007/2019 – Bringing Up Baby
(Howard Hawks/1938/US/102 mins)
Originally a box office failure, Bringing Up Baby has become a classic screwball comedy loved by many. It is a comedy-of-errors kind of script where every bit of interaction among the characters is based on some misunderstanding. Cary Grant, a harrowed, simple-minded professor of zoology, Dr. David Huxley, comes across the madcap heiress Susan (Katharine Hepburn), who cannot help but talk nineteen-to-the-dozen. There is the rich aunt looking to give a hefty donation to a worthy institution, a guest who is forever confused, and a cop with no patience to hear anyone out. Add a leopard cub, or two, to the mix, and the kind of situations that emerge are hilarious. I have watched this movie twice already, and I have split my sides laughing both times.
Cary Grant had had his comic grounding in Vaudeville, so his pitch-perfect portrayal of Dr. Huxley was a given. But to be able to believe that Katharine Hepburn had to be coached by Walter Catlett (who plays Constable Slocum here) for comic timing is a little tough considering how good she is in this role. In one particular scene, an exasperated Huxley shouts out, “Because I am gay all of a sudden!” It was an ad-libbed line, which made it into the final cut, possibly making it the first instance in Hollywood of the word “gay” being used in context of a homosexual rather than that of happy or carefree.
The screenplay had been written keeping Katharine Hepburn in mind. The shoot went well beyond the actual schedule because of uncontrollable laughing fits between Grant and Hepburn. For example, when Grant as Huxley asks in alarm, “Where is my bone?”, the unit waited from 10AM to 4 PM to get the shot right because the cast couldn’t stop laughing. Hepburn is the definitive Hawksian woman in the movie; strong-willed and tough-talking, and became the template for many of Hawks’ later works.
This is one of those films I will go back to on a day I need a good laugh to recharge my batteries.