Friday, September 26, 2014

#1,502. Bringing Up Baby (1938)

Directed By: Howard Hawks

Starring: Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Charles Ruggles

Tag line: "And so begins the hilarious adventure of Professor David Huxley and Miss Susan Vance, a flutter-brained vixen with love in her heart!"

Trivia: Christopher Reeve based his performance as Clark Kent in Superman (1978) on Cary Grant's performance as David Huxley in this film

Of all the screwball comedies to emerge from the ‘30s and ‘40s, Bringing Up Baby, a 1938 film directed by Howard Hawks and starring Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn, is easily the screwiest (which, in turn, makes it one of the sub-genres funniest entries).

Things are looking up for Dr. David Huxley (Grant), a paleontologist working for a prestigious museum in New York City. For one, he’s about to marry his longtime assistant, Alice (Virginia Walker), and on top of that he’s just received word from an overseas expedition that they’ve uncovered a rare intercostal clavicle, the last bone needed to complete the brontosaurus skeleton he’s been reconstructing for the past 4 years. What’s more, socialite Elizabeth Random (Mary Robson) is looking to donate a million dollars to a worthy organization, and the museum is at the top of her list! To seal the deal, Huxley heads to the local country club to play a round of golf with Ms. Random’s lawyer, Alexander Peabody (George Irving). It’s here that he has an unfortunate run-in with heiress Susan Vance (Hepburn), and all at once his life is turned upside-down.

After accidentally playing his ball while on the golf course, Ms. Vance then steals (albeit by mistake) Dr. Huxley’s car, causing him to take off after her and leave poor Mr. Peabody alone on the links. To try and explain what happened, Huxley makes arrangements to meet Peabody at the club restaurant later that evening, only to once again run into Ms. Vance, resulting in yet another disaster (both Huxley and Ms. Vance end up tearing their clothes and are forced to make a hasty exit). From then on, Dr. Huxley finds he’s unable to shake the flighty heiress, who’s taken a liking to him, and before he knows it he’s in her car, heading to Connecticut to drop off a pet leopard named Baby, which Ms. Huxley’s brother sent from Brazil as a gift for their aunt. As crazy as all this seems, it’s nothing compared to what happens when the mismatched couple reaches Connecticut!

The cast of Bringing Up Baby is superb. Cary Grant is pitch-perfect as Dr. David Huxley, the once-stable scientist who becomes an unwitting accomplice to Ms. Huxley’s flights of fancy, and as a result slowly begins to unravel. Along with Grant’s controlled hysterics, Bringing up Baby gives us Katherine Hepburn as you’ve never seen her before, playing a ditzy, love struck girl who can’t stay out of trouble (While driving to Connecticut with Dr. Huxley and Baby the Leopard, she crashes into a truck hauling chickens and ducks. As the birds flutter around on the road, a hungry Baby licks its lips and jumps out the back of the car. When the smoke clears, several chickens and ducks are missing, leaving Dr. Huxley to pay for the damages). But what really makes Bringing Up Baby an unforgettable experience are the insane situations these two characters get themselves into, some of which amount to petty crimes (after accidentally stealing a purse at the club restaurant, Ms. Huixley purposefully swipes a car on the road to Connecticut). With its fast, overlapping dialogue and frenzied pace, Bringing up Baby is a wild motion picture (what other ‘30s movie has a fight between a docile leopard and an angry Scottish terrier?)

Featuring stellar performances and enough anarchy to make the Marx Brothers proud, Bringing up Baby is cinematic insanity at its absolute best, a cauldron of craziness that gets loonier with each passing minute. It is also one of the greatest screen comedies ever made.

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