My Essentials: Bringing Up Baby (1938) dir. Hawks

Since I love sharing classic movies to those interested (and those maybe not so much as well), I thought of starting a series of posts dedicated to my “essentials.”

I love Howard Hawks, period. Not that I would ever harp on directors that became known for their work in one or two genres, but Hawks was a master in so many. He directed films that are considered staples of their respective genres, and Bringing Up Baby is just one of his screwball comedies.

Like many screwball comedies ( and Hawks films for that matter) Bringing Up Baby features a strong female character, this time in the form of Katharine Hepburn’s Susan Vance. Unlike other Hawks heroines like His Girl Friday’s Hildy Johnson, Susan is not the sharpest female on the planet. In fact, she’s pretty much an air head. She also happens to be the niece of a wealthy woman who has a million dollars ready to give away to some deserving cause. Cary Grant’s bumbling and awkward paleontologist, David Huxley, hopes to secure this money for his museum.

It is through a golfing excursion with the wealthy aunt’s lawyer that David first meets Susan, and then of course they keep running into each other. Susan becomes smitten with David (again, who wouldn’t) and uses the pet leopard her brother sends her as an excuse to call up the only zoologist she knows.

What ensues is typical screwball comedy. There’s a leopard, mistaken identity of said leopard, budding romance, strange relatives and an annoying and cunning wire fox terrier named George (Asta of The Thin Man fame). Without spoiling the plot, Bringing Up Baby is a mix of physical comedy and a script so sharp you have to pay close attention or the lines will pass you by. It’s Cary Grant at his comedic peak, before you start to see the gentlemanly and suave character that he becomes known for in the 1940s onward.

This was not a popular film when it first came out. But maybe it was a little before it’s time. You can see in the clip above elements that are still used today, think of  The Hangover as a good example. This is one of those comedies that is really timeless. I think it’s a great way to get into classic comedies because the humor is still as powerful today, and I think that can’t be said for all films of this kind.

If my summery is a little spare, it’s only because I don’t want to spoil the magic of this film. It is really worth the viewing time, and who knows, maybe it will help you hook you into the world that is classic film (and no, this is not my “hook” film, I’ll be saving that for closer to Christmas time).

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