Tuesday, October 4, 2011

"I've lost my Leopard, rilly I have. . ."

C'est magnifique posteur Fracais, non?

Bringing Up Baby may be the goofiest thing I've ever seen. It's so far removed from Reality as to be almost surreal; it's a Romantic comedy as seen through the eyes of Rene Magritte. And then to have Howard Hawks's name on it? That alone approaches a unique level of Bizarre.

When I think of Howard Hawks, I think of Bogart in a very fair adaptation of The Big Sleep. I think of Joanne Dru taking an arrow through the shoulder in Red River and hardly batting an eye. In a Howard Hawks picture, I expect the women to be hard-boiled and the men to be ten times larger than life. Bringing Up Baby is a side of Howard Hawks that causes my jaw to drop crazily like a cartoon character's. . . but then, Bringing Up Baby really is a live-action cartoon, isn't it?

Katherine Hepburn certainly plays with Cary Grant here the way Bugs Bunny plays with Elmer Fudd. I have to confess that I found her motivation pretty slim: love at first sight is a common Hollywood convention, but this takes it to a ridiculous extreme: Kate seems to have Grant in her sights before they even meet! On the other hand, my friend Flick Chick is crazy enough about Cary Grant that I can definitely see her going to the lengths Hepburn does to reel him in, but then Flick Chick has had years to adore Grant from afar, whereas we're expected to believe that Hepburn falls the absolute nanosecond that this silly little professor-man comes looking for his golf ball.

Susan Vance is quite possibly the most annoying Romantic Lead ever, and I believe that only Hepburn could have made it work. So irritating and headstrong is Susan that she needed to be magnificent and charming as well, and Kate -- all hair, silk and teeth, all in motion, all the time, even when she is still -- is just the ticket. When she swings on the jail cell door near the end of the picture, it seems as if she's floating on air.

In Mother Goose Goes Hollywood, one of the best cartoons ever to come out of the Disney studio, Katherine Hepburn is beautifully caricatured as Little Bo Peep. It's a gag that runs through the whole cartoon: "I've lost my sheep. Rilly I have." The cartoon is funnier (and so is Bringing Up Baby) when you see just how perfectly the Disney artists captured her.

Grant knocks this one out of the park, too. I'm actually growing to like him better as a comic actor than as a serious one. Although terribly put upon by Hepburn, Grant has innumerable opportunities to get away from her. D'you think he's not really trying that hard?

Charlie Ruggles is just a bonus. He can make me laugh with just a stammer.

But the bottom line with this picture is there's not much you can say about it except that in all aspects it's done wonderfully well. "Screwball" just completely sums it up. It's nutty in every way. If you want your comedies to make a lick of sense, this is not the one for you. That's probably why it flopped in its first release: there's no bottom, no ground to stand on. It's Kate and Cary doing Harpo and Chico.

-- Freder.

1 comment:

  1. All I can say is that if that bony nut tried to steal Cary from me, the leopard would have been wearing her! However, this is just a joyous little sip of cinematic champagne and well, that stuff does make one a bit giddy and silly. Real life is tough enough - it's fun to dream with dreamy folks! Glad you had a laugh or two.


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