Episode 14 of 52 from Anne Marie's series screening Katharine Hepburn's films in chronological order.
In which there is a leopard on your roof and it’s my leopard and I have to get it down and to get it down I have to sing!
Bringing Up Baby is a movie I’m honestly a little afraid to discuss. This golden Howard Hawks comedy about a befuddled professor (Cary Grant), a ditzy socialite (Kate) and a leopard (Baby), rightly occupies many “best of” lists. But while we all know the legend behind the film--troubled production, loses money, critically panned, “box office poison,” etc--the reality is a little less dramatic. Well, except the critically panned part:
“In Bringing Up Baby Miss Hepburn has a role which calls for her to be breathless, senseless, and terribly, terribly fatiguing. She succeeds, and we can be callous enough to hint it is not entirely a matter of performance.”
In March of 1938, New York Times film critic Frank S. Nugent devoted not one but two columns to eviscerating Bringing Up Baby. Though he was only one voice - Bringing Up Baby received mixed reviews both negative and positive - his vitriol cast a pall over the film’s reputation. It hurts my sense of justice that Nugent was allowed to say such terrible things about Hepburn and Bringing Up Baby, yet Kate never responded. I refuse to let that stand.
What follows are quotes from Nugent’s March 4th and 13th reviews (best read in the voice of Addison de Witt) with rebuttals taken from the film. After 76 years, Kate should get the last word.
MACHINES HAVE NO LEGS: But Miss Hepburn Has and Shows Them, To a Reviewer’s Utter Confusion
If we had paused for a moment to consider, we suppose we should have realized that she actually has legs, not just pedal wings or rollers with which to flutter or glide across a stage...
...It made us appreciate, for the first time, that Miss Hepburn was human. Before she had always appeared to us as a bundle of Forces not altogether under control. There was Nervous Energy, which expressed itself in ceaseless, half-formed gestures...
...there was Sound, which reached us as a prattle slightly off-key, as though the instrument needed tuning, and trilling off at the close of each sentence like a phonograph running down...
...and there was Pent-Up Emotion, which rarely stayed pent up but kept spilling out in all directions. Miss Hepburn, in brief, had impressed us as a perpetual emotion machine.
AND so we do not say that Miss Hepburn has made “Bringing Up Baby” the trying film it is. To create a picture that annoying is beyond the ability of one person; it must have been a collaboration.
Utter nonsense, in prolonged application, is likely to destroy the tissues of the brain, and if you do not feel erosion setting in after the first twenty minutes of RKO’s latest farce then you have more resistance than has this abject corner.
Of course, if you've never been to the movies, Bringing Up Baby will be all new to you—a zany-ridden product of the goofy farce school. But who hasn't been to the movies?
Ignore Mr. Nugent. What’s your favorite Bringing Up Baby line?
Previous Weeks: A Bill of Divorcement, Christopher Strong, Morning Glory, Little Women, Spitfire, The Little Minister, Break of Hearts, Alice Adams, Sylvia Scarlett, Mary of Scotland, A Woman Rebels, Quality Street, Stage Door,
Next week: Holiday - In which Katharine Hepburn is named Box Office Poison, which might be the best thing that could have happened to her. (Available on iTunes and Amazon)