A classic "screwball" comedy
You are about to see "Bringing Up Baby", a film from a genre that (with few exceptions) only exists in classic cinema - the Screwball Comedy. Most Screwball Comedies were made in the 1930s and early 1940s, and are usually fast paced romantic comedies, almost farcical, sometimes bordering on slapstick, and with a strong female protagonist. Several all-time classic films, including this one, are Screwball Comedies. This film didn’t do well at the box office when it was first released, but was later rediscovered, and has become an all-time classic, making many of the "Top 100 films of All Time" lists.
This film as with many films of the 1930s, has lavish sets, gorgeous costumes, and an escapist, romanticized storyline, transporting people to a different reality. These “escapist” films were one of the comforts for a wold that had just been hit by The Great Depression. It gave people a sense of hope watching characters succeed onscreen.
This film was directed by one of Hollywood’s greatest directors, Howard Hawks. He directed films of many different genres, MANY all-time classics including "Red River", "Scarface", "Rio Bravo", "His Girl Friday", "To Have and Have Not", "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes", and "Only Angels Have Wings", among many others. Numerous films of his will be recommended for you to watch, so you will definitely see his name here again.
“Bringing Up Baby” features two of the greatest screen legends of all time, Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant. This is the second pairing of Katharine (known widely as "Kate") and Cary. They made 4 films together, and at least one more will be recommended here. They are both actors you need to watch if you want to know about classic Hollywood films and great actors of the time.
Katharine Hepburn, who plays "Susan", is considered one of the greatest screen actors of all time (and my favorite actress). Often known as "Kate the Great", she was unique, outspoken, independent, wore trousers at a time when women didn’t, and was a movie star ahead of her time. She became an icon, and an inspiration for many women (and men) with her outspoken and seemingly fearless nature. She was discovered on Broadway in 1932, and when offered a contract at RKO Studios, she demanded $1,500 a week (unheard of for an unknown actress) which she ended up getting. She was unusual, not looking or sounding like anyone else on screen. She was a success in her early films, winning her first “Best Actress” Oscar for her third film, “Morning Glory”, and playing “Jo” in “Little Women”, one of her career stand out films and performances. She soon became regarded as one of Hollywoods greatest actresses. The public got tired of her in the late 1930s, and “Bringing Up Baby” came at a time when she was labeled “box office poison”. That changed about 2 years later, and she was never “box office poison” again. She was voted number 1 on the American Film Institute’s “100 Years...100 Stars” women's list of the "50 Greatest American Screen Legends”. Her film career began in 1932 and ended in the 1990s. As of the writing of this, she still holds the record for the most acting Oscar wins, having won 4 “Best Actress” Academy Awards (her first in 1934, and her last in 1981), with 12 nominations in total. “Bringing Up Baby” was her first comedy, and she would go on to make many, many more comedies. She and Spencer Tracy were one of the most famous movie screen duos, and made nine films together. They allegedly had a long, off-screen romance, while Tracy was married, which you now hear questionable things about (if their romance was fabricated to maintain their images, or if it was actually real). One quote by Kate that I love and I feel sums of her personality, is her response to the question “What is star quality”? Her answer (in her unique, unmistakable voice): “It’s either some kind of electricity or some kind of energy. I don’t know what it is, but whatever it is, I’ve got it!” She was in MANY great and classic films including "The Philadelphia Story", "The Lion in Winter", "Alice Adams", "Summertime", "The African Queen", "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?", "Adam's Rib", and many more, and you will definitely see several more of her films if you watch the films recommended in this blog.
Cary Grant, who plays "David", is one of the biggest and greatest film stars of all time (and is tied for first place for my favorite actor). With his good looks, debonair persona, class, and a distinctive transatlantic accent, he was often referred to as the "epitome of elegance," His screen persona encapsulated charm, style, and sophistication, and he was possibly THE definitive Hollywood leading man. It has been said that every woman wanted to be with Cary Grant, and every man wanted to be Cary Grant. A famous quote by Cary himself is: “Everyone wants to be Cary Grant. Even I want to be Cary Grant”. He was voted number 2 on the American Film Institute’s “100 Years...100 Stars” men's list of the "50 Greatest American Screen Legends”. He was born in Bristol, England, and had a very tough childhood. At a young age he was part of the Vaudeville circuit (which was basically a traveling series of different types of acts performed one after another in a theater - a most popular entertainment form before films), which eventually brought him to the United States. He performed acrobatics, juggling, and physical comedy, which later influenced his Hollywood persona. He soon had parts on Broadway, where Hollywood discovered him. His film career began in 1932, and ended in 1966 when he chose to retire from acting. He is mostly known for appearing in comedies, although he appeared in many different types of roles. He had a fantastic sense of comic timing, and a very natural way of acting. So natural, that I believe people took his skill for granted (no pun intended). He made it look so easy and effortless that people didn’t think he was acting. He worked with just about every major leading lady in Hollywood, and has appeared in countless classic films - many of which will be recommended on this blog. Just a few of the classics he appeared in include "His Girl Friday", "The Philadelphia Story", "North By Northwest", "An Affair to Remember", "Arsenic and Old Lace", "The Awful Truth", "Gunga Din", and "Only Angels Have Wings". He was married five times, and also had a reported secret on and off lifelong romance with actor Randolph Scott. Surprisingly, he was only nominated twice for an Academy Award, never winning. He awarded an honorary Oscar in 1970, for his body of work as an actor. He worked hard at crafting and perfecting his screen image, and his role in “Bringing Up Baby” (which was early in his career), playing an absent minded square type, is atypical for him.
The supporting cast is filled with fantastic character actors, several of whom you will see again in upcoming films. In particular are May Robson (who is wonderful in the part of "Aunt Elizabeth"), and Barry Fitzgerald as "Mr. Gogarty" (one of the few character actors to achieve star status, and he also won a “Best Supporting Actor” Oscar for "Going My Way"). Also of note is the dog in the film, Skippy, who plays “George”. Skippy (also known as Asta) appeared in many films in the 1930s, including “The Awful Truth” (also with Cary Grant), and his most famous roles being "Asta", the dog of William Powell and Myrna Loy in “The Thin Man” detective comedy films.
BRIEF INFORMATION ABOUT THE STUDIO SYSTEM
In the 1930’s for instance, over 300 films a year were produced by the Hollywood Studios. Studios were their own complete production line for making movies. Being a complete system from beginning to end, it enabled them to make a lot of films each year. They would employ (under contract) all the movie making personnel needed: carpenters, set designers, painters, actors, costume designers, seamstresses, hair and make-up personnel, musicians, choreographers, dancers, singers, directors, writers, editors, gaffers, continuity people, secretarial staff, and on and on… These people showed up to work each day, and were told by the studio which film to work on. They might build the sets for one film for a week, and then as soon as they finished that, would start on the next. A character actor might be told to do two days work on a film, and then told to do one day on the next, seven days on the next, and so on. There was even a schoolhouse at MGM Studios for child stars such as Elizabeth Taylor, Judy Garland, Lana Turner, Mickey Rooney. For the big stars, there was training in speech, horseback riding, acting, dance, singing, and on and on. If you were found to have “star quality”, and the audiences reacted to you well, the studios (and the actor) would create a persona, and do everything to maintain and further that persona. Everyone from Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn, to Marilyn Monroe, John Wayne, Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Greta Garbo, and so on, created a “star” persona that the public would recognize and want to see again and again. Hairlines were changed and colored, teeth were fixed or replaced, noses and cheekbones were fixed - everything was done to make the star look so beautiful and unreal, like from the heavens. If you were a star, the studio controlled all of your life - telling you what your next film would be, what time to show up, who to take to the premiere, who to be seen with, who not to date, and so on. They would control your publicity, and make sure to protect you from scandal. The studios were like a complete city unto themselves. Each studio owned its own chain of movie theaters, so there was guaranteed distribution for their films. Each studio had its own “personality”, and produced their own types of films, often specializing in a particular genre. I’ll mention that as we go along and see some of them.
YOU CAN STREAM OR BUY THE FILM ON AMAZON:
OTHER PLACES YOU CAN BUY THE FILM: Ebay
TO READ AFTER VIEWING (contains spoilers):
One of the classic lines from "Bringing Up Baby", is when "David" says to "Aunt Elizabeth" (explaining why he is wearing a woman’s negligee), “Because I just went gay all of a sudden”. The use of the word “gay” in this film is thought to be the first use of that word in a modern sense in a studio film. At that time the general public term "gay" meant "carefree" or "happy". However, it is believed that in the homosexual community at the time, the word “gay” was already used to mean homosexual.