Bringing Up Baby (1938)

2011 #78
Howard Hawks | 102 mins | TV | 4:3 | USA / English | U

Bringing Up BabyA box office flop on release (which directly led to Hawks being fired from his next film and co-star Katharine Hepburn being bought out of her contract & named “box office poison”), screwball comedy Bringing Up Baby has grown massively in stature since. And deservedly so, because — aside from a first act where Hepburn is no less than irritating, and an occasionally slow middle — it has some real comic high points and can be riotously funny.

Cary Grant plays a museum curator / palaeontologist / something like that who is due to get married to his controlling co-worker, but ends up embroiled with Hepburn’s carefree rich girl and her new pet leopard (the titular Baby). If it sounds a little mad, it’s not as mad as the film itself. As noted, it’s a little awkward to start with while one warms to Hepburn’s anarchic character, and it drags its heels a little through the middle, but by the time we reach the final act — when an array of characters and situations collide in a manic run-about too intricate to describe here — it all pays off marvellously.

Aww look at the doggyAlso worth noting is that it is, perhaps, the first work of fiction to use the word “gay” to mean “homosexual”. Apparently the term originated in the homosexual community in the ’20s (possibly earlier) but would not become widely known until the late ’60s. Its use here was ad-libbed by Grant, though whether that makes it more or less likely to have meant “homosexual” I don’t know. I suppose no one was ever in a position to ask.

4 out of 5

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