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« Thoughts I Had... While Watching The "Lucy" Trailer | Main | Link of All Media »
Wednesday
Apr022014

A Year With Kate: Bringing Up Baby (1938)

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 DivorcementChristopher 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)

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Reader Comments (23)

David: Oh Susan you've got to leave this apartment!
Susan: But David I can't- I have a lease.

April 2, 2014 | Unregistered Commentertom

Well Nugent wasn't a fan obviously but in some fairness to him 1937 was a big year for screwball comedy and Bringing Up Baby was competing against Nothing Sacred, Topper and following Libeled Lady by a year among others, all classics of the genre so perhaps he had become jaundiced to the film's charms. It's also obvious that he wasn't a Kate fan so he was surely prejudiced walking in.

It had been a while since I had viewed the picture so I took another look at it this week in preparation for this. It's a frothy delight with perfect casting in every role, even the severe Miss Swallow (what a name!!), is delightful in her utter humorlessness. I am of the firm belief that while she and Spencer Tracy were great together the best onscreen partner Hepburn ever had was Cary Grant. Her edgy flightiness seemed to spark something in him that heightened his charm and sharpened both of their personalities.

My favorite part of the film has to be when they're in the poky little jail and she takes on the Swinging Door Susie persona and invents the whole leopard gang, Jerry the Nipper and so forth to the hilarious befuddlement of all. Although I think it was Grant that said their accomplices were Mickey the Mouse and Donald the Duck. Pure gold!

So looking forward to Holiday next week, not just one of my favorite Katharine Hepburn films but one of my favorite films overall.

April 2, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

"Now it isn't that I don't like you, Susan, because, after all, in moments of quiet, I'm strangely drawn toward you, but, well, there haven't been any quiet moments."

You have given me a precious, precious gift today. This is just one long, long line of right-click-saves. I can't wait to reduce all my communication exclusively to Bringing Up Baby gifs.

I LOVE THIS MOVIE.

April 2, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMargaret

Grrrrrrr! My first posting disappeared somehow so here I go again. Apologies for a double posting if the ether of the internet decides to give it back.

Well obviously Nugent was not a fan but in fairness 1937 was during the screwball comedy mania which saw the release of Nothing Sacred and Topper and the previous year's Libeled Lady among others, all classics of the genre so perhaps he was looking at it with jaundiced eyes. However it's also apparent that he didn't like Kate and watched the film with at least a prejudice against her from the get go.

I enjoy her films with Spencer Tracy but I firmly believe that the best onscreen partner she ever had was Cary Grant. Her edgy flightiness brought out marvelous qualities in him and seemed to make his charm even more endearing. They sharpened each others personalities and excepting Sylvia Scarlett where he's very good and she's average their films together contain some of their respective best work.

I hadn't seen the film in a while so I gave it another look last week in preparation for this. While the whole thing is a daffy delight with faultless work by every performer even those in the smallest roles, Miss Swallow is hysterical in her utter humorlessness, it was easy to pick my favorite part of the film. It's when they're in the rinky dink little jail and Kate adopts the Swinging Door Susie persona. Her breezy air, the befuddlement of everyone surrounding her, making up the story about Grant being Jerry the Nipper, although I think he's the one who says their accomplices are Mickey the Mouse and Donald the Duck, and the lunacy of the entire scene is pure gold.

Looking forward to Holiday next week. More than being one of my favorite Hepburn films it's one of my favorite films overall.

April 2, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

"Because I just went GAY all of the sudden!"

Love love love this movie.

April 2, 2014 | Unregistered Commentereurocheese

"Well, who are you?"
"I don't know. I'm not quite myself today."
"Well, you look perfectly idiotic in those clothes."
"These aren't my clothes."
"Well, where are your clothes?"
"I've lost my clothes!"
"But why are you wearing these clothes?"
"Because I just went GAY all of a sudden!"

April 2, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

David: Oh Susan, you've got to get out of this apartment!
Susan: But David I can't- I have a lease.

April 3, 2014 | Unregistered Commentertom

This film is one of the funniest things I've seen and what's crazy is that it's from 1938.

Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant's performances in the film are universally regarded as some of their best work ever and if you watch the film you understand why. Both are effortlessly funny. The whole thing somehow holds up perfectly.

David Huxley: You don't understand: this is *my* car!

Susan Vance: You mean *this* is your car? *Your* golf ball? *Your* car? Is there anything in the world that doesn't belong to you?

David Huxley: Yes, thank heaven, YOU!

April 3, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterYavor

Is something up with the comments? I posted one last night, which never appeared, and I can't believe no one else has posted yet.

April 3, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

"Now it isn't that I don't like you, Susan, because, after all, in moments of quiet, I'm strangely drawn toward you, but, well, there haven't been any quiet moments."

You have given me a great gift with this post. This is just one long stream of right-click-saves, Excuse me while I strategize how I can replace all my communications with just gifs from Bringing Up Baby.

I LOVE THIS MOVIE

April 3, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMargaret

this is my favorite Hepburn. I'm shocked to think people didn't like it back then but it just goes to show you you never know how something is going to age.

April 3, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I love this series, I love this movie, I've seen it a milllion times, and I could quote it all day. I was born on the side of a hill! My favorite Hepburn is a close call between this and The Philadelphia Story, but in terms of pure joy, I don't know how you could top Bringing Up Baby.

April 3, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterTB

Well obviously Nugent was not a fan but in fairness 1937 was during the screwball comedy mania which saw the release of Nothing Sacred and Topper and the previous year's Libeled Lady among others, all classics of the genre so perhaps he was looking at it with jaundiced eyes. However it's also apparent that he didn't like Kate and watched the film with at least a prejudice against her from the get go.

I enjoy her films with Spencer Tracy but I firmly believe that the best onscreen partner she ever had was Cary Grant. Her edgy flightiness brought out marvelous qualities in him and seemed to make his charm even more endearing. They sharpened each others personalities and excepting Sylvia Scarlett where he's very good and she's average their films together contain some of their respective best work.

I hadn't seen the film in a while so I gave it another look last week in preparation for this. While the whole thing is a daffy delight with faultless work by every performer even those in the smallest roles, Miss Swallow is hysterical in her utter humorlessness, it was easy to pick my favorite part of the film. It's when they're in the rinky dink little jail and Kate adopts the Swinging Door Susie persona. Her breezy air, the befuddlement of everyone surrounding her, making up the story about Grant being Jerry the Nipper, although I think he's the one who says their accomplices are Mickey the Mouse and Donald the Duck, and the lunacy of the entire scene is pure gold. Not only are Kate and Cary super but Charlie Ruggles and May Robson make a great team in support.

Looking forward to Holiday next week. More than being one of my favorite Hepburn films it's one of my favorite films overall.

April 3, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

David Huxley: You don't understand: this is *my* car!
Susan Vance: You mean *this* is your car? *Your* golf ball? *Your* car? Is there anything in the world that doesn't belong to you?
David Huxley: Yes, thank heaven, YOU!

this film is one of the funniest things in the world, the best part is that it's more than 70 years old! Only proves how fucked an opinionated asshole (with money, who writes) can be.

If I had the power to redistribute Hepburn's 4 Oscar wins in accordance to merit and quality, I'd say that's definitely one of her wins.

April 3, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterYavor

The unanticipated bonus of writing this post is that I now have an entire folder of gifs from Bringing Up Baby, meaning that I can finally fulfill my lifelong dream of communicating entirely in Katharine Hepburn quotes.

Actually, I didn't include my favorite quote in the post:
Susan: "He's three years old, gentle as a kitten, and likes dogs." I wonder whether Mark means that he eats dogs or is fond of them? Mark is so vague at times.

Also, in all fairness to Nugent, he was the writer of The Searchers, so he's not a total snob.

April 3, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAnne Marie

I probably watch this movie, at least in parts, at least once a year. I've seen it on the big screen and the small screen. As far as I can tell, it is universally liked by everyone who has seen it. How amazing that people dismissed it when it came out.

Honestly, I've never really understood that. Were people reacting to Kate playing such broad comedy? You'd think people who hated Quality Street and The Little Minister would love to see her taken down a notch in this movie. And Cary Grant? I mean, come on. He's perfection.

I read somewhere that the director felt he hadn't put enough "realness" in the movie. But I think that Cary Grant is the everyman caught in the middle of the swirl, so I don't really go for that.

Speaking of Cary Grant, his famous "gay" line wasn't in the script. It is allegedly an ad-lib by Cary in the moment. And I also think it is the first use of "gay' in the movies or anywhere else really, to be used in the mainstream. Very few people were using it in the 30s. Hmm, maybe that's where all the Cary & Randolph rumors got stated? ...

April 3, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDave in Alamitos Beach

Dave, of all the reviews I read of Bringing Up Baby, almost none of them had a bad word to say about Grant. Even the reviewers who hated the film (save for Nugent) liked Grant in it.

As for Kate, if they disliked her it was precisely because she was being taken down a peg. Here's the LA Times reviewer's take on it:

It seems that almost any star, including Irene Dunne, Carole Lombard and Myrna Loy may attempt antic comedy and make a go of it, but that medium is not for Miss Hepburn in the theater where she is accepted as an important dramatic artist.

Damned if you do, damned if you don't I suppose.

April 3, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAnne Marie

@Dave:

Bringing Up Baby was released in '38, and Cary & Randy moved in together around '32, so I think the rumors started before the film.

They "roomed together" until '44, even though Randy was married once during that time and Cary twice.

April 3, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

A tie:

"Young lady, I'm not losing my temper. I'm merely trying to play some golf."
"Well you pick the funniest places. This is a parking lot."

"He's three years old, gentle as a kitten, and likes dogs. I wonder if that means he eats dogs or is fond of them. Mark's so vague at times."

April 3, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAdam

ADORE this film and everything Hepburn (and Grant) do in it. But my favorite just may be the way she says, "At the sound of the tone, the time will be..." along with the entirety of the scene in the jail cell.

April 3, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

Greatest. Comedy. Of All Time.

And this might also be my favourite Hepburn performance. Certainly I'd argue it was Grant's best.

I'm aghast at how polarising this film remains with the general public however. I meet so many people who say they hate it. (Of course, I cease all contact immediately.)

April 4, 2014 | Unregistered Commentergoran

Yep, it's definitely "I just went GAY all of a sudden."

I say it all the time.

April 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDeborah Lipp

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