VOD film review: Bringing Up Baby
Ivan Radford | On 28, Jan 2021
Directory: Howard Hawks
Cast: Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn
Watch Bringing Up Baby online in the UK: BBC iPlayer
“But Susan, you can’t climb in a man’s bedroom window!” “I know, it’s on the second floor!” That’s the sound of movie magic hitting the big screen in 1938’s Bringing Up Baby. Bringing together Howard Hawks and Cary Grant – who would go on to work two years later on another screwball classic, His Girl Friday – it’s a sparkling showcase for Grant’s charismatic presence. But he gets shared top billing for a reason: the film’s biggest strength is perhaps Katharine Hepburn.
Given a role that was tailored for her, she plays the definitive Hawksian woman (a character type that would go on to make an iconic femme fatale out of Lauren Bacall’s Vivian Rutledge in The Big Sleep) – she’s tough-talking, strong, confident and able to get her own way. We first meet Grant as palaeontologist David Huxley, who is about to get hitched and hoping to secure a major donation to his museum. But everything is sent topsy-turvy by the arrival of Susan Vance, an adventuress who keeps disrupting his plans. Before you can say “What’s Up, Doc?”, David is running about hunting for his missing brontosaurus bone, while trying to woo a benefactor over a game of golf, keep his fiancee and assistant Alice (Virginia Walker) happy. Oh, and there’s a pet leopard.
Written by Dudley Nichols and Hagar Wilde, based on a short story by the latter, the ensuing chaos makes for a brilliantly non-stop ride, and Hawks is in his element marshalling every element with precise farce – from the quietly incredibly visual effects (the leopard was filmed separately to the cast) down to the overlapping dialogue between his flawless leads. Grant’s timid man, flustered at the idea of sex, gradually comes out of his shell through desperation, while Hepburn is magnificently mercurial as she sweeps across the stage leaving mayhem in her wake. Both give surprisingly physical performances, with pratfalls that are laugh-out-loud even when you’re rewatching for the umpteenth time. And you will rewatch it multiple times – partly to catch all the jokes you missed in the breakneck havoc, and partly to sit back and revel in the sheer joy of it all.
Bringing Up Baby is available on BBC iPlayer until January 2022