Disclosure: This page contains affiliate links. If you purchase a product from one of our links, we could receive a commission from the seller. Rest assured, we only recommend products we believe in, and all opinions are 100% truthful. Learn More »

Classic screwball farce has never been equaled. 4.5 Stars

The quintessential screwball comedy, Howard Hawks’ Bringing Up Baby offers a unique rapid-fire farce that remains one of the great comic achievements of the 20th century.

Bringing Up Baby (1938)
Released: 18 Feb 1938
Rated: Passed
Runtime: 102 min
Director: Howard Hawks
Genre: Comedy, Family, Romance
Cast: Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Charles Ruggles
Writer(s): Dudley Nichols, Hagar Wilde
Plot: While trying to secure a $1 million donation for his museum, a befuddled paleontologist is pursued by a flighty and often irritating heiress and her pet leopard, Baby.
IMDB rating: 7.9
MetaScore: 91

Disc Information
Studio: Criterion
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Audio: English PCM 1.0 (Mono)
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 42 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: clear keep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: A
Release Date: 07/06/2021
MSRP: $39.95

The Production: 5/5

The quintessential screwball comedy, Howard Hawks’ Bringing Up Baby offers a unique rapid-fire farce so uproariously singular that its star Katharine Hepburn never tried such a performance again and which its other star Cary Grant used as further training for the farces to come in his career including His Girl Friday and Arsenic and Old Lace. The nuttiness wasn’t quite the flavor of the month when the film premiered in 1938, and it ultimately lost money, but it certainly plays like gangbusters now and remains one of the great comic achievements of the 20th century.

Paleontologist David Huxley (Cary Grant) is eager to receive a grant of one million dollars for the museum where he works, but in order to gain it, he must get on the good side of attorney Alexander Peabody (George Irving) who represents Mrs. Carlton Random (May Robson) who is donating the money either to the museum or to her scatterbrained niece Susan Vance (Katharine Hepburn). Susan and David have a series of accidental meetings that end disastrously for David, and Susan, guilty over fouling things up with David’s grant money, finds it imperative to do all she can to help David gain the trust fund, convenient since she’s fallen head over heels for him and despite her best efforts to help him, manages to mess things up between them while also entwining him in the search for his missing dinosaur bone and her pet leopard.

The screenplay by Dudley Nichols and Hagar Wilde is nothing if not zany with a cast of characters, apart from Mr. Peabody, so eccentric that the shenanigans that ensue by mixing them together in various groupings and situations can’t help but lead to hilarity. We have a befuddled brontosaurus expert, a flea-brained heiress, a rich but stern dowager, a stuttering ex-big game hunter, a rash constable, a pompous psychiatrist, an alcoholic gardener, a cagey wire-haired terrier, and two leopards: one tame and one not so, and you can be sure you’ll have a good time, especially when they all find themselves together, after many adventures over two days, crammed into a tiny cell block at a village police station as the various revelations begin to occur. Director Howard Hawks keeps things in constant motion (including lots of pratfalls and slapstick mishaps) from Grant and Hepburn’s hysterical meet-cute on the golf course where she plays his ball and refuses to listen to his various protestations straight through to Hepburn’s brilliant imitation of a dime store floozy/gun moll “Swingin’ Door Susie” in her efforts to escape from jail to continue her search for her leopard. From one strong set piece to the next (an elegant evening at dinner with ripped clothes and misplaced purses, Susan and David following the dog around a vast estate digging up the turf hoping to find his priceless dinosaur bone which the dog has buried, the couple attempting to traverse a “shallow” stream, endless choruses of “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love” which soothes the leopard Baby – hence the title). It’s all inspired lunacy.

Katharine Hepburn never attempted anything quite so comedically hectic again in her career, but her performance ranks her right up there among the screwball comedy greats: Carole Lombard, Irene Dunne, Rosalind Russell, and Claudette Colbert. Cary Grant plays against type at first with Harold Lloyd spectacles and a flummoxed demeanor when facing any type of minor conflict, but that Grant charm always smiles through the character as he holds his temper for as long as he can before he finally explodes when reduced to wearing a frilly negligée and forced to hide his identity in an attempt to get that million dollars. May Robson brings her no-nonsense starchiness to Aunt Elizabeth which makes her all the funnier when trying to make sense of the strangeness around her. Walter Catlett is a scream as the local town constable intent on getting to the bottom of what he thinks is the Leopard Gang, a desperate batch of crooks he has cleverly managed to jail. Barry Fitzgerald gets some laughs as the drunken gardener, and Charlie Ruggles earns his, too, as the sputtering big game hunter who can’t tell a leopard from a loon.

Video: 4/5

3D Rating: NA

The film’s 1.37:1 theatrical aspect ratio is faithfully rendered in this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Working carefully with the pitifully few decent film sources at their command, the restorers have done an admirable job in making this the best version of Bringing Up Baby yet seen even if there’s still inherent softness in some scenes and a stubborn hair or two that crop up and haven’t been digitally removed. Some of the night shots on Susan and David’s quest for Baby have a richness and crispness that are regretfully missing elsewhere, but the film-like grain structure is sustained throughout, and it’s wonderful that the missing little bit of Hepburn dialogue right before she jumps out the jailhouse window that has been absent from previous releases of the movie has been reinstated.

Audio: 5/5

The uncompressed PCM 1.0 (1.1 Mbps) audio mix brings solid fidelity to these very old recordings. Dialogue is clear and clean throughout the presentation, and the bits of music and the many sound effects have been combined most professionally. There are no problems with age-related artifacts like hiss, pops, crackle, and flutter.

Special Features: 5/5

Audio Commentary: filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich offers a routine commentary that’s part analysis-part film history, but a lot of uninteresting rambling doing feeble Howard Hawks impressions, laughing along with the film while making mistakes obviously showing he hadn’t watched the film in a while before beginning his recording, and doing a bit of self-aggrandizement noting his successful borrowings from the movie for his own What’s Up, Doc?

Creating Cary (18:32, HD): film historian Scott Eyman offers a video essay on the early show business career of Cary Grant.

John Bailey Interview (11:20, HD): the cinematographer discusses cinematographer Russell Metty’s black and white work on Bringing Up Baby.

Craig Barron Interview (12:40, HD): the film historian analyzes the numerous trick effects in the film masterminded by legendary special effects pioneer Linwood Dunn.

Howard Hawks: A Hell of a Good Life (56:37, SD): a 1973 documentary on the life of the great director by German director Hans-Christoph Blumenberg filmed one month before Hawks’ passing. In it, he discusses his introduction into the film business, some of his legendary work and the habits he developed to insure he’d be successful, and some various interactions with personalities such as John Wayne, Cary Grant, Carole Lombard, John Barrymore, Walter Brennan, and Lauren Bacall.

Shelly Foote Commentary (22:21, HD): the costume historian does a select scene audio commentary discussing some of the costume design choices for the film by former Paramount costume designer and later free-lance wardrober Howard Greer.

Cary Grant Interview (35:57) a 1969 audio Q&A session with the star after a screening of the movie.

Peter Bogdanovich-Howard Hawks Interview (15:01) an interview conducted between the two men in 1972.

Theatrical Trailer (2:20, SD)

Forty-Page Booklet: contains information on the audio and video transfers, a cast and crew list, a rich selection of stills, Hagar Wilde’s original short story “Bringing Up Baby” published in Collier’s, and an essay by critic Sheila O’Malley.

Overall: 4.5/5

Howard Hawks’ Bringing Up Baby is one of the great comic creations of movie history. Its eccentricities won’t appeal to all tastes, but if you’re in the mood for rooted zaniness (as opposed to the Marx Brothers’ unrooted brand of crazy) along with a batch of superlative bonus material, Criterion’s release should be right up your alley.

Post Disclaimer

Some of our content may contain marketing links, which means we will receive a commission for purchases made via those links. In our editorial content, these affiliate links appear automatically, and our editorial teams are not influenced by our affiliate partnerships. We work with several providers (currently Skimlinks and Amazon) to manage our affiliate relationships. You can find out more about their services by visiting their sites.

Published by

Matt Hough

editor,member

View thread (2 replies)

Matt Hough

Reviewer
Senior HTF Member
Joined
Apr 24, 2006
Messages
24,559
Location
Charlotte, NC
Real Name
Matt Hough
It looks as good as it can. As Robert Harris noted in his thread on the movie and as noted in the enclosed booklet, the materials they had to work with weren't stellar.