william steig drawing

May 14, 2010
Kartina Richardson

Bringing Up Baby: Susan’s laugh

*Two lame disclaimers: 1) The audio is doing something weird, 2) I sound like I’m barely alive

This clip is from a chunk of perfection disguised as the 1938 screwball comedy Bringing Up Baby directed by Howard Hawks.  This was the second of four films that Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant would star in together (the first being the incredible Sylvia Scarlett which I’ll have to do a post on soon. The others being the under appreciated Holiday and the over appreciated The Philadelphia Story ).

In the film Hepburn plays perhaps the greatest woman cinema has ever seen: Susan Vance, the whimsical, crazy, fearless, and unbelievably fun girl you wish was your best friend. Susan sets her sights on David Huxley (Cary Grant), a timid paleontologist who is trying his damndest to secure a million dollar donation to his museum from Susan’s stodgy old rich lady aunt, Mrs. Carlton Random. Lots of things happen,  a leopard named Baby is involved, some Brontosaurus bones, a dog named George, yadayadayada, and a masterpiece of screwball comedy is born. Slapstick perfection with dialogue by Dudley Nichols and Hagar Wilde to rival my love Garson Kanin. Every line is golden.

If you were to state that Cary Grant plays David with his neck, you would not be entirely wrong. The man has a particular way of moving his body in comedies and a different though equally specific body language in his dramas and thrillers. In Bringing up Baby, David is in his nervously tense neck and shoulders (and what better place for a push over character to be). He is a turtle. A jumpy little turtle. A turtle that uses the word “Gay” in the homosexual sense for first time in a movie.

Poor David. He just doesn’t stand a chance.
And how could he?
Susan is a hurricane.

Grant is great, but this is Hepburn’s show.
Dearest Susan. I am not ashamed to tell the world that you are the lady I aspire to be. My sister and I quote you nearly everyday. If we continue to do this, maybe one day I actually will turn into you and my wish will be granted.

Let me tell you something about Susan, it’s all about her voice. Her sprightly, sing songy voice that trails away at the end of each sentence. I have always associated her voice with her hair. Wispy, bouncy, and slightly out of control. If her voice were a hairdo, I am certain it would be the exact one Susan already has. How very convenient.

Let me tell you one more thing about Susan, not only is it all about her voice, it’s all about her laugh. If you ever stumble across me in person and you hear me laugh in a rather strange way, you can bet your ass that I’m doing Susan’s.

If you want further proof that box office success does not a great film make, this film bombed upon its release.

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One Comment

  1. Hello Kitty

    Bingo Bango, Kartina! I am glad to know I am not the only one who fell in love with Susan’s laugh. It starts as a soft machine gun rat-a-tat and ends with a pop gun squeak.

    In fact today I was praising Kate the Great’s performance as Susan Vance to someone who was extolling Kate’s more favored performances. Pish posh I said. Look how thrilling, ditzy, and fluffy Kate is as this kooky heiress.


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