PBS aired Howard Hawk’s great screwball comedy Bringing Up Baby this past Saturday evening, which I happily watched for the second time. The film, originally released in 1938, was a box office dud. Since then, however, it’s gone on to claim the honor of being one of the greatest American comedy films ever made. I’d stand beside that claim as well.
Misunderstandings pile on misunderstandings, lies atop of lies, conniving undermines conniving, shenanigans overwhelm shenanigans and by film’s end, a one ring circus has blossomed into three and everybody’s become a clown. The final act of Bringing Up Baby, when all plot lines and characters fortuitously end up in a local jailhouse, is easily one of greatest and most delirious half hours of comedy ever put onto film. Everything comes to a gloriously outlandish head. It’s dizzy with the pop and fizzle of its silliness. The film, fun enough up to this point (it’s always a joy to watch Cary Grant’s suave vaudeville honed acrobatics- slipping on olives, tripping over curbs, sliding down hills…the man was a genius) shifts up into slaphappy overdrive and you can’t help but be overwhelmed by its manic glee. It’s immensely clever, with witty, ricocheting dialogue that couples and radiates the mirthful with the austere and the ludicrous with the droll.
How else to end such hilarity but with the skeleton of a Brontosaurus collapsing under the weight of Katherine Hepburn?