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Film / Bringing Up Baby

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"There is a leopard on your roof and it's my leopard and I have to get it and to get it I have to sing."
Susan Vance

Bringing Up Baby is a classic 1938 Screwball Comedy directed by Howard Hawks, and starring Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, and a leopard. It was inspired by a short story by Hagar Wilde.

Milquetoast paleontologist David Huxley (Grant) is about to be married and is only missing one piece of his Brontosaurus skeleton (the "intercostal clavicle"). The night before his wedding, he's supposed to butter up a rich widow's lawyer so she'll donate a million dollars to the museum. Things take a rapid turn for the worse, though, when he meets scatterbrained heiress Susan Vance (Hepburn), who accidentally steals his golf ball, and then his car, preventing him from finishing the meeting. After the evening ends with Susan braining the lawyer with a rock, David vows that he never wants to see her again.

The next morning, Susan calls David on the telephone. Her brother in South America has mailed her a tame leopard called Baby, and she enlists David to help her transport it to her aunt's farm. Then, having made up her mind that David is the man she's going to marry — though he doesn't know it yet — she does whatever comes to mind to keep him there. It turns out that Susan's aunt is the potential museum donor, so they have to conceal David's identity and the presence of Baby, while also hunting for the intercostal clavicle, snatched up and buried by the dog.

Then Baby escapes, and so does a man-eating leopard from the circus, leading to several cases of mistaken identity as multiple groups of people go leopard-hunting in the forests of Connecticut. Everyone ends up in jail (briefly), David's fiancee rejects him, and the dinosaur skeleton is destroyed, but David confesses his love for Susan at last, and the movie ends with their happy, if still scatterbrained, embrace.

This film provides examples of:

  • Absent-Minded Professor: David is one of these.
  • Accidental Pervert: The sheriff mistakes David for being a Peeping Tom when they catch him in front of the doctor's house.
  • Achievements in Ignorance: Susan captures a dangerous leopard and drags it to the police station by its neck, thinking it's Baby (who's tame).
  • Adaptation Expansion: The short story the film is based on had David and Susan already engaged at the start. The film has them meeting at the start, while David is engaged to another woman. The film also gives David a backstory of being a paleontologist who must also retrieve a rare dinosaur bone.
  • Adaptation Species Change: Baby in the original short story was referred to as a panther, a term referring to both leopards and jaguars, though Baby is from South America, where jaguars live. In the film, he's a leopard, because there were no trained jaguars in Hollywood at the time.
  • Adaptational Name Change: A minor example. Susan was named Suzan in the original short story.
  • Affectionate Nickname: Susan calls Mr Peabody "Boopie".
  • All Animals Are Domesticated: Subverted. Baby the leopard is fairly docile most of the time, but most of the cast is well aware that he is still a large and potentially dangerous animal that could do some damage if unhappy. Played straight when everyone mistakes a temperamental and vicious circus leopard for the tame Baby.
  • Almost Kiss: David and Susan in the forest mud, reminiscent of another Screwball Comedy.
  • Anguished Declaration of Love: David delivers one to Susan while she's swinging from the ladder.
  • Artistic License – Paleontology: There is no such thing as an intercostal clavicle. There can be no such thing as an intercostal clavicle. "Intercostal" means "Between the ribs", and the clavicle connects the rib cage to the shoulder girdle.
  • Artistic License – Physics: It's not clear what causes the ladder to swing back upright after Susan and the latter tilt over sideways.
  • Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: This is even lampshaded by Susan after David says something unspeakably rude about her to her face. She stops, gives that beautiful smile that only Katharine Hepburn could give, and launches herself into his arms, shouting, "Oh David! You really do love me!" David tries to play it cool, but finally admits it.
  • Balcony Wooing Scene: Parodied in the scene where the lead couple starts singing a song in front of a house in order to get a leopard coming down from the roof. The house owner opens the window and thinks he is dealing with lunatics.
  • Big "WHAT?!": David's reaction when Susan casually informs him that she sent his clothes to be washed while he was in the shower.
  • Can't Have Sex, Ever: David's Disposable Fiancé mentions that their marriage must entail no domestic entanglements of any kind: "Yes, David, I see our marriage purely as a dedication to your work."
  • Cardboard Prison: David casually exits his jail cell when he gets exasperated listening to Susan babble at the constable. He even briefly gets the constable to join him back in his cell, before the cop realizes what has happened and has the cell locked up for real this time.
  • Clothing Damage: To David's coat and then Susan's dress in the nightclub scene.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Doesn't even begin to describe Susan. She spends most of the movie perpendicular to reality.
    Susan: [after breaking a heel off her shoe] I was born on the side of a hill.
  • Comedic Underwear Exposure: The back of Susan's dress rips off, exposing her panties. David tries to cover it up with his hat, but Susan doesn't quite understand what's going on. Once she does, she makes him walk behind her.
  • Comically Missing the Point: David tells Susan she has to leave her apartment after he finds out there's a leopard in it. She says she can't, because she has a lease.
  • Death Glare: David gives Susan several of these, most notably when he ends up with her fishing net over his head.
  • Dinosaur Doggie Bone: Possibly the Trope Maker.
  • Disposable Fiancé: Alice, who isn't even present for most of the film.
  • Dramatic Drop: First, the gardener drops his bottle when noticing Baby next to him, later the Sheriff does the same with his jail keys.
  • Driver Faces Passenger: Susan hits the chicken-loaded truck because of this trope.
  • Driving a Desk: Done not only for the usual reason of back-projecting outdoor scenery, but also at one point to superimpose the rear of the car interior, with a leopard in it.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The gist of the plot takes place over the course of two days.
  • Fluffy Fashion Feathers: Susan's nightgown, that David is forced to wear after his clothes are ruined.
  • Fluffy the Terrible: Baby is tame, but he's still a leopard.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: At the very beginning, David says he's sure that the bone he's holding goes in the Brontosaurus's tail. His fiance gives a smile and says "we tried it in the tail last night. It didn't fit." This violates at least two different clauses of Section II of the Hays Code.
  • The Glasses Come Off: A rare male example:
    Susan: You're so good looking without your glasses.
  • Gone Swimming, Clothes Stolen: Happens to David when he is under the shower and Susan steals his clothes to have them cleaned in town. Leads to David perform an Unplanned Crossdressing.
  • Grande Dame: Elizabeth Random, Susan Vance's aunt who displays little tolerance for David Huxley, but who is eccentric enough to want her own leopard.
  • Great White Hunter: Maj. Applewhite is one, which leads to some hilarity when Susan describes David as one and Applewhite starts firing questions at him.
  • Hairpin Lockpick: Susan picks her cell lock with a hairpin. Lampshaded, when she mentions that she has done it before.
  • Hanging Our Clothes to Dry: Susan accidentally drops one of David's socks into the fire while trying to dry it, and then tosses the other one in to match.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: Possibly averted. Cary Grant's improvised line "I just went GAY all of a sudden!" may have been the first intentional use of the word to mean "homosexual" in mainstream film. It doubles as Hilarious in Hindsight, as Cary Grant is rumored to have been bisexual.
  • Henpecked Husband: David manages to be this even before he is married. After Alice, even Susan must come as something of a relief.
  • Herr Doktor: The psychiatrist with his German accent, who after meeting Susan is convinced that she's nuts.
  • High-Class Glass: The psychiatrist sports one.
  • The Klutz: David, around Susan.
  • Loves Me Not: Susan counts it out on the toes of one foot. She should know in advance that it will come out to "He loves me," but she still seems surprised and excited when it does.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Susan is one of the earliest examples of this character type in film. (Nathan Rabin, creator of the term, calls her the Trope Maker, although Carole Lombard in My Man Godfrey is actually an earlier example).
  • Meet Cute: David and Susan at the golf course.
  • Misplaced Wildlife: Baby is from South America, which is jaguar territory. In the original short story, the cat was referred to as a panther (a term that refers to both leopards and jaguars). It was changed to a leopard in the film as there happened to be a trained one available, but its origin wasn't changed in the script.
  • Mistaken for Gay: "Because I just went GAY all of a sudden!"
  • Mistaken Identity: Mistaken leopard identity.
  • Motor Mouth: Susan, to the end.
  • Music Soothes the Savage Beast: To calm Baby the leopard down, you have to sing "I Can't Give You Anything But Love, Baby".
  • Nerd Glasses: David. Susan thinks he looks better without.
  • No More for Me: Played with. The drunken gardener seems to have had enough after his encounter with the leopard.
  • No Sparks: David being engaged to his coworker who basically says that she will not have sex with him when they are married and their marriage's purpose is to solidify their working relationship.
  • Non-Indicative Name: The misleading movie title. Who would have thought that Baby was a leopard? And the story has little to do with any bringing up, unless you count the drive from New York City to Connecticut.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome:
    • Tell me you wouldn't love to have seen Cary Grant wrestling a leopard in a pond.
    • Or Katherine Hepburn catching a dangerous leopard by herself.
  • Panthera Awesome: The titular Baby.
  • Play-Along Prisoner: David is put in a jail cell that the guard forgets to lock. He casually opens the door at one point, and even gets the guard to join him inside the cell, but makes no attempt to escape.
  • The Pratfall: David slips on an olive Susan dropped and falls really hard on his butt. And his hat.
  • Real After All: A running theme. First it is David who doesn't believe that Susan is harboring a leopard in her bathroom and later it is the Sheriff who doesn't fall for the "leopard story". Cue this trope.
  • Romantic Comedy
  • Running Gag: "I'll be with you in a minute, Mr. Peabody!"
  • Sarcasm-Blind: The sheriff falling for David's lame "Mickey the Mouse and Donald the Duck" story.
  • Second-Face Smoke: Susan blowing smoke into the doctor's face at the jail house.
  • Sexless Marriage: David's fiancée, Alice, impresses on him that their marriage will be centered around their work and "must entail no domestic entanglements of any kind".
    David: You mean...?
    Alice: I mean of any kind, David.
  • Shout-Out:
    • When asked whom he pulled a criminal job with, David says "Mickey the Mouse and Donald the Duck."
    • Susan also tells the police that David is really 'Jerry the Nipper'; this was the nickname of Cary Grant's character in his previous film The Awful Truth. David lampshades this by protesting that Susan is making everything up out of movies she's seen.
  • Socialite: Susan is a rich heiress who clearly plays golf and goes to fancy restaurants, as well as having an apartment in the city in addition to living at her aunt's in the country.
  • Spoiled Sweet: Susan is very sweet and hasn't a malicious bone in her body, but she's also very wealthy and confident about getting precisely what she wants when she wants it.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Susan. Although at one point, after interpreting advice from a psychiatrist, she thinks David is one for her.
  • Steamrolled Smart Guy: David's safe and boring decisions are consistently undone.
  • Stock Animal Diet: The dog going after the Dinosaur Doggie Bone.
  • Stripping Snag: Susan accidentally tears David's coat while trying to stop him from storming out. And when she starts to storm off herself, the back of her dress gets torn off. Cue David trying to hide it, while an oblivious Susan is trying to rebuff him.
  • Technology Marches On: Many jokes in the movie rely on the fact that in 1937, anyone could drive anyone else's car. Keys were not yet required to start the ignition.
  • Tempting Fate: Susan climbing the ladder next to the dinosaur skeleton at the end:
    Susan: Don't worry, David. Everything's going to be all right.
    David: Every time you say that, something happens.
    • It does.
  • Unbuilt Trope: Susan Vance is recognised as one of the earliest examples of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Except David doesn't want her in his life and she doesn't so much improve it as yank him bodily into her own.
  • Unplanned Crossdressing: After David Huxley ends up wrestling a leopard in the middle of a pond, he returns to Susan Vance's home where she loans him her very girly robe while his clothes dry out. Susan's aunt, Elizabeth, is less than impressed with his wardrobe choices.
  • Uptight Loves Wild: In something of a variation, it's Wild who falls for Uptight first, Uptight for many reasons wanting nothing to do with her for a large part of the movie. Wild doesn't so much teach Uptight to loosen up as she does drag him kicking and screaming into it.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Susan makes David think Baby has attacked her, convincing him to run to her apartment to save her.