Bringing Up Baby (1938) | List of Shame

Bringing Up Baby is the story of a paleontologist, David Huxley, who has a very delicate task at hand: he needs to ensure that Mrs. Carleton Random donates one million dollars to his project, and for that he must impress her layer, Mr. Peabody (George Irving). Such a donation is described as a very white thing to do – a curious, now perceived as offensive expression that was fairly common at the time Howard Hawk’s film was made. Less common is David’s response when Aunt Elizabeth (May Robson) asks why he’s wearing woman’s clothes: Because I just went gay all of a sudden!. This may be one of the earliest use in film of the term gay as a reference to homosexuals, and it is said to have been a improv of the actor, Cary Grant. The exclamation is accompanied by a mocking jump in the air, and it is an example of Grant’s excellent comedic style that thrives throughout the entire film.

If you are used to see the great Cary Grant in classy, seductive roles, than brace yourself, for David Huxley could not be further from the sleekness of Mr. Devlin: though still undoubtedly handsome, with and without his glasses, in Bringing Up Baby this fine actor is, in the full extent of the word, a nerd. And he carries his nerdy self in a funny, ever charming way, revealing great talent for physical comedy. His character always trying to keep up (or keep away) with the over-excited and inconvenient Susan Vance, played by Grant’s co-start, Katharine Hepburn.

In this screwball comedy the poor man is trying to get married and she keeps trying to stop him, through machinations that revolve around Baby, a tamed leopard her brother inexplicably sent from Brazil. And she does so in the most annoying way you can imagine: by being a tornado of too much nonsense talk and childish pleads. It’s hard to resist the temptation of struggling her exquisite neck, and it would appear Huxley often fights  the very same impulse. And for that, for being so desperately irritating, Katharine Hepburn deserves the tip of my most beloved hat, for if your playing an annoying character, it better be, in fact, annoying. 

And because no matter how irritating she is, there’s an irresistible charm about her, the same one that makes Grant’s awkward character so appealing: there’s a huge, warm heart inside her with the best of intensions. It was love at first sight, he just didn’t know it yet, for like Susan learned: the love impulse in men frequently reveals itself in terms of conflict. 
The scene in which Susan’s dress is ripped was inspired by something that happened to Cary Grant. He was at he Roxy Theater one night and his pants zipper was down when it caught on the back of a woman’s dress. Grant impulsively followed her. When he told this story to Howard Hawks, Hawks loved it and put it into the film.  (x)



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