Based on a short story by Hagar Wilde that was published in the Collier’s Weekly magazine, Bringing Up Baby is the story of a paleontologist who finds himself in a series of odd situations involving an eccentric heiress and a leopard named Baby. Directed by Howard Hawks and screenplay by Hagar Wilde and Dudley Nichols, the film is a screwball comedy that explores a man who is dealing with all of these absurd situations with a woman who is often an abundance of trouble. Starring Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, Charles Ruggles, Walter Catlett, Barry Fitzgerald, and May Robson. Bringing Up Baby is a whimsical and rip-roaring film from Howard Hawks.
The film revolves around the series of misadventures involving an engaged paleontologist who meets a dizzying heiress who puts him in a lot of crazy situations that also includes a leopard named Baby (Nissa). It is a film that explores a mild-mannered man who is about to be married to a colleague while awaiting a rare bone that he needs to complete a four-year project involving a brontosaurus but also money that he needs for the museum. Yet, his encounter with this woman who plays to the beat of her own drum and is always running around would shake up his world as he finds himself in these crazy situations that would also involve a leopard. The film’s screenplay by Hagar Wilde and Dudley Nichols is filled with a lot of offbeat dialogue that comes from the heiress Susan Vance (Katharine Hepburn) as well as the paleontologist David Huxley (Cary Grant). The former is this man that seems content with his life as he’s to be married to a colleague in Alice Swallow (Virginia Walker) yet needs this million dollar donation from Elizabeth Random (May Robson) who is considering as he tries to convince her lawyer Alexander Peabody (George Irving).
While golfing with Peabody, Huxley bumps into Vance who is also playing yet causes trouble by stealing his car believing it belongs to her while they would bump into each other at a posh restaurant where they both endure some mishaps. Vance is a woman who is often absent-minded where she takes things not knowing it doesn’t belong to her while is often moving around as she is the complete opposite of Huxley who is all about order and organization. On the day he is to marry Swallow, Vance asks for his help involving this leopard named Baby and he drives her to Connecticut from New York City to bring the leopard to her aunt and a lot of mayhem occur. Even as Huxley learns who her aunt is and things don’t go as planned for him as the script is definitely filled with chaos and confusion as it would later involve Constable Slocum (Walter Catlett) and other locals where Baby and a dog named George (Skippy) just stir things up.
Howard Hawks’ direction definitely play up into the air of chaos that occurs throughout the film while also creating some unique compositions to play into the scope of a setting that adds to the film’s humor. Shot on various locations in Southern California with some areas shot in studio backlots at 20th Century Fox Studios, Hawks’ direction is largely straightforward in terms of the compositions he creates where he does a lot with the wide and medium shots to show the interactions between Vance and Huxley and the surroundings they’re in. Hawks also uses close-ups to play into some of the reaction from the characters but also in the scenes with Baby along with some of the medium shots adding to a scene where there are these small moments that Vance does unaware that she’s putting herself in trouble yet she often bullshits her way to get out of a situation that includes a hilarious scene late in the film where she talks as if she was from the mob.
Hawks’ direction also has a lot of innuendo and such that were quite edgy for its time but also in things that were ahead of its time such as a scene at the home of Vance’s aunt where Huxley is wearing a bathrobe and says something that is really funny as it relates to not just his situation but also in what he was wearing. Hawks’ approach to staging the humor such as a scene where Huxley is watching George and following him because of the brontosaurus bone that belonged to Huxley as George had hidden it. It would then lead to some misadventures in the second act involving Huxley and Vance as well as a dinner guest in Major Horace Applegate (Charles Ruggles) who is a big-game hunter that knows how to do animal sounds as it adds to the humor. The third act that also involves trying to retrieve Baby due to a series of mishaps also play into this air of absurdity but it also features that air of naturalism in the humor as if they’re making it up as they go along which adds to the energy of the comedy. Overall, Hawks crafts an exhilarating yet hilarious comedy about a paleontologist’s time with a dizzying heiress and her new pet leopard.
Cinematographer Russell Metty does excellent work with the film’s black-and-white photography as it is largely straightforward with some unique lighting schemes for many of the film’s exterior scenes in the forest at night. Editor George Hively does terrific work with the editing as it is largely straightforward with some transitional dissolves and rhythmic cuts to help play into the humor. Art director Van Nest Polglase does amazing work with the look of the interiors of the home of Vance’s aunt as well as some of the places Vance and Huxley go to. Costume designer Howard Greer does fantastic work with the costumes from the gowns and clothes that Vance wears as well as some of the clothes that Huxley wears including some clothes that he would wear in acts of humility.
The special effects work of Vernon L. Walker is superb for scenes involving the animals as it adds to the sense of realism but also the humor for scenes involving the humans and animals. Sound recordist John L. Cass does nice work with the sound as it help play into the atmosphere of scenes as well as how a leopard would sound to a mating call. The film’s music by Roy Webb is wonderful for its playful and upbeat orchestral score while Webb also handles the film’s soundtrack which featured a lot of the standards of the time including a song that Baby likes in I Can’t Give You Anything but Love, Baby that is written by Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh.
The film’s incredible ensemble cast feature some notable small roles from D’Arcy Corrigan as a professor in the film’s first scene, Billy Bevan as a bartender teaching Vance a trick, John Kelly as Constable Slocum’s assistant Elmer, Tala Birell as Mrs. Lehman, Leona Roberts as Mrs. Random’s maid Hannah Gogarty, Barry Fitzgerald as Mrs. Random’s alcoholic gardener Aloysius Gogarty who thinks he’s seeing things upon seeing Baby, Virginia Walker as Huxley’s fiancée Alice Swallow who is baffled by Huxley’s involvement with Vance, George Irving as Mrs. Random’s attorney Alexander Peabody whom Huxley tries to win over, and Fritz Feld as Dr. Lehman as a man whom Huxley and Vance bring trouble to involving Baby as he is a psychiatrist who believes that they’re both crazy. Walter Catlett is fantastic as Constable Slocum as a local police official who is baffled by Vance’s appearance and the trouble she causes in his town as well as the chaos she and Huxley create.
Charles Ruggles is excellent as Major Horace Applegate as a dinner guest of Mrs. Ransom who is this big-game hunter that also can do animal mating calls as he is baffled by the behavior of Huxley as well as what he would encounter in Baby. May Robson is brilliant as Elizabeth Carlton Random as a rich woman who is considering in giving a million dollar donation as she is baffled by some of Huxley’s activities that involve Vance as she is fun to watch as a straight woman. The performances of Skippy and Nissa in their respective roles as the dog George and the leopard Baby are a joy to watch in the way they help add to the humor of the film as Skippy brings a lot of energy and chaos while Nissa is just relaxed and doesn’t do much to create chaos.
Finally, there’s the performances of Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant in tremendous performances in their respective roles as Susan Vance and Dr. David Huxley. Grant’s performance is straightforward for much of the film’s first act as he is this great straight man in someone who is put into these crazy situations and then starts to act out due to his encounters with Vance as Grant just adds a lot of wit and energy to his role. Hepburn’s performance is just this whirlwind as this heiress who is often doing things unaware that she doesn’t own them as she also does things to get out of a bad situation. Hepburn and Grant together are fun to watch in the way they play off each other as it adds to their chemistry as they are major highlight of the film.
Bringing Up Baby is a spectacular film from Howard Hawks that features iconic performances from Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant. Along with its ensemble cast, gorgeous visuals, a fun music soundtrack, and its inventive usage of live animals. It is a comedy that isn’t afraid to be absurd or be a little edgy while it is also this unconventional romantic-comedy of sorts between two people who are total opposites yet bring out the best in each other. In the end, Bringing Up Baby is a sensational film from Howard Hawks.
Howard Hawks Films: (The Road to Glory) - (Fig Leaves) - (Cradle Snatchers) - (Paid to Love) - (A Girl in Every Port (1928 film)) - (Fazil) - (The Air Circus) - (Trent’s Last Case (1929 film)) - (The Dawn Patrol (1930)) - (The Criminal Code) – Scarface (1932 film) - (The Crowd Roars (1932 film)) - (Tiger Shark) - (Today We Live) - (The Prizefighter and the Lady) - (Viva Villa!) - (Twentieth Century) - (Barbary Coast) - (Ceiling Zero) - (The Road to Glory) - (Come and Get It) - (Only Angels Have Wings) - (His Girl Friday) - (Sergeant York) - (Ball of Fire) - (Air Force) - (To Have and Have Not) - (The Big Sleep (1946 film)) - (The Outlaw) – Red River - (A Song is Born) - (I Was a Male War Bride) - (The Big Sky) - (Monkey Business) - (O Henry’s Full House) - (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes) - (Land of the Pharaohs) – Rio Bravo - (Hatari!) - (Man’s Favorite Sport?) - (Red Line 7000) - (El Dorado) - (Rio Lobo)
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