“It crept up on people; they weren’t told to laugh. And the more dangerous and the more exciting, the easier it is to get a laugh.” - Howard Hawks on Bringing Up Baby
Bringing Up Baby (1938) Movie Trailer
Bringing Up Baby - 1938 (Original Poster)
Released: February 18, 1938 Running time 102 minutes
Your leading man is a 34-year old actor with an odd accent who is now convinced he is too old to achieve the movie stardom he so richly desires.
Although your leading lady had already won one best actress Oscar and had been nominated for another, she had recently been voted “box office poison” in a poll of movie exhibitors.
To make matters worse, this was her first comic role and she seemed to have no sense of comic timing. You spend hours working with her on gags and timing. You bring in several veterans of vaudeville to refine her skills.
When you finally finish this film, it performs so poorly at the box office that RKO fires you from the next movie you were supposed to direct for them.
By the spring of 1938, Howard Hawks was probably pretty sick of his seemingly ill-fated screwball comedy. He blamed himself for the failure of “Bringing Up Baby.” As he later explained, the movie was too “madcap;” it lacked enough normal acting people to ground the action.But sometimes a movie is just ahead of its time.
Somehow, despite these obstacles, this quick paced tale of a mild-mannered scientist on the verge of marrying the wrong woman, a missing “inter coastal clavicle bone,” a flighty love-struck heiress, one tame leopard, one wild leopard, a mischievous dog, and a cast of bumbling, stumbling characters has managed to not only survive, but actually thrive.
Premiere magazine ranked poor old Cary Grant’s performance as mild-mannered Dr. David Huxley as #68 on their list of “100 Greatest Performances of All Time.” Katherine Hepburn’s flighty heiress, Susan Vance was rated #21 on their list of “100 Greatest Movie Characters of All Time.”
Entertainment Weekly ranked “Bringing Up Baby” number 24 on its list of greatest films. When the American Film Institute compiled its list of “100 Greatest Laughs,” it ranked “Bringing Up Baby” as number 14.
The National Film Registry of the United States Library of Congress chose this Howard Hawks “seemingly ill-fated screwball comedy” as one of the first 50 films they chose to preserve as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”Not a bad showing for a movie that was originally considered a flop.
Cary Grant, of course, went on to become one of Hollywood’s biggest stars and would work with director Howard Hawks in four other successful films. Katherine Hepburn stopped trying to be funny, and gained valuable comic training that would further expand her considerable acting repertoire. Despite her “box office poison” designation, she would go on to win three Best Actress Oscars in her lengthy career.
Howard Hawks would also survive the ordeal of “Bringing Up Baby” and would create more films that have since become classics. Despite the number of wonderful movies that were in his future, none of his creations would be as beloved in the next century than the one that cost him a job at RKO.
Director: Howard Hawks Producers: Cliff Reid and Howard Hawks
Screenplay: Dudley Nichols and Hagar Wilde
Music: Roy Webb and Jimmy McHugh
Cinematography: Russell Metty Editor: George Hively
By following the life and art of Howard Hawks one can capture the true essence of the Golden Age of Hollywood, as if slipping on special lenses that suddenly pull away the grain and glare to reveal an unforgettable time of Movie Magic.