Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant in “Bringing Up Baby”

Bringing Up Baby (1938) is an American screwball comedy directed by Howard Hawks and starring Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant. The screenplay was written by Dudley Nichols and Hagar Wilde, cinematography by Russell Metty, with music by Roy Webb.

When Dr. David Huxley, an awkward paleontologist (Grant) meets a Susan Vance, daffy heiress (Hepburn), both of their lives will never be the same. David is engaged to be married to Alice Swallow (Virginia Walker), but that doesn’t keep Susan from being smitten with David. She actively pursues him, much to his chagrin and anyone else who gets caught in her wake.

Today considered one of the funniest screwball comedies of all time, Bringing Up Baby was a critical and commercial flop when first released.

Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn

Howard Hawks (1896 - 1977) was an American director, producer, and screenwriter. He is considered one of the great directors from the classic Hollywood era. Hawks excelled in directing films in all genres. His films were famous for featuring strong women characters. These tough-talking “Hawksian women” helped to define the director’s work. Some of Hawks’ popular films include Scarface (1932) Bringing Up Baby (1938), Only Angels Have Wings (1939), His Girl Friday (1940), To Have and Have Not (1944), The Big Sleep (1946), Red River (1948), and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953). Gary Cooper won a Best Actor Academy Award for his performance in Sergeant York (1941) under Hawks’ direction.

Katharine Hepburn (1907 - 2002) was an American actress of stage, screen, and television. She is the Oscar champ, winning four competitive Best Actress Awards. She received her first in 1933 for Morning Glory and her fourth for On Golden Pond (1981). Other Hepburn films include Little Women (1933), Alice Adams (1935), Stage Door (1937), Holiday (1938), The Philadelphia Story (1940), Woman of the Year (1942), Adams Ribs 1949), and The African Queen (1951). Hepburn continued acting as late as 1994, concentrating on television acting in The Man Upstairs (1992) with Ryan O’ Neal and This Can’t Be Love with Anthony Quinn.

Cary Grant (1904 - 1986) was an English-born American actor who became one of the most popular leading men in film history. Grant started his career in vaudeville before heading to Hollywood. He became a superstar in the late 1930s in a series of screwball comedies including The Awful Truth (1937) with Irene Dunne. He was a memorable C. K. Dexter Haven in The Philadelphia Story (1940) opposite Katharine Hepburn and James Stewart. He received two Best Actor nominations for Penny Serenade (1941) and None but the Lonely Hearts (1944). Other classic Grant films include Gunga Din (1939), Only Angels Have Wings (1939), and Arsenic and Old Lace (1944). He made four popular films with Alfred Hitchcock: Suspicion (1941), Notorious (1946), To Catch a Thief (1955), and North by Northwest (1959). He was presented with an Honorary Oscar at the 42nd Academy Awards in 1970.

Bringing Up Baby Trivia:
  • This was Hepburn’s first comedy and she was coached by Hawks and several vaudevillians acting in the movie.
  • RKO executives thought the film would be a flop because there wasn’t enough romance. They also didn’t like the glasses Grant wore in the film; they wanted the director to take them away.
  • Grant didn’t think he would ever be a star at this point in his career. At nearly 34, he thought his time for stardom may have past.
  • After the film’s release, Hepburn was declared box-office poison and Hawks was fired from his next film assignment.

To watch the film on YouTube, click the link below.

Don’t let the title fool you, it’s in English. 

Why watch this film?
  • To watch the pairing of Hepburn and Grant, two years before The Philadelphia Story.
  • The dialogue is fast and furious, just like Howard Hawks’s His Girl Friday.
  • The film features a wonderful collection of character actors including May Robson and Charlie Ruggles.
  • It’s classic example of the screwball comedy genre.

To join the discussion on October 18, 2021, at 6:30 p.m., click here. Once you RSVP,  you will receive an invitation and a link to the discussion on Zoom.

Discussion questions:
  1. What did you enjoy most about this film?
  2. Why do you think the film wasn’t a success upon its first release?
  3. Do you think Hepburn and Grant were a good comedy team?
  4. Can you see anyone else in the Hepburn role?
  5. Do you think the film deserves to be considered a classic today?
  6. Did you have a favorite scene or piece of dialogue?
  7. Was there a character actor that stood out to you?

Grant and Hepburn on the RKO backlot with “Baby”

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