Getting Normal: Howard Hawks to Peter Bogdanovich on “Bringing Up Baby”

From Who the Devil Made It: Conversations with Legendary Film Directors, by Peter Bogdanovich

By the end of the film, would you say that [Cary] Grant has abandoned his scientific life?

Well, let’s say he mixed it. He had an awfully good time and if anyone had to choose between the two girls, they’d certainly choose Hepburn. We start off, as I said, with a complete caricature of the man and then reduce it to give him a feeling of normality because he certainly wouldn’t have had any fun going through life the other way, would he? You’ve got a rather happy ending. You have to almost overdo it a little in the beginning and then he becomes more normal as the picture goes along, just by his association with the girl. Grant said, “I’m kind of dropping my characterization.” I said, “No, she’s having some influence on you. You’re getting a little normal.”

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7 Responses to Getting Normal: Howard Hawks to Peter Bogdanovich on “Bringing Up Baby”

  1. De says:

    That’s exactly the idea I get when I watch this movie.
    He becomes more normal!

    God I love this movie.

  2. george says:

    And he (Grant) has apparently had no influence on her (Hepburn). I’m afraid, with Kate (her character), “more normal” will have its limits.

  3. red says:

    Hawks didn’t think she needed to change. She was fine the way she was, saw the man she wanted, and went after him. It was him that needed to change, have his chess pieces knocked over – it was the only way he could be happy.

    Hawks did say he felt that the great flaw in the film (a mistake he never made again) was that EVERYONE was nuts in it – nobody was sane. Usually in the screwballs you have at least ONE normal person you can relate to, but in Bringing Up Baby everyone was insane, down to the psychiatrist in the restaurant, and the sheriff at the end. Hawks felt (this also from the Bogdanovich interview) that that was a great mistake and he learned his lesson.

  4. red says:

    One of my favorite lines in the movie – which, despite my dirty mind, I didn’t pick up on for years – is when he accidentally rips the back of her dress off, and stands behind her, etc. He’s all freaked out and embarrassed and he says, “I feel a perfect ass!”

    taken as a double entendre, it is sooooo hysterical – because it’s SO inappropriate, and he is supposedly so proper – and there he is with his top hat over a woman’s behind, saying, “I feel a perfect ass.”

  5. justjack says:

    I love the screen shot you included. It comes from my favorite moment in the movie, where they’ve located Baby, who’s sitting on top of the psychiatrist’s house, and they’re trying to entice him down by singing his favorite song “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Baby.” At first, Cary sings unenthusiastically, rather feeling a perfect ass (to borrow a phrase!). But gradually, he begins enjoying himself, leaning in and hitting the harmony, and as they get to the end of the phrase “all the things you’ve always pined for,” he nails the tricky part, and nods his head smugly because he knows he nailed it, and that’s the moment you’ve captured in the screen shot. I was always struck by the fact that at this very moment, Cary has completely forgotten his old self, and is thoroughly living in the instant the way Kate always seems to do.

    It’s interesting you mentioned that comment of Hawks’ about everyone being screwy in this movie. I always figured Kate was supposed to be the one who wasn’t nuts; even though at first she appears to be completely unhinged, by the end of the movie we do indeed discover that she had set her cap for Cary, and went after him with what is revealed to be clear-minded singleness of purpose. In fact, I guess I’d argue there are only two moments in the entire movie where she really is out of control of events: when her dress gets ripped in the restaurant, and at the end when, in her joy at having finally won Cary’s heart, she sways back and forth on the ladder until she almost plummets to her death.

    That comment about needing one grounded person in a comedy reminds me of Bob Newhart’s two great sitcoms. In the Chicago-based “Bob Newhart Show,” Bob was the sane one while everyone around him was nuts. It took me a couple of seasons to warm to the Vermont-based “Newhart,” because I couldn’t get used to Dick Loudon being as off-kilter as everyone else. Maybe that’s why the show didn’t really hit its stride until they brought in Stephanie, Michael, and Larry-Darryl-Darryl; their craziness was so off the charts that Dick’s own craziness paled in comparison, and thus made him at least seem normal.

    Say, Red, a question occurs to me. Would you say Kate’s character in Bringing Up Baby qualifies as a “Hawksian Woman?”

  6. red says:

    Jack – I am in love with your comment. Thank you so much!! I think your thoughts about Bob Newhart are right on the money – brilliant!

    And it’s interesting, your last question – I was actually thinking about that today after I posted this. I don’t think she does qualify – because, if you think about it, she is the one who makes everyone else submit to HER world – and the Hawksian woman basically knows it’s a man’s world, and if she wants to play with the boys at all, she can’t be bringing around all that girlie stuff. Some of the women in his movies already know this intuitively (Ros Russell in His Girl Friday, Bacall in To Have and Have Not) – but then there’s poor Jean Arthur in ONly Angels Have Wings and she has to really learn those hard lessons. she only learns it because she’s in love with the guy – and he just can’t have her falling apart in a feminine way every time some pilot dies. she needs to toughen up and that whole movie is about her steep learning curve in becoming a Hawksian woman. But Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby – I can’t imagine her going to that airport in Barranca and realizing ANYTHING – she would infect all of THEM with her zaniness because she is such a dominant figure – she doesn’t need to learn anything, she is who she is. It’s almost like Grant in Bringing Up Baby is playing the stereotypically feminine role – the librarian who takes off her glasses and lets her hair down, etc.

    Also, BLESS YOU for loving that moment of him nailing the harmony line in Bringing Up Baby – I chose that screen grab deliberately because in my view that is the real moment he becomes “normal” – a normal man, not uptight – totally engaged in the moment – no longer thinking, ‘I look so foolish”. He DOES look foolish but he is so proud of his harmony line that he doesn’t care! Also his hair is all a mess and he has ceased to care about that. It’s a great moment. And yes, his little nod when he gets that tune right – perfect! I referenced it in this long-ago post here – I am thrilled to see someone else loves that moment too. It’s my favorite of his in the film (although how can one choose??) I just know I look forward to it with every viewing.

  7. Pingback: Bringing Up Baby (1938) | Simone Kendrick

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