Katharine Hepburn, Bringing Up ... an Untamed Leopard

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Thursday, December 15, 2005

By March of 1938, two of the greatest female performances in screen history had been released within a month of each other: Bringing Up [an Untamed Leopard] and Jezebel represented new maturation points for Katharine Hepburn and Bette Davis.

I recall reading that Baby director Howard Hawks said about Hepburn that she didn't play a single scene here in the same style as any other scene, but her Susan Vance is a sustained, delirious creation, as stylized as her earlier performances but supremely confident and elegant. In spirit, she could be the prototype for the Lucy of I Love (same).

Postscript: Just a few months later, Hepburn would give another of her great performances, extremely moving in the romantic comedy Holiday. In both Holiday and Baby, she also had her greatest co-star in Cary Grant...

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Otis Ferguson

"....For comedy to be really good, of course, there is required something more in the way of total design than any random collection of hilarities. There must be point--not a point to be made, which is the easy goal of any literary tortoise, but a point from which to start, as implicit throughout as the center of a circle. Bringing Up Baby has something of the sort. The actual story.... could be done in two reels. What puts the dramatic spirit into it is the character of the harebrained young thing who gets him mixed up in all this.

"Katharine Hepburn builds the part from the ground, breathless, sensitive, headstrong, triumphant in illogic, and serene in that bounding brassy nerve possible only to the very very well bred. Without the intelligence and mercury of such a study, the callous scheming of this bit of fluff would have left all in confusion and the audience howling for her blood. As it is, we merely accept and humor her, as one would a wife...."

Otis Ferguson
The New Republic, March 16, 1938
The Film Criticism of Otis Ferguson, p. 215-16

David Thomson

"The young Hepburn was a creature of enormous imaginative potency and showy breeding. It was said she was not beautiful. Nonsense: she was ravishing despite thoroughbred features, a skinny body, and a deliberately, if not agressively, emphasized Bryn Mawr accent. Her beauty grew out of her own belief in herself and from the viewer's sense that she was living dangerously, exposing her own nerves and vulnerability along with her intelligence and sensibility. Like Jane Austen's Emma Woodhouse, she was a moral being, sometimes at odds with herself, deluded or mistaken, but able to correct herself out of a grave and resilient honesty. Nobody on the screen could be so funny and so moving in making a fool of herself, or so touching in reclaiming her dignity. That is why screwball comedy seemed in her hands one of Hollywood's most civilized forms and it is why Bringing Up Baby is so serious a film--without ever losing the status of being one of the funniest."

David Thomson
A Biographical Dictionary of Film

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Pauline Kael

"...But by the late thirties, despite her exquisite performances, films such as The Little Minister and Quality Street (which were not bad) had made her box-office poison. The public didn't want tremulous anguish in crinoline: James M. Barrie had his day, quaintness was out. Bringing Up Baby, Hepburn's first comedy, made in 1938, rescued her. [Other reports indicate that Baby did little at the time for Hepburn's career, other than, say, introducing her to Cary Grant.]

"Lunatic comedy of the thirties generally started with an heiress; this one starts with an heiress (Hepburn) who has a dog, George, and a leopard, Baby. Cary Grant is a paleontologist who has just acquired the bone he needs to complete his dinosaur skeleton. George steals the bone, Grant and Baby chase each other around, the dinosaur collapses--but Grant winds up with Hepburn, and no paleontologist ever got hold of a more beautiful set of bones.... [I]t's her best comedy."

Pauline Kael
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (1968), p. 297-98