Bringing Up Baby (1938)

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By Scott Ross

Merely a modest success in its original release, this whacked-out farce helped cement Katharine Hepburn’s reputation as “box office poison.” Yet it’s such an emblematic screwball comedy it inspired Peter Bogdanovich to make an homage, the underrated Streisand vehicle What’s Up, Doc? The plot involves a foxy/daffy Connecticut heiress (Hepburn), a repressed paleontologist (Cary Grant), a missing dinosaur bone (“The love impulse in man very frequently reveals itself in terms of conflict”), a “perfect little beast” of a dog, two spotted leopards and a bunch of assorted loons (chief among them Fritz Feld, the irreplaceable Charlie Ruggles, the peerless Barry Fitzgerald, and that great comic ninny Walter Catlett).

It’s one of three wild, absolutely essential, farces from Howard Hawks — the others are Twentieth Century and His Girl Friday — that both defined and exemplified what’s meant by screwball comedy. The pace is frenzied yet never forced, and nearly every sequence is a gem. Furthermore, it’s one of the most gloriously uninhibited romantic comedies ever made. Dudley Nichols and Hagar Wilde wrote the marvelously idiosyncratic screenplay.

This is the movie in which Cary Grant declaims that immortal line, “I just went gay, all of a sudden!”

Text copyright 2013 by Scott Ross

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