, happening along just as the world was getting at its grimmest to lift the spirits of America and beyond. Yet, oddly, this most famous of them was a more or less complete flop wherever it played back in 1938; it did well in a few places, but not enough to turn a profit.

RKO set their analysts onto the failure but nobody has ever really pinned it down, especially when it was revived many times down the years it began to pick up a cult, and by the sixties when classic Hollywood was a big deal with students and the younger crowd, it was being hailed as the best of its kind, playing to rapturous receptions in revival houses across the globe. Even now it entertains a cult following among those who have no aversion to black and white photography, and watching it you can understand why as Hawks drew out pitch perfect comic performances from his cast, including the previously untried Katharine Hepburn who had excelled in drama but never in comedy; Grant's training, meanwhile, had been in humour.

That was in the music halls of his youth, of course, and Bringing Up Baby was something different, screen acting that enjoyed an alternative level of stylings and commitment. Starting from the off with an absolutely filthy double entendre to let those in the know be aware of what they had let themselves in for, this was at heart a romance, but one that acknowledges love makes you crazy, sending you into behaviour that to anyone observing must cause them to doubt whatever grasp you ordinarily had on your faculties. But Hepburn's Susan Vance, who David meets on the golf course when she takes and plays his ball, has qualities that go further than simply instilling an infatuation, she somehow renders the whole landscape around him utterly insane, and as a buttoned-down character it infuriates yet sweeps him up.

There ensues a plot that sees David somehow encouraged to look after Susan's pet leopard, the Baby of the title, though naturally it escapes later on, then when the bone he longed for arrives Susan's pet dog (Asta of The Thin Man movies) promptly liberates it and secretes in he knows not where, then somehow he misses his marriage when Susan steals his clothes to prevent him leaving, which prompts Grant's improvised line "I just went GAY all of a sudden!" when his character is forced to wear nothing but Susan's fluffy dressing gown. There was far more absurdity in a picture that revelled in making its personnel look ludicrous - Charles Ruggles was a gem as the (maybe) big game hunter who meets his match with a different leopard - but also rejoiced in messing around with the gender roles, which could be why it is discovered by successive generations and embraced by them. Even now the idea of a man pursued romantically can be daft, but strangely attractive, more so than the other way around. That's why Bringing Up Baby found its audience, it was far ahead of its time. Oh, and it's funny, very funny.

[The Criterion Collection release this on Blu-ray with the following features:

New, restored 4K digital transfer, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
Audio commentary from 2005 featuring filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich
New video essay on actor Cary Grant by author Scott Eyman
New interview about cinematographer Russell Metty with cinematographer John Bailey
New interview with film scholar Craig Barron on special-effects pioneer Linwood Dunn
New selected-scene commentary about costume designer Howard Greer featuring costume historian Shelly Foote
Howard Hawks: A Hell of a Good Life, a 1977 documentary by Hans-Christoph Blumenberg featuring the director’s last filmed interview
Audio interview from 1969 with Grant (this is fascinating!)
Audio excerpts from a 1972 conversation between Hawks and Bogdanovich
Trailer
English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
PLUS: An essay by critic Sheila O'Malley and, for the Blu-ray, the 1937 short story by Hagar Wilde on which the film is based.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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