#97 Bringing Up Baby directed by Howard Hawks
Often times I go into a movie without doing background research because I feel it will hinder my viewing experience or give me an unwanted preconceived notion from someone else's negative or positive opinion. Usually, I even try to avoid reading the On-Demand description or the blurb written on the back of the box.
So when I sat down to view yet another Katherine Hepburn movie, Bringing Up Baby, co-staring Cary Grant, I expected some light romantic comedy where the two of them would be like a married (or divorced) couple who would be thrust into having a baby. Hepburn would be headstrong, cold and distant; Grant a hunk who got whatever he want. Pretty much I thought it would be a prequel to The Philadelphia Story.
First off, the movie itself is not a simple romantic comedy. Although a love story drives the story, this film is - as many agree - is one of the first and best screwball comedies of all time. The plot revolves around trying to lasso a leopard ("Baby") while at the same time keeping up a rouse that Grant is a big game hunter (he really is a paleontologist - even though the movie says zoologist) who just experienced a nervous brake down. Ridiculous situation follows ridiculous situation. The audience - even though they root for the couple - never really has a chance to catch their breath and realize they are being tricked into watching a romantic movie.
That fact may be help by the unromantic-ness of the characters. Grant, the consummate Hollywood heartthrob, is a big nerdy scientist. Stammering, awkward and socially inept, Dr. John Huxley is totally under the thumb of rich socialite Susan (Hepburn) and doesn't even know it. That's because Hepburn - although controlling - is just as clumsy and awkward as he. She is a silly, rich girl who sees a toy that she wants (the good doctor) and won't let his impending marriage to his prudish manager stand in her way.
This movie did initially did terrible at the box office and was the last film done at RKO Studios by Hepburn before she bought her contract out - a ballsy move to say the least. Helped by the advent of VCRs, DVDs and even a re-release in a newly colored version (there's Gilligan's Island old episodes like this, too) the film slowly gained recognition as a truly visionary comedy. Initial response, box office figures and critics' remarks are not a true way to measure the importance of a movie. Imagine if Hepburn and Grant's careers nose-dived after this? What would we do? Maybe Gigli should get another look then.
Another comment is the good deal stereotypes older movies have in them. This one depicts an alcoholic Irish gardener, a black driver, a brainy German psychiatrist and, worst of all, a frigid, decrepit, rich, old Protestant lady who screams "Well, I never!" a lot. Stock characters, sure, are important, but let's develop people at least a little bit.
My review of the candy-bar book will be out soon. The next movie will be #96 The Searchers.