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Warner Home Video presents
Bringing Up Baby (1938)

David: Don't lose your head, Susan.
Susan: I've got my head. I lost my leopard.

- Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn

Review By: Jon Danziger  
Published: April 21, 2005

Stars: Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant
Other Stars: Charlie Ruggles, Barry Fitzgerald, May Robson, Walter Catlett, Fritz Feld
Director: Howard Hawks

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 01h:42m:03s
Release Date: March 01, 2005
UPC: 053939640724
Genre: comedy


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A+ ABB+ B-

DVD Review

Can you imagine? "Box office poison." That was the moniker slapped on Katharine Hepburn in the late 1930s, after a series of her films underperformed financially; it was only with The Philadelphia Story, in 1940, that her high Hollywood status was, after a hiatus on Broadway, properly restored. Hepburn's reputation preceded her; you're charmingly eccentric when the money is rolling in, and you're merely "difficult" when you're not putting people in the seats. And so in its time, Bringing Up Baby was a modest disappointment, ratification for many in the industry that Hepburn had worn out her welcome. In time, though, the film was rediscovered, and now occupies a place in the pantheon that it so richly deserves. It's a paragon of a screwball comedy, and its absence from DVD has long been one of the great lacunae of the catalog. Good news, film fans: Kate and Cary have never looked better.

Cary Grant plays David Huxley, a paleontologist, who knows exactly what he wants: to finish his dinosaur skeleton with the recently discovered, long-elusive final bone—the intercostal clavicle!—and to marry his drippy fiancée, Miss Swallow. Both are to happen tomorrow, and David's priorities are in exactly that order: work first and foremost. There's some business to take care of before walking down the aisle, though: David must seal the deal with a patron of his museum, a dowager of sorts with $1 million to give away, earmarked for David's museum. Things are supposed to go forward as so beautifully planned, but something upsets the apple cart—and that something is Susan Vance (Hepburn), who muddles up David's plans in every conceivable way. Susan is a force of nature, and she realizes immediately that David is the man for her; we know it too, principally because she is Katharine Hepburn, and he is Cary Grant. What ensues is a daffy, improbable series of misadventures, during which David's every hope is dashed. Susan is the principal agent of his demise, but she's got no shortage of help: the title character, Baby, is a leopard, sent from Brazil by Susan's brother as a house pet for their aunt. (She's the one with the million dollars to burn.) Also in on the fun are George, Susan's perky little dog who buries the intercostal clavicle like a prized piece of rawhide; the long arm of the law—Susan and David both end up in the clink; a psychiatrist willing to certify that both David and Susan are flat-out round-the-bend bonkers; and a second leopard, a maneater, much unlike the docile Baby, who turns into a playful little tabby with just a few bars of I Can't Give You Anything But Love.

Howard Hawks' movie moves like a house afire; the whole story takes place over just a couple of days, and the principal thrust of the dramatic action takes us from the city to the country (first Manhattan, then Riverdale, then the wilds of Connecticut), and from day to night (rarely will you see a screen comedy in which so much of the action takes place in the dark). No doubt one of the appeals of screwball was, in the worst days of the Depression, getting to see the high life, and the movie doesn't disappoint—Grant looks dashing in his white tie and tails and takes the appropriate number of pratfalls; Hepburn is nothing less than ravishing, though, what is that crazed ribbon in her hair? Grant's David is a textbook example of screen comedy at its best: none of this is very funny to him, and he's in pain throughout the story. Also, the chasm between what he wants and what he needs couldn't be more clear: he wants to get back to the ivory tower and complete his brontosaurus, but we know he needs to get down and dirty with Susan, that she and he belong together, that he won't find happiness in the museum, with the chilly Miss Swallow and his dinosaurs to keep him warm at night.

Hawks shoots many of the scenes in master shot, which allows the comedy to come out of the absurdity of the situations; there's no winking at the camera, and we're in on the joke, too, the fundamental absurdity of shepherding a couple of leopards through the Nutmeg State. Nobody is above being made fun of here, and Susan is such a whirlwind that she can overcome even crazed wild animals deemed unfit for anything but the jungle; we know that we're always in a Hollywood movie of high style, though, because in a story that takes place over only a couple of days, Hepburn is in lots of different outfits. Perhaps the movie occasionally does try a little too hard; early on especially, you can feel the joke machine being ginned up, and the machinery is at times a little creaky and noisy. But so much of this movie is so funny, and the two stars are so delightful, that you're likely to get caught up in the whirlwind along with them. It really is one of the all-time great screen comedies, and in almost seventy years it's lost none of its fun, charm, wit or spirit.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: There seems to have been a good amount of wear on the source print; you'll see a fair number of scratches and a good amount of acid burn. The transfer does well with this material—this is clearly superior to previous VHS and laserdisc releases of the same title, but still, the picture quality doesn't sparkle in quite the manner that the stars and the dialogue do.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishno


Audio Transfer Review: As you watch, you can tell when the actors move away from the microphones, as the volume level dips; it's typical of 1930s filmmaking, and is easily forgiven.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 30 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Sergeant York, To Have and Have Not, The Big Sleep, Rio Bravo
2 Documentaries
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Peter Bogdanovich
Packaging: Gladiator style 2-pack
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. 1938 short Campus Cinderella
  2. A Star Is Hatched—a Merrie Melodies cartoon
Extras Review: Peter Bogdanovich has made at least one great movie (The Last Picture Show), some very good ones, and some of lesser quality; as a younger man, he befriended many of the filmmakers of the previous generation, and has performed an invaluable service in publishing interviews with many of them; he's even done frequently interesting audio commentaries on DVDs of some of his own movies. When it comes to commentary tracks on films he did not direct, however, Bogdanovich must be stopped. He turned in a shoddy effort on Citizen Kane, among others, and despite knowing Hawks reasonably well, he's got close to nothing to say about Bringing Up Baby. He starts off with a small amount of promise, at least, talking about how the David/Susan relationship was modeled in part on Hepburn's parrying with director John Ford; Bogdanovich also really likes showing off his Hawks impression, which is probably great fun for the people listening who knew Hawks personally. I bet you can count them on one hand. (Let me tell you, I can do a Leo McCarey impression that would fool his own mother.) Occasionally we get Hawks' observations on his movie refracted through Bogdanovich, but more often, it's little more than Bogdanovich repeating punch lines, or laughing at the movie. He and Richard Schickel are the twin pillars of the Keen Grasp of the Obvious School of DVD commentaries. In the name of all that's right and good and holy, please don't let them do any more of these.

There's also a Hawks trailer gallery on the first disc, and many more goodies on the second. Cary Grant: A Class Apart (01h:26m:57s), a feature-length documentary produced for TCM, features many clips of Grant, a biographical overview starting with the early days of Archie Leach, and remembrances of him from many, including his wife Barbara, director George Cukor, Martin Landau and Bogdanovich; also a good number of interviews with film critics and scholars, including David Denby. Did you think Schickel wouldn't be here somewhere? Come on, now—he's represented by the Hawks installment (55m:00s) of his very good series The Men Who Made The Movies, which is narrated by Sydney Pollack, features lots of interview clips of Hawks, and demonstrates that he may have been the great master in almost any genre: gangster pictures (Scarface), noir (The Big Sleep) and Westerns (Red River), to say nothing of comedy.

Also here is Campus Cinderella (18m:23s), a musical short set on a college campus, about the disgrace of the university basketball team losing to its archrival; it's especially notable for being shot in Technicolor. Finally, there's a Merrie Melodies cartoon, in which a chicken goes to Hollywood in search of glory, hoping that it's time that A Star is Hatched (08m:08s). Especially fun are the genre and movie star caricatures in this one.

Extras Grade: B-

 

Final Comments

One of the funniest and best screen comedies ever made finally comes to DVD—it's some of the finest work ever done by Hepburn, Grant and Hawks, and so don't let your Bogdanovich issues (or mine) interfere with the delights provided by this two-disc set.

 


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