Now it isn’t that I don’t like you, Susan, because, after all, in moments of quiet, I’m strangely drawn toward you, but – well, there haven’t been any quiet moments.
When I first watch a comedy, I can’t help but compare them to certain films that set my standards for great comedies. I can’t think of a better film to start Beyond Stars with than the 1938 classic Bringing Up Baby.
Dr. David Huxley (Cary Grant) needs to do three things: finish his brontosaurus, win a $1,000,000 grant and marry his quiet and no-nonsense colleague Ms. Swan. In the course of a few days, his world and plans are turned upside down by the happy-go-lucky Susan (Katherine Hepburn), her aunt’s terrier and a tamed leopard named Baby. While she both intentionally and unintentionally delays him from making it to his own wedding, David gets the adventure of a lifetime with a fireball of a woman.
Ironically, the film was a financial failure at the time of its release and caused Hepburn to be branded a box-office failure. The fact that its now considered one of the best comedies ever made just goes toward my life-long belief that box office numbers do not always a great film make (see Scott Pilgrim). The writing by Dudley Nichols and Hagar Wilde (along with the direction from comedic master Howard Hawks) make for a slapstick comedy that remains a cornucopia of sly, subtle wit. It balances the priceless dialogue with the over-the-top pratfalls and incredible identity mix-ups. Watching it for the n-teenth time, I still find myself giggling at particular lines and particular moments. The jail scene should be studied by anyone who wants to be funnier, professionally or not.
More than anything, this film belongs to Hepburn and Grant. Most people remember Cary Grant for his suave, seductive characters with confidence to spare, but my favorite Grant roles are from the comedies. To see his feathers so constantly ruffled is so very entertaining to me. Christoper Reeves actually looked at Grants performance in Baby as research for his role as Clark Kent in Superman. Yet David is still charming and alluring (which is probably why Susan so heartily pursues him). When he finally comes out of his shell, it’s such a delight to see him look actually happy, even giddy. This is all helped by Grant’s impressive physical comedy (he did all of his own pratfalls).
The one problem I have with many of the more contemporary romantic comedies is that the woman is almost always the straight man, so to speak (think Katherine Heigl in Knocked Up, 27 Dresses and The Ugly Truth). Women don’t get to be crazy or reckless or goofy because those traits are traditionally not feminine. Yet there is Hepburn, being recklessly goofy in a crazy sort of way and yet no less beguiling.
In my eyes, Hepburn herself is the patron saint of interesting women. As a girl known for her often loud personality, I looked at this movie and saw a woman with a real personality have an adventure and win her love in the end. And Hepburn does it with a grace that is all her own. As they go searching for Baby the leopard (who has run off into the upper New York countryside), Susan loses a heel off her shoe and, delighted, pretends to be a toy soldier while an exasperated David looks on. Her dreamy temperament is infectious. Hepburn’s comedic timing is impeccable, make even more impressive when you realize this was the first of her many comedic roles.
Besides the two leads, there are some wonderful character actors that are sprinkled throughout the film. Perhaps most notable is Charles Ruggles, the narrator of Fractured Fairy Tales on Rocky and Bullwinkle.
Overall: When it comes down to it, I love Bringing Up Baby because no matter what, it will always make me laugh. Every time.