Directed by Howard Hawks
There’s something almost completely undeniable about Howard Hawks’ “Bringing Up Baby”. The amusement you gleam out of the picture sort of just sneaks up on you. It starts off arbitrarily enough, Cary Grant has a series of unfortunate run-ins with Katherine Hepburn, leading up to his helping her babysit a pet leopard, and what there is of plot never gets much more complicated than that, pure coincidence, but somehow the charm of it all wins you over.
A lot of critics look at “A Night at the Opera” to be the quintessential Marx Brothers film. They argue that because it was the first film the brothers made with an actual “plot” (instead of just a slew of one liners and pratfalls). I’m inclined to disagree. Now, I’ve only ever seen a few of their movies, but I’ve always found myself enjoying their earlier work (like “Duck Soup”) best because it has no pretense. It doesn’t attempt to be anything other than what it is. I mention all of this in my discussion of “Brining Up Baby” because I found myself thinking the same thing about this film. Despite there being an actual plot at work here, it’s never allowed to get in the way of the comedy. There is no pretense. Grant and Hepburn make for an extremely entertaining comedic duo and feed off of each other wonderfully. To have put a halt to this chemistry in the interest of progressing the admittedly thin “story” would have been a huge mistake and I believe Hawk realized this. So, while the story does move ever forwards, it’s almost always happening at the same time as the jokes are flying. And really, the best comedies are able to advance their plot without forsaking what brought the audiences in to the theatre in the first place.
Cary Grant is probably one of my favourite actors from the “golden age” of cinema. He has a very Clark Kent type charm that he utilizes all the time, and in no film more than this one. While in many of his other films, he is able to balance his natural comedic abilities with his more leading man (Superman) type sensibilities, in “Bringing Up Baby” he is Clark Kent 100% of the time. The bumbling, nerdish, uptight buffoon, and he plays it wonderfully. It’s really a shame that he never got a chance to take a crack at playing Superman, I have a feeling that there would have been no one better. Katherine Hepburn is also a delight. I have to admit that I’m not too familiar with her other roles, but she is pitch-perfect as the slightly deranged and love starved socialite. Her sense of comedic timing rivals Grant’s own abilities and this was her first comedic role.
Over the past few weeks I have gradually become more and more open to the “classic comedies” of the early part of the last century. I’ve been watching a lot and they’ve been growing on me. I’m beginning to get a sense of what it must have been like to go to a theatre in the 1930’s and 1940’s and watch a “funny picture”, and while it’s certainly a completely different experience compared to what we are nowadays accustomed to, these films have their undeniable charm. “Brining Up Baby” is a fantastic example of this.