“Now it isn’t that I don’t like you, Susan, because, after all, in moments of quiet, I’m strangely drawn toward you, but, well, there haven’t been any quiet moments,” says Dr. David Huxley to Susan Vance.
Cary Grant was such a terrific actor that he worked with several famous directors more than once (directors such as Alfred Hitchcock, George Stevens, Leo McCarey, Stanley Donen, and George Cukor). He also collaborated with director Howard Hawks on a few films. One of their best collaborations was a screwball comedy called Bringing Up Baby, which paired Grant with Katharine Hepburn (who was in the middle of a box office drought at the time). I first saw a portion of the film on PBS on a late Saturday night roughly 12 to 13 years ago, and hoped that I would get a chance to see the film in its entirety. I got that chance 11 years ago when I got to see it on the big screen at the Museum of the Moving Image as part of a month-long “Cary Grant x 5” film series (each weekend showing films he collaborated on with a certain director; collaborations with Hitchcock, Cukor, Donen, McCarey, and Hawks were shown). I was so glad to have finally seen all of the film and enjoyed it so much. This review of Bringing Up Baby is my entry in the 2015 Great Katharine Hepburn Blogathon hosted by Margaret Perry.
1938’s Bringing Up Baby follows a mild-mannered paleontologist who, while trying to secure a $1 million donation to his museum, is thrust into a series of misadventures with a free-spirited woman and her new pet leopard. Hawks gathered an impressive cast for this film: Katharine Hepburn (as Susan), Cary Grant (as David), May Robson (as Elizabeth Random), Charles Ruggles (as Major Applegate), Walter Catlett (as Constable Slocum), George Irving (as Alexander Peabody), Virginia Walker (as Alice), and Barry Fitzgerald (as Aloysius Gogarty). Cary Grant is terrific as the paleontologist who is set to get married to Alice, a woman who doesn’t seem to actually love him, when he meets Susan, a woman who is virtually the opposite of Alice. His fast-paced delivery comes of funnier while playing more of a nerdy character (compared to the more suave characters he’s played before). Hepburn shines as the scatter-brained Susan, who schemes to prevent David’s marriage when she realizes that she’s in love with him. Hepburn is a delight to watch from beginning to end, and my favorite scene of hers is during the jail sequence. She does her best movie gangster impression and tries to convince the constable that she’s part of a notorious gang (this is all part of an elaborate distraction that enables her to escape from the jail).
Hawks’ direction yields hilarious performances from the cast, especially Hepburn (who was not known for her comedic chops at that time). Hawks’ deliberate fast-pacing of the cast certainly paid off. The screenplay by Dudley Nichols and Hagar Wilde, which was based on Wilde’s own short story, serves up hilarious gags and an engaging love story. Russell Metty’s black-and-white cinematography is outstanding, as is Van Nest Polglase’s production design. Hawks’ film is a delightful comedy with memorable performances from Grant and Hepburn that has proven after more than 75 years to be one of the definitive screwball comedies ever.