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With: Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, Charlie Ruggles, May Robson, Walter Catlett, Fritz Feld
Written by: Dudley Nichols, Hagar Wilde, based on a short story by Hagar Wilde
Directed by: Howard Hawks
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 102
Date: 02/15/1938

Bringing Up Baby (1938)

4 Stars (out of 4)

The Lady and the Tiger

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Comedian Harold Lloyd called this the most perfectly constructed comedy he'd ever seen, and he was right. Howard Hawks directs Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn in the screwball to end all screwballs. Grant plays a spineless zoologist who accidentally meets up with crazy heiress Hepburn at the wrong place at the wrong time. She takes a shine to him and begins to construct all kinds of wacky plans to keep him from getting married (to an ultra-conservative female scientist played by Virginia Walker). One of her plans includes a leopard named Baby.

Bringing Up Baby is perhaps the fastest, craziest movie ever made. It doesn't stop or come to its senses for one second. (Hawks' later His Girl Friday (1940) takes a small break in the middle when it considers the plight of the accused murderer.) As a result, some viewers may have a hard time grasping ahold of anything, which may explain why the movie flopped in 1938. Amazingly, the screenplay was written by Dudley Nichols (from Hagar Wilde's short story) who was known for penning some of John Ford's more somber works. Hawks made many great movies in all kinds of genres, but Bringing Up Baby is the one that seems the most like an attack on the senses. It's a brilliant movie, and one of the greatest and most intense ever made.

Warner Home Video has released this RKO classic on a great 2-disc set. Although the movie is already one of my favorites, I have to admit that this set gave me a whole new appreciation. The film is remastered with optional English, Spanish and French subtitles and an optional Peter Bogdanovich commentary track. (Bogdanovich uses his gift for mimickery from time to time to give us something of a genuine Hawks commentary.) Disc One also comes with a Hawks trailer gallery, including Bringing Up Baby, Sergeant York, To Have and Have Not, The Big Sleep and Rio Bravo. Disc Two comes with two documentaries. The Men Who Made the Movies: Howard Hawks is a very good 55-minute film that takes a 1977 interview with Hawks and fleshes it out with clips from his films. And the feature length Cary Grant: A Class Apart does a good job at cracking the Grant myth and appreciating his acting genius. Additionally, we get a short (Campus Cinderella) and a cartoon (A Star Is Hatched).

The Criterion Collection's 2021 Blu-ray poses a serious challenge to Warner Bros.' 2005 two-disc DVD set. The video transfer is nicely grainy and flawed, like an actual film print, and the soundtrack is uncompressed monaural. The disc carries over Bogdanovich's commentary track, and adds plenty of new bonuses: a video essay by Scott Eyman on Grant's early career, an interview with cinematographer John Bailey on Russell Metty's work, an interview with film historian Craig Barron on the film's visual FX, an hour-long 1977 interview with Hawks, a selected-scene commentary by Shelly Foote on the film's costumes, an audio interview with Grant from 1969, a recording of a conversation between Bogdanovich and Hawks, and a trailer. The liner notes booklet includes an essay by critic Sheila O'Malley and the 1937 short story by Hagar Wilde, upon which the film is based. The only thing missing is the cartoon! Highly recommended.

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