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Full conversation about "Bringing Up Baby" at the NewYorker Movie Facebook Club

Richard Brody shared a link.
I'm obsessed with Bringing Up Baby, which is on TCM at 6 PM (ET). It's the first film by Howard Hawks that I ever saw, and it opened up several universes to me, cinematic and otherwise. Here's the story. I was seventeen or eighteen; I had never heard of Hawks until I read Godard's enthusiastic mention of him in one of the early critical pieces in "Godard on Godard"—he called Hawks "the greatest American artist," and this piqued my curiosity. So, the next time I was in town (I… I was out of town at college for the most part), I went to see the first Hawks film playing in a revival house, which turned out to be "Bringing Up Baby." I certainly laughed a lot (and, at a few bits, uncontrollably), but that's not all there was to it. I had never read Freud, but I had heard of Freud, and when I saw "Bringing Up Baby," its realm of symbolism made instant sense; it was obvious to me that Hawks was saying a lot that he wasn't saying, and that the way he did so was as revealing about psychology and about the very nature of artistic expression as it was about the particulars of the story. So I became an instant Hawksian, an instant Freudian, and I saw immediately why Godard would express such uninhibited enthusiasm for Hawks's films and all the more for Hawks's system of thought.

The enduring fascination of this 1938 screwball comedy is due to much more than its uproarious gags. Having already helped launch the genre, the director Howard Hawks here reinvents his comic voice, establishing archetypes of theme and…
Carol Lloyd Neill One of my top 10 favorite movies of all time. It never gets old.
Raquel Herrera Same here
Roberta Smoodin "i just went gay all of a sudden!" or something close to that--love it.
hepburn at her most delightful. and that dog--and his intercostal clavicle! great great movie!

Richard BrodyGroup Moderator That's the moment I almost fell out of my chair.
Patrick McEvoy-Halston
Patrick McEvoy-Halston It's a funny moment. Came out just before the war, where a generation of men displaced out of being providers, would make sure they'd never subsequently be in a position to be mistaken for those abdicated out of masculine roles.
Maurice Yacowar
Maurice Yacowar On my first intro film courses I always ran a month or so of Hawks films to cover intros to the various genres and the auteur theory at the same time. He is so good and so much fun. Much prefer him over Ford.
Roberta Smoodin ford couldn't make a screwball comedy to save his own life! and you're right, not much fun, though i do love some of his work. hawks had so much more breadth!
Paul Cunningham Comedy is a big part of lots of Ford's films.

Mary Rosandich So funny. Such a great cast!
Nina Berry That scene where they sing "I Can't Give You Anything But Love, Baby," with the leopard yowling on the roof, and the dog barking along... never fails to make me hoot with laughter. But then most of the scenes in this amazing movie to that!
David Kaiser Yes, I put that scene in my compilation.
Elizabeth R. Shafer Love this movie!
Avneet Sharma I absolutely loved this movie!! It redeemed Cary Grant for me after his terrible character in His Girl Friday.

Avneet Sharma To clarify, I'm not saying that Cary Grant is a great actor, I just HATED his character in His Girl Friday and I'm still unsure if he was supposed to be unlikeable.
Roberta Smoodin to me, one of the great things about cary grant was that he was so willing to portray unlikeable characters--such as in his girl friday, and especially notorious.
Lisa Maniaci Oh! Notorious
Nina Berry I think Cary Grant was a great actor. Witness the range just between these two Hawks-directed movies - manipulative uber-sharp newspaper editor to bumbling naive paleontologist. Completely convincing each time. And hilarious.
Elizabeth Lloyd-Kimbrel Oh dear. I love "His Girl Friday" -- and especially the Bellamy-Grant interplay! Plus the fact that Roz Russell could rapidly articulate as good as Grant!

Dan Eades The list of great screwball comedies by Hawks is long: Twentieth Century, Ball of Fire, Monkey Business, His Girl Friday, I Was a Male War Bride, and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (a musical, but also a screwball comedy) are not only among my favorite comedies, they are also among my favorite movies. And Hawks, along with Hitchcock, is surely among the best Hollywood directors of all time.
Janice Delaney Stearns Three out six with CG...he was terrific!
Richard BrodyGroup Moderator Also, Man's Favorite Sport?, with its Bringing Up Baby quotes, and the opening scene of A Song Is Born, his greatest comic set-piece.
Howard Hawks worked in so many genres for…
Paul Cunningham 'Only Angels Have Wings' deserves a mention.
Janice Delaney Stearns Paul Cunningham Baranca! Also, CG~
Darren McRoy I just like this film for the handsome leopard! :3 ... okay, Cary and Katharine are pretty great, too.
Peter Nilsson I have never seen that movie and I'm very sad about that.
Stephen Sposato A personal favorite. I watched it again on my birthday recently and was thrilled to find it still makes me laugh so hard.
Janice Delaney Stearns Hysterically funny - top 10 for me!

Janice Delaney Stearns And Charlie Ruggles and May Robson - perfection!
Ken Eisner One of my all-time faves.
David Kaiser i feel the same way and I will never forget the wonderful afternoon that I saw it for the first time with my first wife. Incidentally, in an interview with Bogdanovich, I think, Hawks said that he thought he had made a mistake by making EVERYONE in the movie (except perhaps Grant's financee) nuts. Believe it or not, the original release flopped. But I don't agree with him at all. I think that's a great thing about the movie.
Gay Pauley I can't agree that Grant's fiancee wasn't nuts--didn't she imply she wouldn't have sex with Cary after marriage? ๐Ÿ˜Š
Janice Delaney Stearns And Barry Fitzgerald - Gogarty (sp?) definitely nuts!
Gay Pauley I love the whole movie, but for me their interaction on the golf course, when she plays his ball and drives his car, is hard to top. Hepburn's line delivery and Grant's befuddlement are priceless.
Nina Berry And how she effortlessly sinks that 20 foot putt! Hawks loved using actor's natural gifts and Kate was quite the athlete. "I'll be with you in a minute, Mr. Peabody!"

Patrick McEvoy-Halston She's just exasperating at that point, an affliction. Somewhere in the film you feel their relationship more evens out. I hope it's not the part where he stomps on her foot and successfully shuts her up. It might be though. He cows everyone around him in that scene. Respect.

Barbra Bohannan I think I've loved this film since I was a toddler. I keep subconsciously quoting from it all the time but, alas, am surrounded by non-believers who simply stare bemusedly at me. Happy to be in such great company here!
David Kaiser Yeah, I've had trouble with them too.. .
Madeline Brown Greer Yes, it’s good to be among our Bringing Up Baby nation!
Mikaela Kindblom I saw it as kid on television and remember how much I laughed and loved it. At the time I probably liked the idea of having a beautiful wild cat as a pet. Later I was surprised at how free spoken the film is, with all the crazy people running about and Cary Grant in a neglige. It's the kind of movie you like to revisit at different times in your life - like all great films it contains both change and has a life of its own.
Madeline Brown Greer “I cahn’t give u any thing but love, Baby....”. Love that movie!
Madeline Brown Greer Mr. Bones - ๐Ÿ˜…

David Kaiser Mr. Bone, I believe.

David Kaiser Hawks also said, by the way, that the shooting was a nightmare. The animals were very hard to direct!

Patrick McEvoy-Halston Avneet Sharma: If Justice League is any indication, we'll probably see a lot more male characters you like. Cary Grant in that movie never really gets a handle on Katharine Hepburn... his saying he's in love with her in the end almost comes as an act of self-defence, a defensive spell cast, making it seem as if he's got a handle on everything she can apply onto him (a wild pretence!). For momentarily she is induced into being grateful, or playing being grateful, that is, as if she was at his mercy, his control: and this is a predictable routine, required on her part so that she's not just a phallic woman but a feminine one at source, that gives him a moment where he knows exactly what he'll have to face with her; he can relax. It's a funny thing in this movie. I'm sure the idea is that Cary Grant is supposed to actually need Katharine Hepburn/Susan, for she's the wild, the sex, he's not going to get in his married life with his due wife. But the movie doesn't play out this way in actuality. From the start, his upcoming marriage is about a career of peace and stability, with her (Alice, his determined and stern due wife) the guardian of it, more than anything else. We never have a sense, really, other than his questioning about lack of sex and lack of babies (which is not a big admittance, given that he never in the movie seems one to want to stick to an act of command more than momentarily), that he wouldn't be content with that. He's got stability, and she's the formidable shield that'll keep away all intruders (which is, incidentally, the married life the sex-addict John Updike wished for and got with his second wife... just by the by.) If this sounds horrible to you, just imagine you're a Depression age individual watching a film where the ostensible despised state is someone promised that -- stability, with a fierce shield of a woman protecting it -- rather than a merry-go-round life with an unpredictable nutter, who's a source of instability to the guarantee that any act you initiate will go as planned (sound like Depression life, anyone?)... any act, including ensuring that one step you take follows another as planned, rather than it being subverted to your somehow falling on your ass, and who can only be waylaid, or perceived as perhaps being somewhat waylaid/managed, if you've got a quip ready each and every time she interrupts your nervous system's plans for initiated synapse to actually follow through with its ostensibly inevitable predetermined follow through.

About Justice League... yeah, this spot Cary Grant finds himself in is basically where each character other than Superman is with Wonder Woman. It's the idea behind there being so many male members of the team... the load can get distributed, so Aquaman can feel the relief after he gets subverted against course by her in knowing he's not due for another round for awhile... now's for Cyborg to feel not like a spy but a caught-out perv, and impossible-to-catch Flash to feel like an infant swaddled in arms, however ostensibly gleeful about it, and Batman to feel like a leader who's stuck in dated ways so has to relent to ....

I will say, though, that the extended scene where Cary Grant finds himself at dinner is something Susan leads him to that is an empowering treat for him: he's constantly interrupting people's talk to get up and chase after that dog... who's his lead to the lost dinosaur bone. Amidst the matron at the table and the ostensibly patriarchal big-game hunter, he never loses the ability to keep in mind his original purpose, which is abstract to this Alice-in-Wonderland turnabout in his life, and can be imagined vicariously enjoying his ability to so readily unsettle his fellow dinner guests' expectations of him... play the part of Susan, for awhile, in a sense. Susan set this up, but he can pretend he's in on it too. Two wild agents, rationally causing what amounts to disturbed expectations, chaos, for others.

So maybe the end would be more satisfying is if somehow an ideal could be constructed. His due wife Alice would remain with him as a shield, a protection against inanity and intrusion, and Susan would be equipped as a weapon, something he could unleash against others if his shield failed him and he found himself amongst domestic types -- mothers and fathers -- and domestic situations he has no business as an adult falling back into. She's great for that kind of dire emergency... absolute chaos for use and cover. As an analogy, Susan is first caught site of what the war will soon offer Americans... humiliating, un-manning adult reliance on the like of welfare and parental support to survive, has to meet with what war will confront it with in its requiring the instant subversion of estimations of men as assured dependents, into their surely being something else entirely -- warriors who can ride the war wind.

Mikaela Kindblom What a marvelous piece of criticsm!

Patrick McEvoy-Halston Mikaela Kindblom Thank you very much, Mikaela.

Janice Delaney Stearns The casting was exquisite~!

Esmenia Dibble Wow, I'm such an innocent. All I saw was a madcap comedy with overrated Katherine Hepburn.

Maria Soto I've always thought of this movie as a masterpiece. I also love What's Up, Doc.
David Kaiser Yes. Streisand really rose to the occasion. O'Neal, on the other hand, is NOT Cary Grant.

Unah Choi That scene where the back of her dress comes off...๐Ÿ˜‚

Janice Delaney Stearns Funniest funniest funniest...laughing just thinking of them walking along!

Lorri Zipperer One of my favs too...has been for years - Love Grant and Hepburn together -- I think of it often when I consider how I really don't enjoy today's RomComs (in general) but love this movie. Can anyone help tease out the difference?

Mikaela Kindblom You are on to something here. I often feel lost and sad while watching today's romcoms. Has it something to do with the way failure and humiliation are depicted? I remember especially a romcom with Sandra Bullock where she played the successful career woman who had to demean herself in marriage in order to keep her job. A surprisingly evil version of a very old story. The film is The Proposal. I never see this kind of violence in the old screw ball comedies.

Cindy Bailey Saxl Agree! I have often thought about this, too. In Bringing Up Baby and other old screwball comedies, it seems to me the couple surrenders to love and to each other, foibles and all. It's satisfying to see acceptance and joy in the resolution of the story. Some of todays romcoms can be awfully cynical at their core. When the credits roll, we're often left without much confidence in a happily-ever-after.

Patrick McEvoy-Halston Cindy Bailey Saxl Pretty much his last comment to Susan is, "I'm afraid of you," as he launches himself up the skirts of a dinosaur to escape her. I'm reminded of the episode of Cheers where Diane can't be convinced she and Sam aren't made for one another... aren't the most ill-matched couple the world has ever seen.

Cindy Bailey Saxl Patrick McEvoy-Halston Yes, then he admits that the day spent with Susan was the best one of his life. They declare their love for one another, the dinosaur collapses & they collapse in each other's arms--all with that delicious sexual subtext. Painting with a very broad brush here: would a line like "I'm afraid of you" in a contemporary rom-com come across with that sweet subtext, or would we be primed for a machete to come out from behind the pillow? As Mikaela Kindblom says above--is it about the way failure and humiliation are depicted? Generally, the typical denouement today doesn't seem quite as satisfying.

Patrick McEvoy-Halston Cindy Bailey Saxl The dinosaur collapsing wasn't sexual subtext, but portent of the wreck she'll make on his future life. She is a predator. She's manipulative, coercive, she induces him into a dependent relationship with him ([now that i've destroyed it] you want your future and your money, I'm the rich girl with all the contacts...), she's indifferent to the possible harm she does to others when they're in way of her desires (think of how automatically she subverts Susan). It was brave of him to say he was scared of her, and wrong of her to ignore his honest expression and push past this until he takes second choice and pretends he had a great time with her, i.e., that at any moment he might have been co-conspirator with her rather than essentially always at her mercy. He marries her only to salvage a momentary sense of self-command. He's a #metoo victim of her.

Cindy Bailey Saxl Interesting perspective, well stated. Why don't you give a go at Lorri's original question? For many of us, it's a favorite, and far more enjoyable than most modern romcoms. Since you apparently don't care for it much, to what do you attribute its lasting appeal?

Patrick McEvoy-Halston For sure... because I did offer what I knew even for me was a one-sided account. Let me work at it. I CAN tell you now that both she and Grant are party to a level of awareness, of TRUTH, that no one seems to share... they draw us in to the psychopathology of everyday life where, for instance, forgoing children for a career can seem an irrational placement of sterility (dinosaur bones) over the living, where a game for the staid -- golf -- invites irrationality (a poor placed shot on your hole -- a normal occurrence -- does amount to a well-placed one on an adjacent one, and if it's first hole that'll mean onto the 18th, where any quarrel that occurs -- and it's easy to imagine what that might be if the golfer you're querying is a good one, as she is -- will carry on so will be to the parking lot, a parking lot where all the cars seem about the same so just getting it close would seem to be about the normal expectation rather than gross error, and so doing "normal" would lead to theft, a theft you can't let stand so you'd refuse to get off the car, and so you wave goodbye to your boss, still on the first hole, as you vanish off "crazily" into the distance), where formal events where proper decorum are the expectation and everyone is rich and in similar attire, invite mistakes which'd bring disaster (swapped black purses, one holding precious jewelry), and where torn clothing invites not measured response -- grace -- but quite genuinely catastrophic consequences, where throwing rocks at a window to get attention is revealed as always bizarrely close to perpetrating a displaced violent act, where a leopard in the bathroom isn't ridiculous but a vivid articulation of walking on into a bathroom is in our culture (later she stops him short from barging in on her, for warning him she's naked: gentleman into predator, just as she risked earlier going lady to tramp), where a tame leopard walking with him on the sidewalk is more ho-hum, relaxed, than a constant yapping, agitated dog, where a hunter who hides behind a gun is vividly less heroic than a couple who brave the dangers of a Connecticut estate at night, where zoos and circuses seem more wild than Africa, where jail and jailers are so extreme a response to the aberrant they invite rather than quell lunacy, where a genuine measure of sanity is if you are attracted and interested in people who are ostensibly insane and if you carry part of their "insanity" back with you into your normal state (the constable is not insane for instantly taking a liking to them, but savy), where a dog's instinct to be powerfully interested in bones isn't banal but fantastic, in that it's easily imagined as being limited in focus but unlimited in its bounds, and where a dog burying/digging up things has got more drama to it than do professions dedicated to it, where being manipulated into wear women's dress might be more welcome rather ruin, in that you can harness aggression out of the crazy, find yourself feeling strangely buttressed, and somehow seems to push out of mind worse fears.

There's a sense that what the movie does is switch you into a way of seeing things which makes sense, but are completely out of accord of where you were in originally perceiving something. The instinct might be afterwards to mentally go back and forth... a tame leopard wouldn't eat dogs, but a leopard out of africa wouldn't ever know a dog to get accustomed to and come to like, so would surely eat him, but then he wouldn't be tame... Afterwards, a loon's call might seem appropriate if similar to a leopard's, whereas before the idea would be lunacy. A world is being jumbled around a lot, an experience which might have felt safe for a 30s audience in that the the professor's empowered wife-to-be Susan, the senior lawyer, the wealthy matron... the institutions of command and certainty in this movie are in no position of tumbling. So a safe, illuminating game. If this was all done in the '60s, however, you'd be drawn back to the normal world wanting change, and this would have been anxiety-city for the Depression crowd dutifully weathering through their assigned, compromised decade. For a later audience, it's still a safe excursion into the psychopathology, the unreason, of regular lie.

The other answer would be in the relationship between Susan and the professor, which rings bells for people. More can be done on it than I've already done, certainly.

Cindy Bailey Saxl I enjoyed your parsing of these scenes, Patrick. In the universe Susan and David inhabit, reality (as we know it in this one) is set on its ear. Whenever anything is this funny—and for audiences for eighty years no less—it has to get at some enduringtruths behind the laughs. It is interesting to think about how this dizzy couple has resonated (or not) over various decades—and of course, every generation will see Susan & David’s “jumbled world” through its own lens—but I for one would be sad to see the Baby thrown out with the bathwater as a result of the (albeit much needed) sea change of sexual politics in our current day. Your excoriating Susan as a predator and David as a #metoo victim seems much too harsh.

Barbara Fox I love this movie so much - it's funny and frantic but has its own internal logic. The acting is wonderful, the script superb, and I have no idea why the Hepburn/Grant pairing wasn't considered as classic and memorable as the Hepburn/Tracy.


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