#88 Bringing Up Baby

Often considered the original romantic comedy, 1936’s Bringing Up Baby clocks in at #88 on the AFI list.

This was a hard one to summarize the action from, as there was so much happening in every scene and the gags are very visual, but here goes nothing:

At the Natural History, trying to assemble Brontosaurus bones.  They learn that the last bone that is needed has been discovered.  A zoologist (David) and his assistant, Alice Swallow, are going to get married but she encourages him to skip their honeymoon to finish his work.

Goes to meet a Mr. Peabody, who represents a wealthy philanthropist to try to raise money, but Mr. Peabody won’t talk business while golfing.  He runs into a young woman (Susan) who accidentally plays his ball and then proceeds to bang up his car in the parking lot, thinking it is hers.  She droves off with him clinging to the baseboard.

Later he goes to the restaurant to meet Mr. Peabody and trips on an olive that Susan Has dropped, ruining his hat.  She accuses David of following her and being fixated on her.  Lots of antics ensue – misplaced purses, torn suit jackets, torn dresses.  It is all pretty charming and funny.  He winds up missing up Mr. Peabody for dinner with all the craziness.

Susan learns he is engaged but takes him to see Mr. Peabody.She hits him the head with a rock while she is trying to throw a rock at his window to wake him up.

David tells Alice he never wants to see her again.

The next day he is trying to explain to Alice what happened the prior night, but it is confusing to her.  She says her brother brought her a live leopard, Baby, and asks David to come over.  He refuses.  She pretends the leopard is attacking her and he rushes over and learns she wasn’t attacked but the leopard is real.

She asks him to help her take the leopard to Connecticut but he refuses.  She has the leopard follow him down the street and he reluctantly agrees to make the trip.  She crashes into a wagon carrying chickens while she is distracted by the leopard.  The leopard eats a bunch of the chickens.

They stop at a small town to get meat for the leopard and while they are parked and Susan is having a conversation with a constable about being illegally parked, the leopard jumps to the next car.  She steals the car and takes off with David when he gets back with the meat.

They drop off the tiger in Connecticut and David takes a shower, but he can’t find clothes afterwards.  Susan’s Aunt Elizabeth come back while David is searching for clothes.  The dog takes the brontosaurus bone George has been carrying.

David learns that Aunt Elizabeth is the wealthy client that Mr. Peabody is representing and it is her million dollars that he has been trying to get.  He begs Susan not to tell her who he is as he has made a bad impression.  He learns the bone is gone.  They look for George, the dog, but he no longer has the bone.  George leads them to a buried boot rather than the bone.

George winds up meeting Major Applegate who has come for dinner.  Susan tells them his name is “Mr. Bone” and he is a hunter.  He keeps getting up at dinner to follow the dog, looking for the bone.

As dinner goes son, the barn keeper, Gogarty, a drunk, unknowingly lets the tiger out of the barn while looking for his booze.  Major Applegate is practicing his leopard calls and the leopard hears him and responds.  Gogarty sees the leopard and goes to get his gun and makes a ruckus.  Susan and David sneak off to find the leopard but  can’t.  Susan learns that the Leopard was intended for Aunt Elizabeth and she wonders why it hasn’t arrived.  David has already called the zoo to ask them to capture the leopard.

Major Applegate goes outside and does his leopard call again.  Baby comes, responding to the call.  Major Applegate gets Elizabeth to come back in the house without her seeing Baby.

Susan and David go looking for both George and Baby but wind up falling down a small cliff. They hear both Baby and George making noise.  They see them playing.  They try to cross the stream to get to them but it is too deep and George and Baby disappear.

While they are drying off, Susan tells George that Mr. Peabody is coming to see Aunt Elizabeth tonight.  George thinks this means the museum will never get the money.

At the circus in the small town they passed through, they are sending one of their leopards away after he mauled a trainer.  David and Susan see the leopard in the back of a truck and think it is Baby.

David distracts the guys by giving them confusing directions and Susan lets the Leopard out, so there are two leopards on the loose now.

Major Applegate is trying to hunt the leopard (we aren’t sure which one) but David and Susan stop him and explain that Aunt Elizabeth is expecting a tame leopard.  They split up to go look for the leopard, still not knowing there are two on the loose, one of which is dangerous.

Major Applegate finds the one from the zoo and attempts to catch it but it turns hostile and chases him away.

Susan and David argue and he tries to send Susan to go home but she breaks down in tears and he relents.  They find George and see a leopard on the roof of a neighbor (again, thinking it is Baby).  They try to sing to “Baby” but the leopard doesn’t respond.  David runs off to chase George.  The neighbors wake up and think Susan is crazy and force her into the house.  David is arrested after some passers-by think he is a peeping Tom.  They both wind up in jail next to each other.

They try to explain their story to the constable but he thinks they are lying to him.  Gogarty is brought to the same prison for drinking in a stolen car.  Aunt Elizabeth and Major Applegate arrive at the jail and the police think they are both con (wo)men and lock them up as well.  Susan pretends she is a mob asset and agrees to “talk” to the cops.  She says they are all part of “The Leopard Gang” and starts confessing to jewel heists and bank robberies.  While they are distracted, she sneaks out the window and steals a car.

Mr. Peabody and Alice show up together looking for Aunt Elizabeth and for David.  He vouches for Aunt Elizabeth and David and they are let out.

The guys from the zoo who lost the leopard show up at the police station to confess that they lost the leopard and George and Baby follow them in the door.  They figure out that there is a second leopard and that the leopard Susan is looking for is dangerous.

Susan catches the zoo leopard and drags it back to the jail.  George and Baby run into a cell to hide from the zoo leopard.  David forces the zoo leopard into a cell.  Alice ditches David and breaks the engagement.  Susan comes to see David at the zoo and brings the lost bone.  She also tells him that she has the $1 million for the museum.  She tells David she is in love with him.  David says he likes her too.  She falls off a ladder into the brontosaurus and collapses it.  They embrace and the film ends.

I had never seen the film before, but in watching it, you can see its extensive influence on the plot structure and devices of films as varied as There’s Something About Mary and Wu. The notion of the free-spirited, slightly crazy woman who turns the life and love of a slightly uptight guy upside is a classic plot line these days, but all those films own a debt of gratitude to Bringing Up Baby. It invented the genre. The gags are hilarious – mixing absurdity and sophistication. The chemistry between Hepburn and Grant is fantastic. Grant is the perfect straight-man and Hepburn is a fantastic trouble-maker. I’m not really a fan of this genre of films, but this is a brilliant piece of art and there is so much going on in every scene and so many physical gags that are beautifully timed, that this is worth a second and a third watch.

Minor critiques:

  1. Like I’ve been finding with a lot of films from the Golden Era, the movie is very light on sharing the characters back stories and it gives the characters a certain lack of depth.
  2. Like most films in the genre this movie invented, the romantic comedy, there isn’t a lot of depth of message or bigger meaning in any of this
  3. The payoff at the end is a little weak – not even a kiss? There is so much romantic build-up to just end with one more sight gag.

Overall, when a movie is still entertaining and worth rewatching 81 years later, it’s hard not to think that it deserves to be on the top 100 list. Bringing Up Baby is just fun entertainment, even if it birthed a genre that has had as many terrible films as it has good films.

Production Quality 8/10

Screenplay 8/10

Acting 10/10

Rewatch Value 8/10

Overall Score 34/40

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