Classic 30s Movie: “Bringing Up Baby”

May is classic 30s movie month. Today’s guest post comes from Melinda Mahaffey.

Title: Bringing Up Baby

Year: 1938

Writers: Dudley Nichols & Hagar Wilde, story by Hagar Wilde

Lead Actors: Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn

Director: Howard Hawks

IMDb Plot Summary: While trying to secure a $1 million donation for his museum, a befuddled paleontologist is pursued by a flighty and often irritating heiress and her pet leopard, Baby.

Why I Think This Is A Classic 30s Movie

Bringing Up Baby is one of the great screwball comedies. If you can buy into the premise — that a free-spirited woman falls in love with a stuffy paleontologist the day before his wedding and needs his help with a leopard — the film is a fast-paced and fun comic ride, and the humor still holds up today. Surprisingly, though, Bringing Up Baby did not do well at the box office, causing director Hawks to be fired from his next film, Gunga Din, and ultimately leading Hepburn to buy out her RKO contract.

From a screenwriting point of view, Bringing Up Baby is very good at upping the stakes, in fairly natural ways — David’s desire to get the $1 million from the museum leads him into a mishap with Susan that needs to be fixed and results in a number of wacky but believable complications.

My Favorite Moment In The Movie

In general, I think the movie most shines after the halfway mark, as David and Susan go hunting for Baby in the dark — her armed with a butterfly net, he with a rope and croquet mallet:

My other favorite scene happens shortly after the first, when David and Susan find Baby on a roof. We know from the beginning of the film that singing “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love, Baby” calms the leopard down, and so David and Susan begin singing the song, in the dark, accompanied by the dog … and then the leopard. It’s arguably the high point of zaniness in the film. I couldn’t find a clip, but here’s Susan singing by herself (and arguing with the psychologist) directly after.

My Favorite Dialogue In the Movie

Toward the beginning, when Susan and David are taking Baby to her aunt’s house in the country, Susan runs into a truck carrying caged fowl.

SUSAN: Why, David, we’ll be there in no time. We just have to stop at Westlake and get some meat for Baby.
DAVID: Why, he’s already had an assortment of ducks and chickens! Not to mention a couple of swans.
SUSAN: All feathers.
DAVID: Yeah, well, very expensive feathers. I don’t see how any pair of swans could cost $150. That was a gyp.
SUSAN: Well, if you’d run as I’d told you to, we shouldn’t have had to pay for them.
DAVID: Susan, when a man is wrestling a leopard in the middle of a pond, he’s in no position to run.

Key Things You Should Look For When Watching This Movie

Gender roles: Katharine Hepburn’s character is the more masculine one in the film, while Cary Grant’s David is more feminine. This is pretty clear right at the beginning, when David’s fiancée, the very businesslike Miss Swallow (a Bellamy if there ever was one), tells him she doesn’t want romantic entanglements or children, and he seems surprised, and almost hurt. Peter Bogdanovich, in his discussion on close-ups (below), says that Hawks saw Susan as the more normal character — which makes sense because even though she’s flighty and causes most of the trouble, David is the one who needs to change. He’s timid and boring, and his life needs to be shaken up.

The film features barely any music — besides the instrumental score during the credits, there’s only soft background music playing in the restaurant scene toward the beginning (when Susan loses her skirt) and the various renditions of “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love, Baby” to calm the leopard.

In this YouTube clip, Peter Bogdanovich discusses the power of close-up in the film. He points out that Hawks uses close-ups sparing and to connect the viewer with Susan’s point of view:

And bits of trivia, courtesy of IMDB:

• Christopher Reeve based his performance as Clark Kent in four Superman movies on Cary Grant’s character in the film.
• Screenwriters Dudley Nichols and Hagar Wilde fell in love as they were writing the screenplay.

Thanks, Melinda!

To show our gratitude for your guest post, here’s a dash of creative juju for you. Whoosh!

We already have a set of classic 40s movies, 5os movies, 60s Movies, 70s movies, 80s Movies and 90s Movies. This month, we’re working on 30s movies. And thanks to the GITS community, we’ve got at least 22 movies in the works and hopefully!

Those who I put in bold have already sent me their posts. If you haven’t sent yours to me, please do so as soon as you can!!!

All Quiet on the Western Front — Michael Waters
Bride of Frankenstein — Marija Nielsen
Bringing Up Baby — Melinda Mahaffey
Captain Blood — John Arends
City Girl — Adam Westbrook
Dracula — Sheila Seaclearr
Duck Soup — David Joyner
Gone With The Wind — W. H. Morris
Gunga Din — Steve Huerta
It Happened One Night — Joni Brainerd
Make Way for Tomorrow — Susan Winchell
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington — Amber Watt
Rebecca — Katha
Snow White and the Seven Dwarves — Will King
Sabotage — Jeff Xilon
Stagecoach — Thenewlight
The 39 Steps — Felicity Flesher
The Adventures of Robin Hood — Clay Mitchell
The Petrified Forest — Rachel Sheridan
The Women — Liz Clarke
Topper — Wayne Kline
Trouble in Paradise — Vincenzo
Vampyr — Megaen Kelly

I am still looking for volunteers. If there’s a 30s movie you’d like to write about, please post your suggestion in comments or contact me via email.

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