Bringing Up Baby (1938): Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant Shine in Howard Hawks Screwball Comedy

One of the best and most lunatic screwball comedy made during Hollywood’s golden age,
Bringing Up Baby is expertly directed by Howard Hawks, co-starring Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn at their very best.

The screenplay was adapted by Dudley Nichols and Hagar Wilde from a short story by Wilde, which had appeared in Collier’ magazine on April 10, 1937.

Screwball comedies of the 1930s often started with a rich and sophisticated woman making a mess out of the life of a shy and innocent man.
This film starts with an heiress (played to the hilt by Katharine Hepburn) who has a dog, George, and a leopard, Baby.
Cary Grant plays a zoologist who has just acquired the bone he needs to finally complete his dinosaur skeleton. But George steals the bone, Grant and Baby chase each other around, and the dinosaur collapses to disastrous–and hilarious–effect.

Grant ends up with Hepburn–as Pauline Kael wrote, “no paleontologist ever got hold of a more beautiful set of bones.”

For some critics, Bringing Up Baby may be the American movies’ closest equivalent to a British Restoration comedy. Surprisingly not a hit when first released, the film is now considered the definitive screwball comedy and one of the fastest, funniest American films ever made.

The glorious cast includes Charles Ruggles as an explorer; Barry Fitzgerald as a drunk; May Robson as a dowager, Walter Catlett as a sheriff, and Fritz Feld as a frenzied psychoanalyst. George is played by Hollywood celebrity dog, Asta, of the Thin Man film series.

Director Hawks keeps the trifling nonsense in such an artful balance that you never have time to think about the Depression that surrounded the film when it was made.

Bringing Up Baby served as taking-off point for Peter Bogdanovitch’s 1972 comedy, What’s Up Doc, with Ryan O’Neal and Barbra Streisand.