Bringing Up Baby

Directed by Howard Hawks, 1938

Studio: RKO

Written by Dudley Nichols


Obviously this film is largely driven by brilliant dialogue and charismatic performances. That is all the more reason, though, to pay attention to Hawks' mastefully unobtrusive direction. How does he set up the film, pace the dialogue and action, allow the stars room to display their presence? What sort of comic pacing gives the film its drive?

Consider how the two stars are very much cast against type: Grant against his usual suavity, and Hepburn against her frequent haughtiness. What is the effect of this? What sort of relation to we (the viewers) have toward Grant and Hepburn?

Consider how the film plays with fantasies of gender and of class. For one thing, a timid and repressed man is pursued by an aggressive woman, in a reversal of the usual pattern. Grant's character is systematically stripped of his stuffy pretensions, which is to say of his masculine dignity. At the same time, the freedom of Hepburn's character is very much a function of her upper-class status: because she is wealthy, and used to wealth from birth, she feels entitled to do anything and everything, without any fear of bad consequences. What fantasies about gender and class are being enacted in the film?