Bringing Up Baby (1938)

Bringing Up Baby (1938), directed by Howard Hawks.

A confession: when I first saw this I had waited for years in anticipation and felt terribly let down. Neither Grant nor Hepburn seemed at their best at this level of wackiness. I like the screwball formula but preferred Grant's cool sardonic tone in The Awful Truth (1937) or the way both played The Philadelphia Story (1940). I remember thinking the same about Grant's excessive zaniness in Capra's Arsenic and Old Lace (1944).

After another viewing: I surrender. The non-stop, madcap romantic comedy energy is irresistible -- those long cuts, the funny business probably worked out on the same day, with the stars doing many of their own stunts and falls: you have to love the intensity.

Not to mention the persistent sexual innuendos, as when the professor contemplates a dinosaur bone:


He: Alice, I think this one must belong in the tail.

She: Nonsense. You tried it in the tail yesterday and it didn't fit.

Later there is a line "the bone belongs in the box" which took all day to film because neither Grant nor Hepburn could stop laughing.

Some of the shots with the leopard are rear projection but many aren't. Hepburn got on well with the cat but Grant preferred to keep his distance.

I don't know how they did it: the dog and leopard really are frisking and wrestling with each other. The dog is Skippy (aka Asta), the hardest working Wire Fox Terrier of that era, famous for The Thin Man (1934) movies, last seen in The Awful Truth (1937).

Hepburn's character was written by someone who witnessed her behavior while filming Mary of Scotland (1936); she was said to be the only actor ever to give John Ford "the business".

Some of the gags were repeated in the director's Man's Favorite Sport? (1964).

When wearing a bathrobe Hepburn shows an unusual amount of thigh.

Photographed by Russell Metty.

Available on DVD with a commentary track by Peter Bogdanovich. He is able to quote from his interviews with Hawks, and says his own What's Up, Doc? (1972) is an homage to the Hawks film (with that director's approval).

He says that Hawks' only regret was that everyone in the film is a screwball. It would have been funnier if they played off one or two straight characters.