Program Notes: Bringing Up Baby (1938)

Funniest movie of all time?

That’s a tough call, but Bringing Up Baby (1938) has to be a contender.

This screwball masterpiece from director Howard Hawks and starring Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn screens on Sunday, January 27, at 1:30 p.m. at the Plaza Branch, 4801 Main St., as part of the Movies That Matter film series. It’s free.

The Library’s Robert W. Butler provides introductory and followup remarks.

Baby is a near-perfect example of a screwball comedy, which developed during the Depression when movie goers wanted escapism, laughs, and romance. This rollicking genre offered rapid-fire dialogue, farcical situations, a big dash of slapstick, and often cross dressing.

Screwball was also noteworthy in that usually the narrative’s main force is a ditzy woman (to whom bewildered men react) and in its examination of class differences. Most screwball comedies were about stupid rich people who learn something about life from hard-working, common-sense Joe Blows.

Prime examples are It Happened One Night, His Girl Friday and My Man Godfrey.

Bringing Up Baby has all of the above traits, plus Grant as a befuddled paleontologist and Katharine Hepburn as a scatterbrained heiress who is dangling in front of him the promise of a big donation. The Baby of the title, by the way, is Hepburn’s pet leopard.

Behind the camera is Hawks, a man as comfortable with madcap silliness as with Westerns (Red River, Rio Bravo), film noir (The Big Sleep), gangster movies (Scarface), science fiction (The Thing From Another World) and real-life hagiography (Sergeant York).