Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Bringing Up Baby

When Kate accepted the role of Susan Vance in Bringing Up Baby, she’d not done anything like it before. During rehearsals she committed the rookie mistake of overplaying the comedy, and it wasn’t until days in Hawks got her to become a little more subdued and underplay. Up to that point in her career, she was known for drama and yet today the most incidental of Hepburn enthusiasts remember her as a comedienne. Bringing Up Baby is the type of comedy of error film that becomes more ridiculous and convoluted as the minutes continue. It is precisely this state of ostensible confusion that makes it such a brilliant comedy. Grant was already on his to being established as a comic genius, but Bringing Up Baby is atypical. It’s unusual seeing Kate playing the zany one while Cary plays calm, but thus is the state of affairs. Grant’s paleontologist is hoping to attain a grant that may never come and Hepburn’s heiress just seems bored out of her wits, add that to a tame tiger who just happens to end crossing paths with an undomesticated one, add in an officious dowager aunt and a sage but not too bright doctor and Bringing Up Baby ends up being a film of comic truisms, but avoids it all because there’s nothing clichéd about it.
There’s something strange that the film is called Bringing Up Baby. The scenario of this untamed tiger that happens to have a penchant for “Can’t Give You Anything Love” is almost too ridiculous for words, and Susan’s initial coldness juxtaposed with her almost immediate silliness is much too strange for words. A scene as simplistic as a stone to a window turning into a stone on someone’s head are funny – if only because it is expected of us – but it’s Kate and Cary’s subsequent reactions that make it notably hilarious. And yes, even though Susan exists as a quick-witted (but yet strangely absentminded) young lady Kate is always careful not to lay it on too thick. This isn’t Tracy Lords who revels in her pedestal; Susan is simplistic enough to believe she’s behaving normally. Or she’s so caught up her games she’s convinced herself that’s it normal – either way, it’s the same thing. This measured against Cary’s almost painful reticence (in the first half hour at least) is just too obviously funny for us not be charmed, and yet Hawks doesn’t go about it being completely unsubtle.
But it’s getting to the country house that really gets the ball rolling. Not that the film was on poor ground before, but if before was golden we now enter platinum range. Even as the film has Cary putting on women’s clothing or Kate behaving particularly crazy. We have enough of a payoff to forgive them their slight errors. Even jokes that are not particularly clever like that old stalwart's incessant attempts at imitating the beast. It becomes so rote that the humour is not the coincidence but what becomes the joke is that no one else seems to be getting either. It’s like the finale in the jail room that sometimes make me gnash my teeth and roll my eyes even as I laugh. Hawk just likes to pull our legs and yet the perversion of seeing all our characters in jail is still funny, even when it’s just wrong. It’s not called screwball for nothing. It’s exactly where Bringing Up Baby is better than many of its contemporaries. Hawks is probably going on the notion, all or nothing – and we run the full gamut of ridiculousness that’s also deliciously savoury. This happens all the while as Kate and Cary go around adlibbing, wading in pools and mistaking tigers. It happens all the while as we get taken in again and again by an old woman and her strange dog, and it’s probably the very reason that Bringing Up Baby took so long to find its appreciation in Hollywood. But who cares? It’s easily one of the decades greatest.
No, the day cannot pass without me paying proper tribute to Kate the Great...and giving you LINKS
Simon has a face-off between Kate and Chuck Norris...this could be one for the books
Nick offers up an excellent review of Kate in Summertime...I was going to write about this, but I'll let the dust settle on this before I do...intimidated much
Oooh, Katie got a stamp of her own, Ivan informs us
Anna watches Bringing Up Baby for the first time, she doesn't exactly love it...


Luke said...

Oh my goodness. I'm overjoyed.
I can't quite describe just how much I love this movie - and you gave it its due credit! I agree that half the fun is in the leads' reactions to the zany antics, and Hepburn and Grant have amazing chemistry. I've got to say, though, that though entirely flat-out screwball, the jail house scene is my favorite.... "Vaunce, kiddie, Vaunce..." :)

(Also, I'm afraid to read that last link out of worry that it'll deeply sadden me.)

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

luke glad you like it. so glad you do.