Howard Hawks’ Bringing Up Baby: Screwball Comedy Review

Classic Comedy Starring Cary Grant & Katharine Hepburn

A genuine classic, Howard Hawks’ Bringing Up Baby, with Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn, is just as funny now as it was in 1938.

Bringing Up Baby is a wonderful example of screwball comedy. Released in 1938, this 70-year-old movie is as witty, charming, and appealing as it has always been.

What is Screwball Comedy?

Screwball is a term used for comedy that is offbeat and at times absurd. This sub-genre of comedy was developed during the 1930s. Essentially, screwball comedy is that which changes direction suddenly and unexpectedly. Bringing Up Baby is one of the finest examples of early Hollywood screwball comedy, as its hilarious, but ridiculous plot twists and turns in completely unanticipated ways.

Synopsis of Bringing Up Baby

The film follows an uptight paleontologist, Dr. David Huxley (Cary Grant), who is trying to secure a million-dollar donation for his museum. In addition, he is awaiting the arrival of the final bone needed to complete the brontosaurus that has been five years in the making and is due to be married to the extremely prim Miss Swallow.

Bringing Up Baby
Cary Grant & Katherine Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby

Through a series of bizarre events, David repeatedly encounters the impulsive, but well-meaning and optimistic Susan Vance (Katharine Hepburn). When Susan receives delivery of a leopard named Baby, she tricks David into helping her take the animal to Connecticut.

However, as Susan begins to fall for David she is forced to create evermore-elaborate schemes to prevent him from returning to New York and his impending nuptials.

Review of Bringing Up Baby

Bringing Up Baby is quite simply one of the best comedies ever made. Although the story is absurd, the audience’s disbelief is never overstretched. The performances of the entire cast are executed beautifully, with particularly humorous moments from Charlie Ruggles who plays Major Horace Applegate, and Fritz Feld as Dr. Fritz Lehman.

Of course, one of the main attractions of the movie is the wonderful chemistry between the two leads. Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn were paired in a number of very successful films, including the equally entertaining The Philadelphia Story.

It is incredibly refreshing, especially in a time when women were not widely accepted as ‘clowns’, to observe the complete lack of vanity in Katharine Hepburn’s comedic performance.

There are numerous scenes that demonstrate Hepburn’s willingness to appear in unflattering circumstances. For example, she becomes drenched in a stream, is slapped in the face repeatedly with branches, and trips headfirst over a log.

Cary Grant too displays mastery of physical humor in his portrayal of David Huxley. His facial expressions, which are sometimes over-exaggerated in films such as Arsenic and Old Lace, are timed and executed wonderfully in this movie.

As well as the obvious physical aspect to the humor of Bringing Up Baby, there is a lot of verbal comedy, too. There are numerous witty lines such as Susan’s retort to David’s assertion that his fiancée, Miss Swallow, would recognize poison ivy, “I bet poison ivy runs when it sees her.”

Bringing Up Baby is a comedy with belly laughs galore. Of course, the look of the film betrays its age, but the humor is timeless and, therefore, it will be just as funny in another 70-year’s time.

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