18 May 2011

I've got my head, I've lost my leopard!

Bringing Up Baby, 1938

One of the funniest movies ever made and quite possibly the zaniest, Bringing Up Baby is the definitive screwball comedy. It centers around stodgy paleontologist, Dr. David Huxley (Cary Grant), whose only aspiration in life is to finish putting together the Brontosaurus for the museum he works for, and marrying his equally stodgy fiancee, Alice.  Upon learning that a Mrs. Carlton Random is going to donate one million dollars to a museum, Huxley meets up with her representative, a Mr. Peabody for a golf outing. On the green, he runs into a woman who steals first his golf ball, and then his car. She turns out to be Susan Vance (Katharine Hepburn), niece of the same Mrs. Carlton Random. And she just so happens to have a leopard. Somehow, she convinces him to help her take the leopard, whose name is Baby, to her home in Connecticut. And so begins the craziest twenty-four hours ever captured on film, involving a missing dinosaur bone, a dog, two leopards, a big-game hunter, a drunk groundskeeper, and a couple of flustered cops. 

One of the things that makes Bringing Up Baby so great is the pairing of Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant. They work so well together, and they've never been better than here. Their different personalities fit together perfectly. They compliment each other beautifully.  While he's stuffy and overwhelmed, she's ever optimistic, and completely unflappable. Nothing ever fazes her, no matter how out of the ordinary the situation. She's always cool as a cucumber, as if the insane events are nothing new to her. One realizes that they're probably not.

Another great thing about the film is the dialogue. Not only is it some of the funniest ever spoken on film, but it's literally spoken a mile a minute. It actually takes quite a few viewings to be able to catch all of the lines and jokes because of the sheer speed of the dialogue. There are lines spoken on top of lines, and it's not unusual to hear two conversations going on at once. (This is a bit of a Howard Hawks trademark- His Girl Friday also exhibits this style of dialogue)
Due to her utter zaniness, Susan has the majority of the funniest lines in the movie. During her meeting with David on the golf course, after he informs her that she's playing his ball, she doesn't seem to understand. 
David: What ball are you playing?
Susan: PGA.
David: Well, I'm playing a CrowFlight.
Susan: Mmhmm, I like PGA better.
David: I'm just trying to prove you you that you're playing my ball. You see, a PGA has two black dots, and a CrowFlight has a circle.
Susan: Mmmhmm, I'm not superstitious about things like that.
David: There, you see, it's a circle.
Susan: Well of course it is, do you think it would roll if it were square?

Don't be irrelevant the point is I have a leopard. The question is what am I gonna do with it?

While on the subject, let's discuss Katharine Hepburn. This was her first foray into slapstick, and she was lucky to be paired with Grant and directed by Howard Hawks. Watching her in this film, it's difficult to believe that she wasn't very good at first, and that she had to be coached in being funny. But she learned quickly, and played her role perfectly. She dove headfirst into the part, and went about a thousand miles an hour for the whole duration of the film, never letting up once. She plays the role of Susan with a silly absent mindedness that is absolutely hysterical. What's incredible is how she speaks her lines with such sincerity and honesty, never batting an eye at the funniest of lines.Whatever misfortune occurs is honestly not her fault. Grabbing on to Grant's jacket, it rips as he walks away from her. He turns and glares accusingly, her eyes widen, and she says sympathetically, "Oh, you've torn your coat." 

I'm not quite myself today.
Cary Grant does the exact same thing with his lines. While a lot of them aren't exactly funny, the way he says them and the sincerity in his voice make them so. Probably the most well known scene is when Susan steals David's clothes, and so he is forced to wear her negligee. Shortly after, the doorbell rings, and he unknowingly opens the door to Susan's aunt Elizabeth, one Mrs. Carlton Random. The following conversation is pure gold. 
David: What do you want?
Elizabeth: Who are you?
David: What do you want?
Elizabeth: Who ARE you?
David: I don't know, I'm not quite myself today. 
Elizabeth: Well, you look perfectly idiotic in those clothes. 
David: These aren't my clothes.
Elizabeth: Well, where are your clothes?

David: I've lost my clothes.
Elizabeth: But why are you wearing those clothes?
David: Because I just went gay all of a sudden!
Elizabeth: Do you want to wear these clothes?
David: No, I don't want to wear these clothes, I just want to get married!

Quiet, George!
This entire conversation is accompained by the barking of Aunt Elizabeth's dog George, who just so happens to be my favorite character in the movie. (I'm sure you'll recognize him as Asta from the Thin Man series, and as Mr. Smith from The Awful Truth).  He brings yet another series of hilarious scenes when he runs off with the bone that David needs to finish the Brontosaurus skeleton, resulting in a chase around the grounds to find where the bone is buried. Susan is having a grand old time while David is trying his best not to strangle the dog. George indeed digs something up, but it's not exactly what they're searching for: 
Isn't he a strong little man, David?

Susan: Oh, look. David. a boot!

David: A boot!
Susan: Don't hit George, David!
David: I wasn't going to hit GEORGE!

Bringing Up Baby is one of the most perfect movies ever made and one of the funniest in history. It takes you on a hundred mile an hour ride from start to finish, and it doesn't slow down for anything. It is a true jewel, and is definitely worth the watch.


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