February 20, 2010

#88: Bringing Up Baby

What a lot we could all learn if we watched more movies from the 1930s. They just don't make em like they used to, do they? I'm sure there's modern examples of quick-banter comedies with two charm-for-miles stars, but off the top of my head I can't think of one. It's amazing to think that Bringing Up Baby was panned by critics and spawned a "box office poison" title for Katharine Hepburn, but over time it grew up and is now regarded as the quintessential "screwball comedy" of the 1930s. Surely most of the time, cinematic genius is understood in its own time -- what happened here? Was it just ahead of its time? How can 1938 audiences hate what we now revere? Maybe a change of perception? Who knows?

Company: for the first time, I really wished I had someone with whom to share this movie. I've watched movies alone before for this blog, but this was the first time I wished it could have been shared.

Cuisine: a Skinny Cow ice cream sandwich. 140 calories. Delicious, sweet and satisfying, just like the movie.

From this opening scene, you know the movie's going to be fun -- Cary Grant posed like Rodin's Thinker, really thinking hard about how to get that million dollars for his museum. I also found it interesting that the first set up -- soon-to-be-married man is much too whimsical for his fiance who is not the leading lady -- is very similar to Swing Time. In fact, it's basically the same. Thanks, 30s! Cary Grant is a paleontologist looking to secure a loan for his museum from a wealthy philanthropist who meets Katharine Hepburn on the day before his wedding, who happens to be the philanthropist's niece. The plot is too complicated to sum up, but it involves a dog, leopards (tame and wild), fancy negligees, very quick dialogue, singing, and a hell of a lot of slapstick.

She wasn't kidding about that leopard, Huxley!

Essentially, through Susan's (Hepburn's) machinations, we see Dr. Huxley wrapped up in her craziness until he (nor she) can figure out how they got in that deep, and by then it's too far gone to try to climb back out ... and at some point he just gives up and goes along for the ride. And so do we. Luckily along the way we treated to lines like "Jeepers! Let's get out of here!" "The intercostal clavical! It's arrived!" and "If he gets some clothes, he'll go away! He's the only man I've ever loved!" I actually like imagining that most if not all the lines of dialogue in this screenplay end in exclamation points. (!)

This film also has the distinction of being the first known contemporary usage of the word gay, not meaning happy, but meaning homosexual. Huxley loses his clothes (and by loses, I mean, Susan steals them and has them sent to the cleaners in order to stall Huxley's departure), leaving him to walk around the house in a skimpy negligee, and when the woman who owns the house (Susan's aunt) arrives home, she asks who he is and, apparently more importantly, why he's wearing those clothes. He leaps in the air and screams "Because I just went gay all of a sudden!" Supposedly this wasn't in the script -- it was an ad lib by Grant, who was rumored to be bisexual. Juicy gossip!

The zoo truck! They've got Baby!

Explaining or analyzing the film too much only lessens the experience of actually seeing it -- but isn't that how it would be with every film on this list, and maybe every film regardless? Perhaps it's just that the screenplay and the performances seem so manically genius, so wonderfully paced and so wildly funny, that it's hard to know exactly what to talk about. For a couple of other interesting reads, as well as historical context, look up the history of screwball comedy. I know a couple films from this genre made the list, so it'll be great to have this as a reference point, since I'm not too familiar with classic screwball. (Glad I'm totally okay with admitting I don't know things. Welcome to blog.) Also, the AV Club recently a nice little retrospective on the film, particularly about the gender roles that Grant and Hepburn fill, and a little blip about why screwball comedies like this worked then and not so much now.

Oh, David! Look what I've done!

Look what you've done, indeed, Kate. Nice going. But by this time, we as an audience are so blissful that they're together and so winded from keeping up with them running all over Connecticut that we're almost relieved the movie's over so we can catch our breath. I half-expected Grant to end in the same pose as he started, chin on fist, only slightly more exasperated and mugging the camera. "Aw shucks, I fell for her!"

A delightful little snack of a movie. Onto the next: #87 is Sidney Lumet's 1957 jury drama 12 Angry Men, which I just watched three or four months ago. That blog entry might be a little stunted because of that, but it's a good film all the same and I'm happy to see Henry Fonda take on Lee J. Cobb again.

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