Top 250 Tuesday – #112 Bringing Up Baby (1938)

Continuing to wend my way through the Sight and Sound Top 250 Greatest Movies of All Time. This week, it’s #112 on the list,  Howard Hawks Bringing Up Baby. For a longer introduction to this series and a look at the full list, just click here. And if you want a heads-up on what I’ll be watching for next week in case you want to watch along, just head on over to the Facebook page or follow me on Twitter (both of those links are also in the sidebar) where I’ll generally be posting that info later in the day.

bub1At one point last year, I considered replacing one of the weekly features that I was writing at the time with one called “A Year With Howard Hawks”. It’s true, the man was so prolific that such an endeavor could easily be made. A quick look at his IMDB page shows 47 credits as a director, 26 as a writer, and 23 as producer. Of course, there’s plenty of overlap there, but nonetheless… The other incredible thing about his work is the number of different genres and styles of movies that he worked on. Far from a one-trick pony, Hawks’ work ranges from slapstick comedy to war drama to western to romance to gangster flick to – well, you get the idea. And what makes Hawks’ output even more amazing is the fact that he not only made movies in all of these different genres, but so many of them are really good movies.

Clearly, he was an artistic force to be reckoned with.

Ultimately, however I decided that though such a series was possible, I really didn’t want to spend that much time with just one creator at this point. Perhaps sometime in the future I will, but for now, I think I’m more interested in expanding my horizons and being more diverse in my film viewing and exploration as opposed to concentrating so much on the one person.

bub2Plus, because of his skill and his own diversity, Hawks’ name actually appears quite a few times on this Top 250 list, which gives me a chance and excuse to look at a number of his films anyway. Which brings us neatly to today and movie number 112 on the list, Bringing Up Baby.

I’ve quite often said that my all-time favorite comedy is another of Hawks’ films, his 1940 screwballer His Girl Friday (which is #175 on the list and which I wrote about here), so I was quite intrigued to take a look at this slightly earlier – by two years – effort to see how it compared and whether it would be able to replace Friday in my own personal list.

bub6I’m not going to spend a lot of time on the plot here, because really most of it is just set-up for the gags and banter that make up the heart of the movie, but for those completely unfamiliar with it, the basic layout is that Cary Grant portrays paleontologist David Huxley who is working to put together a brontosaurus skeleton, but is missing one important bone. The day before his impending wedding he runs into free-spirited ingenue Susan Vance (played with a vivacious energy by a very young Katharine Hepburn) who has just received a gift from her brother – a tame leopard named Baby which he has just had shipped to her from Brazil. Susan is able to convince David to come with her to her country house in Connecticut to help her learn how to deal with and “bring up” Baby, and from there, well, let’s just leave it at “hijinks ensue”.

bub4Interestingly, Bringing Up Baby was considered rather a flop when it was first released, perhaps because audiences simply weren’t ready for or in tune with the kind of comedy that Hawks was trying to bring to the screen. The sharp, at times overlapping dialogue, the very broad at times physical comedy, and simply the basic overall feeling that the movie could veer at any moment as out of control as David’s life does probably all were contributing factors to the initial public and critical reaction to the film. There is definitely a highly frenetic pace to the film that if one is not used to or has never encountered before can certainly be more than a little off-putting.

bub3Even Hawks himself noted that he had perhaps made a mistake with Baby in that everyone in the film (with the possible exception of David) is just a little too wacky and over-the top, something he manged to remedy for His Girl Friday, which, though the two leads (Grant, again, but with Rosalind Russell as his co-star) move and speak just as if not even more quickly, seems much better paced because he has learned better how to give the dialogue just enough time to make it a bit easier to follow and also to give his characters just a bit more time and space to breathe.

bub5In the end, though I have to say that I definitely enjoyed and highly recommend Bringing Up Baby to fans of screwball comedy as it truly is exemplary of the genre, and is at times truly laugh-out-loud funny. However, especially for a first-timer or someone unfamiliar with the genre, I still think I prefer and would recommend His Girl Friday more.

By the way, just a small bit of trivia before we get to the trailer for fans of the Thin Man series of movies. Yes, Susan’s dog, George, is the same one who portrayed Nick and Nora’s dog Asta in that series.

Here’s the trailer for Bringing Up Baby:





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