The Best Movies: “Bringing Up Baby” – Grant and Hepburn Bring The Crazy

bringing-up-baby"Bringing Up Baby" is one of my favorite screwball comedies of 1930's… and is probably the zaniest of that time. It is led by the fantabulous duo of Cary Grant and Kate Hepburn and is directed by the screwball master Howard Hawks. This was one of two comedies Grant and Hepburn made that year. The other, "Holiday", was also great. They also starred in one more film together two years later, "The Philadelphia Story", that was a huge hit. 


A Box Office Bomb that Rose From the Ashes


At the time of its release the film was met with scathing reviews and was a total bomb at the box office. It was so bad that director Howard Hawks was fired from his NEXT job, and Kate Hepburn was so shut of the movie business that she went to Broadway to star in "The Philadelphia Story" which worked out really well for her. The film was considered confusing, too intellectual, and cliche ridden. Here's the New York Times scathing review of the film in 1938. 
Howard Hawks had an opinion on why it did so poorly:

 "[the film] had a great fault and I learned an awful lot from that. There were no normal people in it. Everyone you met was a screwball and since that time I have learned my lesson and I don't intend ever again to make everybody crazy.' "

As the years passed and the movie was seen by people on TV, it became more popular. The real coming out party for it was a 1961 Howard Hawks film festival run by Peter Bogdanovich at the Museum of Modern Art in in New York. This brought it back in to focus for many critics and the movie's stock begand to rise. The Film now sits at #14 on AFI's Top 100 Laughs list. 

The Critics Now Love It gives a great review which is right in line with what I think of the film:
Bringing Up Baby (1938) is one of versatile director Howard Hawks' greatest screwball comedies and often considered the definitive screwball film. It is also one of the funniest, wackiest and most inspired films of all time with its characteristic breathless pace, zany antics and pratfalls, absurd situations and misunderstandings, perfect sense of comic timing, completely screwball cast, series of lunatic and hare-brained misadventures, disasters, light-hearted surprises and romantic comedy. The non-stop, harum-scarum farce skewered many institutions, including psychiatry, the sterile field of science, the police, and high-society upper classes. 
Here's Pauline Kael's take:

Lunatic comedies of the 30s generally started with an heiress. This one starts with an heiress (Katherine Hepburn) who has a dog, George, and a leopard, Baby. Cary Grant is a paleontologist who has just acquired the bone he needs to complete his dinosaur skeleton. George steals the bone, Grant and Baby chase each other around, the dinosaur collapses — but Grant winds up with Hepburn, and no paleontologist ever got hold of a more beautiful set of bones. The director, Howard Hawks, keeps all this trifling nonsense in such artful balance that it never impinges on the real world; it may be the American movies’ closest equivalent to Restoration comedy.

Film Scholar Morris Dickstein:

"The zany effervescence of screwball comedy, with its buoyant, anarchic energy and rapid-fire dialogue, became a suggestive way not only of countering depression but of making movies about sex without any sex in them. Perhaps the greatest, certainly the wildest of these movies was Howard Hawks's Bringing Up Baby."


The Trailer

Here is the original trailer for the film: