Movie Meltdown

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Bringing Up Baby

 by Len Mariani

BRINGING UP BABY – (1938)  Katherine Hepburn & Cary Grant

     When I first saw “Bringing Up Baby” some 25 years ago, it was on a Boston public TV station that showed old movies on Saturday nights.  I was literally laughing out loud.  It is, in my opinion, one of the funniest screwball comedies of the 1930’s and 1940’s.  This film has actually gotten better with age, much better.  When it was released in 1938, it was a total flop, and part of the period when Katherine Hepburn was labeled “Box Office Poison.”

     Grant plays a bumbling professor, David (big round tortoiseshell glasses and all) who is trying to procure a million dollar grant from a patron, while transporting a long sought lost dinosaur bone.  He is also about to marry a woman who is even stuffier than he is.  Hepburn plays the ditsy (is there any other kind?) heiress, Susan, who meets Grant, falls in love, and proceeds to inadvertently wreak havoc his life.  She also just happens to be the niece of the patron whom Grant is hitting up for the million dollars.

     Add to that a tame pet leopard named, of course, Baby, who loves the song “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Baby.”  Then there’s Hepburn’s aunt (the rich patron who hates Grant the moment she meets him), her suitor who is a big game hunter with an over-inflated ego, and a drunken gardener.  They are well played by May Robson (LADY FOR A DAY 1933), Charlie Ruggles and Barry Fitzgerald(GOING MY WAY 1944.)  Can’t forget the aunt’s annoying dog, George, who steals the dinosaur bone. And of course, we also have the daffy police officer and the stuffy psychiatrist – standard stock for a screwball comedy.

      One more major element – an escaped savage leopard which everyone mistakes for Baby, the tame pet leopard.

      Grant & Hepburn spend the movie trying to find the dinosaur bone, retrieve the correct leopard and right all the wrongs they have created.  Going into any more detail about the plot seems pointless, as it is like a big merry-go-round that all the players are on.  Nonetheless, hysterical.

      In one of my favorite scenes, David is at Susan’s house.  His clothes have all been sent out for cleaning.  When he answers the door wearing Susan’s dressing gown, he meets Susan’s aunt.  Their banter is classic.

Aunt:  Well you look perfectly idiotic in those clothes.

David: These aren’t my clothes, I’ve lost my clothes.

Aunt: Well why are you wearing those clothes?

David (jumpimg up and down): Because I’ve just gone GAY all of a sudden!!!

(It took me a while to figure out if that was what he really meant!)

     In another scene, virtually everyone has been arrested by the daffy police officer, who is certain that he has a bunch of thieves and robbers behind bars.  To egg the officer on, with a cigarette hanging from her mouth, Hepburn tells the officer that she is “Swingin’ Door Suzie” and, cool as a cucumber, in an effort to escape, confesses to every theft that the officer mentions.

     I love a movie where everyone is “a little crazy around the edges,” and this one fits the bill.   If you have and hour and a half and want a real chuckle, this is one film to see.

     Hepburn and Grant were paired for 2 other films: HOLIDAY (1938) and THE PHILADELPHIA STORY (1940).  The latter of which ended Hepburn’s “Box Office Poison” slump.

      WHAT’S UP DOC? with Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neal made in 1972 pays homage to BRINGING UP BABY.  In it, mixed up overnight bags filled with jewels, rocks and government documents are substituted for the missing leopard and bone.  Not as good as the original, but a lot of fun, too.



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