Today marks the 80th anniversary of the premiere in San Francisco of Bringing up Baby (1938), so as a celebration I’ve decided to talk about one of my favorite movie moments ever. Sure, it’s hard to pick a favorite scene from Howard Hawks’ ultimate screwball comedy, but for me, those moments at the dinner table are absolutely hysterical. The first time I watched Bringing up Baby about 10 years ago, I had to replay that bit at least three times, just to take it all in. There’s so much going for it, so many little things, it’s remarkable.
It starts off with Major Applegate (Charlie Ruggles) telling Aunt Elizabeth (May Robson) one of his big game hunting stories, after which he asks David ‘Mr Bone’ Huxley (Cary Grant) if he’s ever been in Arabia. David’s mind is elsewhere and he doesn’t reply. He asks him again and he says no. ‘I suppose you’ve spent most of your time in Africa?’, ‘No’, ‘Tibet, perhaps?’, ‘No.’, ‘Malay Peninsula, perchance?’, ‘Excuse me’, he says before he gets up to follow George, the dog, with the spoon still in his hand. After that, the whole thing is a hilarious disaster: David’s aloofness and continuous trips outside (with the spoon), Major Applegate’s impressions of animals noises, prompting the most priceless three-way reaction of all time – Susan (Katharine Hepburn), David and George -, and of course, Susan’s deadpan delivery of ‘It was probably an echo’, which is still one of my favorite quotes ever.
It’s such a great scene, it almost feels like it could be in a sketch show. It works wonderfully as a stand-alone scene (to a certain extent) and it’s pure comedy genius. But then again, they all are. After all, who doesn’t love Susan and David singing ‘I can’t give you anything but love, baby’ to Baby, the leopard?
Happy 80th anniversary!