Bringing Up Baby

AFI Rank: #97
Year Released: 1938
Director: Howard Hawks
Actors: Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant

Bringing Up Baby is a wild comedy - you have to go into this expecting that it's just zany and silly. It gets many of its high marks for its firsts for its era. Perhaps most importantly, Katherine Hepburn showed that a woman could take charge of her own life - and literally wear pants. It was a transitional moment for women.

There definitely is a style to this comedy, and some will find it absolutely delightful. A few might find it a bit on the silly side. The dialogue is very fast paced and is quite screwball.

The movie is primarily about lying. Katherine is a rich woman who does anything she wants, and doesn't care about the consequences. She steals cars. She wrecks clothes. She decides she is in love with a paleontologist - Cary Grant. Then her brother sends her a pet leopard, which causes all sorts of trouble.

Literally after one day - even though she's done nothing but to lie to him all day long and destroy his life's work - he decides he loves her. He's drawn to the zaniness and wildness.

This film gets great kudos for having a strong female character. So many movies in the AFI top 100 don't have any female characters at all. This one has several, and they even talk with each other! So this is one of the few that actually passes the Bechdel test.

I wonder if it's something about the Depression, though. I watched this movie back to back with Yankee Doodle Dandy (made later, but set in part in Depression years). In both cases they have a main character who is brash, very in-your-face, and plays fast and loose with the truth. In neither case is this something that appeals to me. In this case - as much as I absolutely adore Katherine in pretty much every other movie she's been in - I just don't like her deliberately hurting and destroying and lying and ignoring and disrespecting people. It doesn't strike me as fun.

She plows into a large truck of live chickens - and it looks in the footage as if the boxes of live animals is flying everywhere - and her only concern is lying about it so she doesn't have to pay for the damage. I realize this is a comedy, but it's just not my style.

There are also a few signs in here that the movie was filmed in a different era. At one point Cary says to someone, "That's mighty white of you" - not somthing that is said much in modern times. Similarly, when asked why he's waering a frilly robe, he laughs "Because I just went gay all of a sudden!" and jumps in the air. A little more depressing, when Gary sees things aren't going his way, he literally stomps down on Katherine's hand and intimidates the other women, and thinks this is quite a fine way to deal with them.

So what is my summary for this one. I appreciate immensely that it was groundbreaking for Katherine to be in pants. I appreciate Katherine's jailhouse scene, where she turns into a fast-talking moll. But I think they could have had the same amount of fun without making her be so callous and nasty. Was it that people in the Depression era were so worn down that the idea of constant lying, and breaking things, was appealing? It seems that it didn't do well in the box office, so it's not even that people then were in love with it. Somewhere in the middle, a group of Katherine-lovers connected with this, it seems. And as much as I truly adore her, I just can't seem to connect with it myself.

AFI Top 100 Film Listing
Male vs Female Actors in the AFI Top 100
The Bechdel Test in the AFI Top 100