Bringing Up Baby (1938)
Release Date: February 18th, 1938 MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Howard Hawks Actors: Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Charlie Ruggles, Barry Fitzgerald, May Robson
t the Stuyvesant Museum of Natural History in New York, consternated Dr. David Huxley (Cary Grant) sits puzzled atop a tall structure overlooking the monstrous skeleton of a dinosaur. He’s informed by his assistant Alice Swallow (Virginia Walker), who he’s marrying the following day at 3:00, that he must meet with the important corporation lawyer Mr. Alexander Peabody (George Irving), whose client Mrs. Carlton Random represents a potential one million dollar endowment to the museum. Later in the afternoon, during a golf course engagement, David’s ball is hijacked by the flabbergasting, tragically confused, scatterbrained woman Susan Vance (Katharine Hepburn). She also proceeds to accidentally steal his car and inadvertently keep him away from Peabody.
That evening at dinner, David tries once more to meet with the lawyer, but coincidentally encounters Susan, who spoils his appointment yet again. A psychiatrist repasting at the restaurant convinces Susan that David is fixated on her – due to the love impulse in men that frequently reveals itself in terms of conflict. The next day, as David celebrates the arrival of the special brontosaurus clavicle bone he’s been anticipating, he receives a phone call from Susan, who tricks him into hurrying over to her place to save her from an animal attack – from a three-year-old domesticated Brazilian leopard named Baby, which was given to her by her brother as a gift. Even after realizing her schemes, he’s nevertheless further bamboozled into driving with Susan and Baby to Connecticut, where he meets her Aunt Elizabeth (May Robson), who just so happens to be the wealthy Mrs. Random (with the million-dollar grant).
Alice is clearly not the right girl for David (“Our marriage must entail no domestic entanglements of any kind,” she sternly states, insisting that their union is purely in dedication of their work), while Susan is unquestionably perfect for him. And she’s hopelessly in love. Unfortunately, it will take a great deal of convincing for David to agree. In fact, as opposed to falling in love, he essentially succumbs to her exhausting advances. “Our relationship has been a series of misadventures from beginning to end,” exclaims David, failing repeatedly to rid himself of the nuisance. She follows him around like a puppy – or a needy leopard – seemingly intoxicated with his constant rejection.
“This is probably the silliest thing that’s ever happened to me,” sighs David as he’s drawn to Susan’s apartment, where his simple goal of arriving in time to his own wedding is regularly disturbed by her shenanigans. Much of their bustling involves chasing after animals or being chased, complicated in a classically contrived manner when the nearby circus attempts to dispose of their own dangerous leopard, which just horrifically mauled its trainer. Despite the presence of a deadly carnivore, Susan’s mood swings and manipulative machinations are equally unstable signs of determined craziness – or clever ingredients for uproarious blunders. “When they find out who you are, they’ll pad the cell,” declares David, after the two are arrested while pursuing Baby, proving to be one of the most riotous scenes (which results in nearly everyone in the picture getting jailed).
The entire cast is brilliantly eccentric, continually befuddled by Susan’s nonsense. Charlie Ruggles as the stuttering, dumbfounded Major Horace Applegate of the Explorer’s Club, Barry Fitzgerald as the drunken gardener Mr. Gogarty, and Walter Catlett as the inept Constable Slocum are particular highlights, stealing scenes and generating a substantial amount of hilarity. And of course, Grant and Hepburn comprise a dazzlingly energetic couple, playing off each other’s polar-opposite personalities with impressive cinematic flair. Featuring mile-a-minute conversations (usually one-sided), plenty of caterwauling (primarily by Hepburn), comical hysteria, verbal combat, falling-down slapstick, car crashes, the dramatic tearing of clothes, and a refreshingly unique love story, “Bringing Up Baby” is one of the greatest screwball comedies of all time. It also boasts an unforgettable final shot, brilliantly concluding, in a bookending fashion, once again on top of the dinosaur skeleton exhibit.
– Mike Massie