Thursday, May 12, 2016

Bringing Up Baby for Hepburn's Birthday

By Steve Evans

Bringing Up Baby (1938), our film du jour, sets the gold standard for goofy laughs sparked by effervescent leads – Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn, born 109 years ago today.

The fiery Hepburn steals the show as a ditzy heiress, but more specifically portrays the kind of woman I’ve been attracted to all my life, which is to say witty, bright-eyed, fun-loving and half-crazy. Grant plays a perpetually perplexed paleontologist trying to recover a missing dinosaur bone (an "intercostal clavicle" if you must know) and instead gets caught up in misadventures with Miss Hepburn. Hijinks ensue and, yes, love can’t be far behind.

Director Howard Hawks didn’t invent the screwball comedy, but he damn-sure perfected it with this film. Peter Bogdanovich essentially remade the picture as What’s Up Doc? (1972), although Babs Streisand and Ryan O’Neal can scarcely compare to their predecessors.

Hepburn had already won her first Oscar when Bringing Up Baby was made and she’d go on to win three more. Her Academy Award-winning record still holds today. She married only once, in 1928, and slipped down to Mexico six years later to secure a quickie divorce. It’s well known that Spencer Tracy was the love of her life, though the alcoholic Tracy never divorced his wife, and he and Hepburn never lived together. For a legendary Hollywood love affair, it seems the romance was also tragic, as Hepburn described Tracy as “tortured” and she put her career on hold in the 1960s to care for him in the final five years of his life.

Fiercely independent and possessed of a wanderer’s spirit, Hepburn is widely credited as a proto-feminist before there was a word for such wonderful women. She also single-handedly popularized the wearing of pants by women in the 1930s.

Her work in Bringing Up Baby is nothing short of magical. This is unsurprising when we realize the script was written especially for her with dialog suited to her personality. Hepburn’s seemingly clueless character is such a pain in the ass it’s a testament to her charm that we love her, anyway, and root for Cary Grant to come to the same realization. Their destination may be inevitable, but the journey is absolutely hysterical. This is a great film; one of the finest comedies the cinema has given us. No babies were harmed in the making of this motion picture. Truth be told, the film features no babies in the traditional sense at all.

If life could be more like a movie, I would want to exist in this one.

Cinema Uprising copyright © 2016 by Steve Evans. All rights reserved.  

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