Criterion Prediction #188: Bringing Up Baby, by Alexander Miller
Title: Bringing Up Baby
Director: Howard Hawks
Cast: Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Walter Catlett, May Robson
Synopsis: A bookish paleontologist, Dr. Huxley (Grant), is working tirelessly to reconstruct the skeleton of a brontosaurus. However, things get sticky two days prior to his wedding when he meets plucky, unpredictable Susan Vance (Hepburn) and, through a series of misadventures (including a panther named Baby), this seemingly mismatched pair begin to fall for one another.
Critique: The screwiest of screwball comedies lives up to the title as the best of all the screwball comedies. Bringing Up Baby will satisfy any curiosity one could have about the mythic legacy off all those concerned. It goes without saying that stars as bright as Grant and Hepburn are indelibly delightful, as if the man from dream city and the ruggedly independent spitfire starlet could be anything else. Plenty of directors skirted through screwball comedies; Leo McCarey, George Stevens, Hal Roach, etc. These Hollywood alumni traversed genres but Hawks did so effortlessly, making each title an icon of their type. He could change hats but his authorship was as recognizable as ever.
Hawks’ direction is breezy as always and you can feel it running through the cast. The rapid-fire dialogue is delivered with punctuality and every blow hits home. Hawks and Grant would strike a brilliant collaboration following Bringing up Baby with His Girl Friday, Only Angels Have Wings, Monkey Business and I Was a Male War Bride. But their first pairing has the flippant brassiness that would serve as a model for their subsequent efforts and the film’s inclusion of Hepburn elevates it to a distinctive bar for all involved.
Bringing Up Baby plays on Hawksian themes such as professional pressures, personal responsibilities (and the eventual relinquishing of them), the battle of the sexes and, of course, the fleeting timeline gag, a must in screwball comedies. The structure is unadorned and cool and Bringing Up Baby is loaded with gags, jokes and ridiculous segues but everyone feels attuned to the unpretentious demeanor of Hawks’ direction that provides genuine humor without hacky punchlines or self-satisfied cleverness. As usual, Hawks and his cast of power players deliver another neatly packaged barrage of speedy dialogue, hilarious setups and clever shenanigans without breaking a sweat.
Why It Belongs in the Collection: At this point in time, it’s almost odd that Bringing Up Baby isn’t featured in The Criterion Collection. Seeing as the Hawks/Grant movies with spine numbers include Only Angels Have Wings and His Girl Friday, (and of course the Grant-less Red River), it would seem that Bringing Up Baby is in line for the Criterion treatment. Not to mention the movie was featured on Filmstruck. In the interim, can we see it on the new Criterion Channel?