Friday Editor’s Pick: Bringing Up Baby (1938)

by on June 17, 2011Posted in: Editor's Pick

Playing thru Thurs, June 23 at 1:00, 3:15*, 5:30, 7:45**, 10:00 at Film Forum [Program & Tix]

** Introduction by Cary Grant’s daughter Jennifer on Fri, June 17 7:45 show

* Q&A with Jennifer Grant following the Sun, June 19 3:15 show (no 5:30 screening)

 

Today, Film Forum begins a one-week run of Bringing up Baby, Howard Hawks’ 1938 screwball classic. [There’s some disagreement within Alt Screen over whether Baby is the greatest screwball comedy of all time, or second to Leo McCarey’s The Awful Truth (1937).] Dismissed on its first release, Baby has since gained quite a strong reputation. Some evidence below:

 

Andrew Sarris in You Ain’t Heard Nothin’ Yet:

Bringing up Baby (1938) is undeniably the screwiest of the screwball comedies. Even Hawks has never equaled the rocketing pace of this demented farce in which Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn made Barrymore and Lombard in Twentieth Century seem as feverish as Victoria and Albert. This film passes beyond the customary lunacy of the period into a bestial Walpurgisnacht during which man, doc, and leopard pursue each other over the Connecticut countryside until the behavior patterns of men and animals become indistinguishable…. The regression of man to a lower order will henceforth be one of the dominant motifs of Hawksian comedy.

 

 

David Thomson in Have You Seen…? A Personal Introduction to 1,000 Films:

The film, which grossed $715,000 in the home market, was doomed. It was a loser and a contributor to Hepburn’s reputation as “box-office poison.” Yet its maybe the most fun ever had in Hollywood… The entire venture was overlooked by the Academy, but it still feels as if it was made last night.

 

Look at Baby with fresh eyes and I think you will have to agree that its sentiments and its philosophy are more daring than those in Greed. Indeed, it says that life is lunacy, so that the diligent reassembly of the dinosaur skeleton (the pursuit of knowledge) means very little compared with getting your bone into a warm box. Having fun. And the film survives. And it is just a touch funnier than Greed.

 

You can dismiss Bringing Up Baby by saying it is is “only” screwball and by pointing out that leopards hardly happen in Connecticut. The advice to people to have fun of a certain kind in 1938 may be judged frivolous, or it may be the acme of common sense. But do not be deceived: Within the magnificent frolic, the inspired and inventive dementia, Baby speaks about life, energy, and the equation of the two. And when David Huxley (Grant) admits to Susan (Hepburn) that the collapse of his skeleton, his engagement, and his rather grim, glued together life hitherto has been “fun,” something profoundly American and movie-ish is being offered. It’s up to us whether we take or leave it.

 

Dave Kehr for The Chicago Reader:

Though it’s almost impossible, try to sit back sometime and enjoy this 1938 Howard Hawks masterpiece not only for its gags, but for the grace of its construction, the assurance of its style, and the richness of its themes. Cary Grant’s adventures with Katharine Hepburn lead from day into night, tameness into wildness, order into chaos.

 

Peter Bogdanovich in Pieces of Time:

… Howard Hawks’ Bringing up Baby was soundly blasted in 1938 by the critic for The New York Times as well as by some other reviewers as a silly, insipid waste of time; Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn were panned for their frivolous performances, and the picture was not even a financial success. Until 1961 when the New Yorker Theatre revived the movie (in a series called ‘The Forgotten Film’) and, the following year, when The Museum of Modern Art included it in a three-month Howard Hawks retrospective, Bringing Up Baby had never received even the slightest degree of respectability, except in France, where Truffaut, Godard, Bazin and other revolutionary critics had ‘discovered’ Hawks in the mid-Fifties.

 

 

Ada Calhoun interview FF’s special guest Jennifer Grant for the New York Times:

Now in her 40s, Jennifer, an actress who had a recurring part on “Beverly Hills, 90210,” has a son named after her famous dad. She finds herself endlessly reviewing the archive and pining for her father, whom she describes as “a sweet, cunning, playful little devil” and “like a marvelous painting.”

 

She lays it on a little thick: “He was, astoundingly, never an old man. His mind kept him young.” “He shared from a place of abundance, and his gifts of laughter were felt through one’s entire spirit.” “His articulation was a mellifluous joy.” His smile was “heart-bursting.” The anti­thesis of “Mommie Dearest,” “Good Stuff” is a banquet of praise sweeter than honey on meringue.

 

“Okay, I had a crush on Dad,” she admits, long after the reader has come to this conclusion. Jennifer competed with fans, glamorous co-stars and her stepmother for his attention. At 3 or 4 years old, she slapped the screen face of Deborah Kerr during “An Affair to Remember,” because “no stranger had the right to make out with my father!”;

 

Richard Brody in The New Yorker:

The enduring fascination of Hawks’s screwball comedy transcends the film’s effervescent qualities. In finding his voice as a comedy director, Hawks sets up archetypes of theme and performance that are still valid… And he brought to fruition his own universe of hints and symbols for the force that rules the world: she tears his coat, he tears her dress, she steals his clothes, she names him ‘Bone,’ and the mating cries of wild animals disturb the decorum of the dinner table.

 

And J. Hoberman, with this haiku-like review for The Village Voice:

The leopard is set loose and the dinosaur reconstruction crumbles. This most romantic of Howard Hawks screwball comedies also provided Katherine Hepburn (in mad debutante mode) with her sexiest foil in the person of obsessed paleontologist Cary Grant.

 

 

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