Bringing Up Baby – a review

With the societies perennial rush to embrace the new and most update of everything in life, the golden age of Hollywood, the classic films of yesteryear, anything pre-digital, is almost being regarded as to old to appreciate or give any attention.

As a youngster, films of the twenties, thirties, forties and beyond, were shown on a regular basis. Not so much the silent stuff – though Harold Lloyd, and Charlie Chaplin were exceptions – but classic films that featured stars of the past – James Cagney, Greta Garbo, Edward G. Robinson, Jean Harlow, Bette Davis, James Stewart, Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas – names that were known even to your casual film fan.

With this in mind, I have decided to start reviewing and rewatching classic films of years gone by. You are welcome. The first film I am going to begin with is a film from 1938, directed by the great and prolific Howard Hawks, the comedy-romance, Bringing Up Baby.

Professor David Huxley (Cary Grant) is a palaeontologist who is engaged to be married to the very proper and prudish Alice Swallow (Virginia Walker), his assistant the very next day. He is nearing completion on their long cherished project, a skeleton of a brontosaurus.

He receives word, by telegram, that the bone he has been waiting for – the intercostal clavicle – has been found and will be sent to him. Alice, who is pleased to hear the news, reminds him that he must meet with Mr. Alexander Peabody for golf and try to persuade him to grant them a million dollar donation.

David enquires about their honeymoon, post nuptials, but Alice is only interested in returning to work and continuing with the project. David goes to meet Alexander Peabody (George Irving) and finds out that Peabody is not the actual benefactor of the grant. He is the lawyer of the benefactor, Elizabeth Random (May Robson).

It turns out, David is not a very good golfer and whilst going to retrieve his ball encounters Susan Vance (Katherine Hepburn) a kooky and irreverent presence, soon to latch on to him and make his life interesting. After Susan disrupts his game, by playing his ball even as he is trying to tell her she is, she, mistakenly, steals his car, refusing to believe she has taken the wrong vehicle.

Later, still trying to convince Peabody of his institutions worth, David intends to meet him for dinner. Once again he is distracted by Susan. After this latest encounter, Susan is determined to meet David again. She calls him and tells him that she has a tiger. He does not believe her, but rushes over to her aid when she fakes being in danger.

Susan does in fact have a tiger in her care – the Baby of the title -, but it is a tame cat. She asks David to accompany her to her aunt’s house, as that is where she is taking the tiger. He initially refuses but is coerced by Susan getting the tiger to follow him down the street.

Having, once again, suffered a few mishaps whilst with Susan, David, somewhat naively, takes a shower to clean up before planning to get back to his fiancé. Whilst in the shower, Susan steals his clothes. Unable to find his clothes, David is forced to wear a woman’s bathrobe. He answers a knock at the door and is confronted by Susan’s formidable aunt, who he finds out, to his horror, is the benefactor.

The film lurches from one farce to another, with Baby, the tiger, Asta, aunt Elizabeth’s dog, Major Applegate (Charles Ruggles) plus a whole catalogue of other characters and elements getting involved.

At just over one hundred minutes, Bringing Up Baby is the kind of screwball comedy that used to be common in the thirties and forties. With the both Grant’s and Hepburn’s brilliant comedy timing and chemistry, plus Hepburn’s talent for irritating and attractive at the same time, this is a film, that in terms of comedic quality, has not dated.

The fact that Hawks’ could direct a comedy such as this so brilliantly and also direct much more serious fare such as Scarface and To Have And Have Not, shows what a talented director he was. He really allowed the actors to display their comic talents and not just Grant and Hepburn.

Ruggles as the Major is a joy, as is Robson as aunt Elizabeth. Both try to maintain a vestige of decorum as all around them depends into chaos. Fritz Feld’s Dr. Lehman is particularly good, spouting psychoanalytical hokum to always make whatever situation he finds, fit his narrative.

Walter Catlett as the bumbling chief of police, Slocum, as to general farce and exaggerated nature of the film, Slocum desperately trying to make sense of a crazy night, with only the seeming brilliance, but entirely misguided, of Lenham.

Bringing Up Baby is a classic comedy the likes of which is rarely made or seen anymore. Along with the death of the studio system and the rise of independent cinema, it is unlikely that we will every see its like in anything like the numbers of years gone by ever again. Mores the pity.

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