Reviews

Reviews

Bringing Up Baby

Bringing Up Baby

Howard Hawks

USA, 1938

Credits

Review by Thomas Scalzo

Posted on 05 March 2005

Source Warner Bros. DVD

David, don’t be irrelevant. The point is, I have a leopard, the question is, what am I going to do with it?

Oh, the comedic possibilities when there’s a leopard in the mix. The memorable line above, uttered by Katharine Hepburn in one of her most playful roles, and one of countless quotable quips from the film, serves as a telling example of Bringing Up Baby’s resolute adherence to its hilariously absurd plot. As any chink in the armor of the story’s internal logic, or break from its rapid-fire pacing, would certainly have demoted the picture to the level of goofy comedy, Howard Hawks keeps things rolling along at a manic intensity that has rarely, if ever, been matched; each character, and each viewer, helplessly carried away by the tale’s irresistible momentum.

The story goes something like this: girl sees boy; girl likes boy; girl destroys boy’s golf match, car, clothing, relationship, career aspirations, and dignity in hopes of winning his heart. And yes, she has a leopard. Cary Grant, as David, the bungling paleontologist, wants nothing more than to extricate himself from the mad web of misadventures spun by Hepburn’s fawning Susan, but can’t quite shake her loose. Susan, for her part, doesn’t give David any room to move, incessantly immersing herself in one catastrophe after another, and calling on her beau-to-be for help.

To reveal much in the way of plot would be a disservice to those who have not seen the film, as the jokes work best when consumed without any foreknowledge. But there is one sequence in particular that I must take a moment to describe in some detail, not only because it is my favorite part of Bringing Up Baby, but because it so perfectly exemplifies the rampant pace, timing, and humor the film so effortlessly employs.

After losing a precious Brontosaurus bone fragment to George, the family dog, David has spent his afternoon following the yipping mongrel from burying hole to burying hole in hopes of recovering his treasure. Meanwhile, Susan’s aunt has invited a Major Applegate to dinner, and entreats Susan and David to join them. Watching Grant attempt to keep an ear in the conversation, while keeping an eye on the restless George, is pure delight. When the dog rambles out into the yard, Grant follows, a hasty “excuse me” serving to explain his sudden departure. Returning a short time later, still trailing George, he reclaims his spot at the table.

As the Major attempts in vain to carry on a detailed description of one of his hunting expeditions, the scene repeats itself, Grant going so far as to carry his soupspoon with him into the yard. The unnerving, jumpy quality afforded the scene by Grant’s inability to sit still is telling of the film as a whole – altogether unwilling, and unable, to remain in one spot for long. In addition, the scene serves as a perfect example of the film’s brilliant humor, as the prolonged mirth at watching Grant chase George is brought to a head when, after returning from his second fruitless excursion to the yard, Grant exclaims, “My soup is gone!” The timing is impeccable and the joke duly earned.

Apart from offering us a prime example of Grant’s comedic talents, and serving as an apt representation of the film’s overall merits, the scene also exemplifies the intricate pacing abilities and superb storytelling talents of director Howard Hawks. A master at his craft, Hawks had the rare ability to make comedy, the most unforgiving of genres, look easy, consistently and successfully conducting each and every instrument at his disposal to come in at the proper place and time. Suitably, Bringing Up Baby, one of his finest and most beloved efforts, doesn’t miss a beat.

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