Film Flick : Bringing Up Baby

Friday, June 7, 2013



It ran over-budget, over-time, and starred what critics and movie-goers were nicknaming "box-office poison." It got the director fired from RKO, and was the film that made the picture company force Hepburn to buy out her contract. So, how did Bringing Up Baby become an iconic classic and land on the America's Top 100 Films list?

Simple enough. Its a film that was ahead of its time. Does this mean, its trendy, or edgy? No. Not so much. However, it is a screwball comedy that clearly became the template for all those screwballs to follow. Kathrine Hepburn is a delight as the ditzy heiress who lovingly, gently pushes around an equally funny Cary Grant, who plays a paleontologist trying to convince her to give him a grant. A chance meeting ends in a series of misadventures, which Grant hopes will never be repeated and which, of course, are. Between hunting for clothes, for leopards, for bones, and (occasionally) the truth.... it becomes clear. Things seldom go as expected, but it's the messes that make life fun. 

In addition to it's human cast, the film also had several animal stars. George- a wire haired fox terrier- would achieve greater fame as Nick and Nora's faithful friend in the Thin Man series. But let's be real. Everyone's eyes were on the leopard. As they should be! Katherine Hepburn recounted in her memoir, Me- Stories of Myself, that Grant had been wary when working with the animal. She once hid a stuffed leopard in the vent of her co-star's room as a practical joke! She herself was fearless about it and worked so well with the animal its handlers said she could have a second career as an animal trainer. But after the animal made a lunge for her back, she changed her tune a bit! Despite the actors comfort- or lack of- when working with the great cat, most of the scenes with the leopard were actually filmed in split screen to keep the trainers close and the actors away from the animal. Puppets were also sometimes employed in giving the illusion of the animal's presence when the script called for the cat and the actors to be in close quarters. 

Surprisingly, Hepburn had never done comedy before. Director Hawks and several other members  struggled to teach her the fine art of timing. Grant, on the other hand was a veteran comedian and to further the laughs, Hawks encouraged him to model the character after silent film actor Harold Lloyd. In the end though, Hawkes felt they had failed in being truly funny, stating the film didn't work as a comedy because the characters were too "madcap" and the story lacked the  always-essential straight man. 

I'd  beg to differ; I find the film hilarious and  would recommend this to any lover of romance or comedies. The actors are rapid-firing off one liners back and forth with like a high paced tennis match. The pace can be a little tiring at times, but will keep you laughing. So what, if the initial audiences didn't get it? The twenty-first century ones will surely see a gem when they watch.

8 comments

  1. It sure sounds like a good movie to me! I need to start watching more classics and oldies. It's funny that Katherine was so good with animals because I've heard the same about Audrey and seen photos of her with a pet deer.
    Jessi
    http://haircutandgeneralattitude.blogspot.com

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    1. I didn't know that Audrey Hepburn had a pet deer! Crazy, but kinda cool.

      Yeah, this is a fun older film, especially if your humor runs to the slightly zany.

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  2. I do agree the 21st Century audience would love the film. I saw it several years ago as I love classic comedies (especially those involving Hepburn and/or Grant), but I would agree with Hawkes. It was way too screwball for my taste but perhaps it requires another viewing,

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    1. Well, it IS definitely screwy (though no more so than Arsenic and Old Lace, which I also like). The entire premise is strange, but I have a high tolerance for madcap-ness.

      Have you seen The Philedelihia Story? It also has Hepburn and Grant but in more grounded roles.

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  3. It's been a while since I've seen this. Time to watch it again :)

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  4. Holy cow, talk about a flop huh?! It seems like everyone lost horribly in it- how interesting that it rose to the top afterwards. You know I've never seen anything with Katherine yet? I know, sacrilege. This looks like a good movie to start with, seeing how i loooove rom-coms :)

    xo Marlen
    Messages on a Napkin

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    1. Not sacrilege- I'd never seen her in anything till I started watching the American Film Institute's Top 100 American Films (my goal is to see all of them on the list). But I think you'll like her. Her personal style also rather reminds me of your own personal style.

      I'm reviewing The Philadelphia Story this week, which also stars both Grant and Hepburn. It is the movie that Hepburn made next and is her "comeback" so to speak. An interesting story about how that film got made too. Even though I love Bringing up Baby, if you've never seen Hepburn, I'd start with the Philadelphia Story first :)

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  5. I can't believe i've never heard of this! This movie sounds awesome. I'm going to put it on my summer movie list :)

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