Viewer Guide: Bringing Up Baby and Take Me Home with Richard Peña

May 4, 2018 | Richard Peña

Your weekly peek into what’s coming up next on REEL 13, written by host Richard Peña.

 

Bringing Up Baby (1938)

REEL 13 CLASSIC | BRINGING UP BABY

Tonight’s classic is Bringing Up Baby, a 1938 screwball comedy starring Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn, directed by Howard Hawks.

Bringing Up Baby represents the American screwball comedy in arguably its most perfect, crystalline form, the film against which every other pretender to the genre must be compared. Remarkably, the film died at the box office when it was first released. This was the height of Katharine Hepburn’s “box office poison” period, when exhibitors let the studios know that Hepburn was not a favorite of their audiences. Its contemporary canonical reputation only emerged many years later.

Grant is Dr. David Huxley, a dedicated but seriously distracted paleontologist at the fictitious “Stuyvesant Museum of Natural History” in New York City. When David’s fiancé sends him off to play golf with the lawyer for a wealthy museum patron, hopeful to seal the deal on a million dollar gift, David crosses paths with Susan Vance, a free-spirited eccentric played with enormous wit by Hepburn. In short order and much to David’s total befuddlement, Susan manages to first hijack his golf game and then his car.

Despite his repeated efforts to be rid of her, Susan manages to keep reinserting herself into David’s life with a kind of crazy reverse logic that defies explanation. As if Susan herself wasn’t enough of a disruptor in embroiling David in an escalating series of chaotic misadventures, there’s also the matter of a pet leopard named “Baby” who can’t seem to get enough of listening to “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love.” Who knew there were leopards in Connecticut?

During a delay in the casting process for his next film Gunga Din, director Howard Hawks read a story in Collier’s magazine about a society girl with a pet panther that he felt held promise. Hiring screenwriter Dudley Nichols, Bringing Up Baby was written specifically with Hepburn in mind.

Finding a suitable leading man, however, proved much more difficult. The common reaction of most actors reading the script was that the role of David Huxley seemed “too brainy,” with Leslie Howard, Ronald Colman, Robert Montgomery, Frederic March and Ray Milland all passing on the prospect. Finally, Hawks’ friend Howard Hughes suggested Cary Grant, who had worked with Hepburn on Sylvia Scarlett. Grant was initially reluctant about the role as well, but Hawks convinced him with the suggestion that he approach the part like an innocent in the style of silent comedian Harold Lloyd, which is exactly what Grant did.

This being her first film comedy, it took time for Hepburn to hit her stride, with Hawks expressing she was trying too hard to “be funny.” Veteran vaudeville actor Walter Catlett was called in to coach her, and Hepburn expressed her gratitude to him by insisting that Catlett be cast as Constable Slocum in the film. Once Grant and Hepburn got into their groove, the two would regularly crack each other up during shooting. Hawks pleaded with the studio that this was the reason for the film’s extensive production delays, when in fact, Hawks’ almost improvisatory approach to shooting, as well as his frequent excursions to the racetrack, were the real culprits.

An immediate disappointment at the box office, the film was a downright flop in New York City, pulled from Radio City after just one week. Years later, Hawks’ own assessment of the reason for the film’s failure was its lack of “normal characters.” It wasn’t until Bringing Up Baby started running on television in the 1950s that a new generation came to admire the film for its exquisite plotting and comic invention, and today it’s widely considered one of the iconic films of the Thirties by film scholars and audiences alike.

REEL 13 INDIE | TAKE ME HOME

Take Me Home (2011)

Tonight’s indie is Take Me Home, a 2011 romantic comedy directed by Sam Jaeger.

Writer-director Sam Jaeger also stars in Take Me Home as Thom Colvin, a struggling photojournalist who’s reached the end of his financial rope. Evicted by his landlord, Thom’s only safety net is the decommissioned taxi he bought at auction, which he sometimes uses to masquerade as a cab driver in order to pick up some extra cash.

Cramming his life’s possessions into the trunk of the car, it seems like Thom has really scraped bottom when he’s hailed by a young woman who tells him “just drive” and then falls asleep in the back seat. Sensing a chance to make some cash, Thom does just that, soon winding up in Pennsylvania. His passenger, Claire, herself going through some tumultuous times, decides as long as they’ve gone that far, why not head to California, which is where she wants to go anyway. The duo embarks on a cross-country odyssey filled with detours and discoveries of both the geographic and personal variety.

Take Me Home is a contemporary reboot of classic Hollywood romantic comedies like It Happened One Night starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert, presenting us with a troubled leading lady on the run who crosses paths with a seemingly unsuitable man. While the characters never seem to know it, the audience figures out that despite all outward appearances, these two people are definitely meant for each other, and it’s just a matter of time before they realize that too.

These films work best when we can also sense a kind of simmering-if-grudging sexual tension between our leads. Sam Jaeger and his co-star Amber Jaeger actually are a married couple, and from the start one senses, even in their more awkward moments, a certain ease in just being with each other. They have an inherent feel for each other’s timing, as well as a delicious personal chemistry that makes the final meeting and the smiles that accompany it especially satisfying. A popular entry on the film festival circuit, Take Me Home won praise from critics and audiences around the country, delighted to see that the romantic comedy, in the hands of the right people, is alive and well.

 

 

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