It’s hard to believe now that Howard Hawks’ Bringing Up Baby was not a hit at the time of its original release in 1938. In fact, it was such a flop that one of its stars, Katharine Hepburn, was famously labeled box office poison by movie exhibitors across the land, and ended up fleeing back to New York, into the welcoming embrace of the Broadway stage. Now, of course, Bringing Up Baby is viewed as the quintessential screwball comedy and one of the funniest movies ever made (so much for trusting current-day box office results as a predictor of lasting success). Played at breakneck speed, Bringing Up Baby is not quite as fast as Hawks’ His Girl Friday (1940), but its pace is so determinedly demented that it has never quite been matched. —Why Bringing Up Baby, a secretly dirty movie about crazy people, is a work of genius by Sheila O’Malley
Bringing Up Baby is now regarded as one of the greatest comedies of Hollywood’s golden age and has influenced the work of such contemporary directors as Peter Bogdanovich, Jonathan Demme and the Coen Brothers. From Who the Devil Made It: Conversations with Legendary Film Directors, by Peter Bogdanovich:
By the end of the film, would you say that [Cary] Grant has abandoned his scientific life?
Howard Hawks: Well, let’s say he mixed it. He had an awfully good time and if anyone had to choose between the two girls, they’d certainly choose Hepburn. We start off, as I said, with a complete caricature of the man and then reduce it to give him a feeling of normality because he certainly wouldn’t have had any fun going through life the other way, would he? You’ve got a rather happy ending. You have to almost overdo it a little in the beginning and then he becomes more normal as the picture goes along, just by his association with the girl. Grant said, “I’m kind of dropping my characterization.” I said, “No, she’s having some influence on you. You’re getting a little normal.”
Here’s a real treat: Hagar Wilde and Dudley Nichols’ screenplay for Bringing Up Baby [pdf]. (NOTE: For educational purposes only). Thanks to Write To Reel’s odocoileus. The DVD of the film is available at Amazon and other online retailers.
The script is a masterpiece of structure, with too many double entendres to count. Doug Moston, acting teacher and Shakespeare scholar, used to remind his students that when they were analyzing a Shakespeare play, “If you don’t think a line is bawdy—it’s only because you haven’t worked it out yet.” The same applies to Bringing Up Baby. It is a movie, after all, that starts with the following exchange: David Huxley (holding up a giant dinosaur bone): “Alice, I think this one belongs in the tail.” Miss Swallow: “Nonsense. You tried it in the tail yesterday.”
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