Bringing Up Baby (1938) Criterion Collection Review

Director: Howard Hawks

Writers: Dudley Nichols, Hagar Wilde

Stars: Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Charles Ruggles

RATING: 4 Stars

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Mild mannered zoology professor Dr. David Huxley is excited by the news that an intercostal clavicle bone has been found to complete his brontosaurus skeleton. David needs the $1 million endowment of wealthy dowager Mrs. Carleton Random to complete the project. However, whenever David tries to make a good impression on Peabody, her lawyer, the same young woman always seems to do something to make him look bad. But David eventually learns that Alexander Peabody is her good friend, and Susan’s Aunt Elizabeth, with whom David has also made a bad impression without her knowing who he is, is Mrs. Carleton Random. Throw into the mix a tame pet leopard named Baby and David may never be able to finish his project or make it to his wedding. – From IMDB

Eternal thanks to the nineteen thirties, and the early years of Hollywood, for reminding me why comedies are such gold. This film was absolutely hilarious. It has a kind of ridiculous situational comedy that when done today, seems old hat and stupid. But done with the charm and grace of Grant and Hepburn, it has the ability to make me laugh until I snorted rather unprofessionally.

The overall plot is more or less uninteresting. They are hunting for the escaped pet leopard, and trying to locate the lost Bone that David was so excited to receive. But both these plotlines quickly become background noise to the excellent comedy pieces. It really is one ridiculous scenario after another, each just as, if not funnier than the last. The dinner table scene being a personal favourite of mine, and the last gag with the dinosaur skeleton absolutely killed me.

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Katharine Hepburn is the runaway star of this film. Not only has she mastered the fast talking, quick witted humour that modern day shows like Gilmore Girls and Big Bang Theory would popularise 80 years later, but she also has some absolutely excellent physical comedy moments as well. I loved her character immediately. Her onscreen relationship with Cary Grant is also a great component of this film. I think I have only seen Grant in dramatic roles, so for me this was a new and refreshing look at one of my favourite actors of the period, and he nails it.

Yes, some of the situations they find themselves in are completely ridiculous, and if a woman roamed around acting the way Susan does in this film she wouldn’t be left roaming around for very long. And the inclusion of real life Leopards in the film is definitely questionable in terms of Animal rights and the like, I still had a blast with this one. It added a real smile to my day.

Bringing Up Baby is number 1085 in the Criterion collection. It is also available to buy on Amazon UK, and is free to stream currently on BBC iPlayer in the UK if you have a TV licence.

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