Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Endings Blog-a-Thon: Bringing Up Baby

If the title didn't tip you off this is part of Joe's Movie Corner Endings Blog-a-Thon. Click on the link to see my fellow bloggers entries.

Warning: This posting is dedicated entirely to revealing the ending of Bringing Up Baby if you have never seen the film I would urge you to go see it and then come back and enjoy this entry.

To live in this world, you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go.-Mary Oliver

Give a dog a bone/Leave a dog alone/Let a dog roam and he'll find his way home.-DMX, Ruff Ryders Anthem
Bringing Up Baby is the quintessential screwball comedy. As a door-slamming farce it's genre defining in its conventions. The flighty heiress, the tightly wound fuss-budget male, the mix-ups, the pratfalls, the double entendres and mistaken identities, the comedy is firing on all gears at all times. By the time film gets to the end though its been a pretty exhausting ride. If for some inexplicable reason you're reading this entry without having seen the film here's what's happened, hapless paleontologist Dr. David Huxley (Cary Grant) has been frantically searching for the intercostal clavicle, the last bone that will complete the brontosaurus skeleton that he and his fiancee, the aptly named Ms. Swallows have been working on. In the course of trying to get funding for the museum he stumbles into extrovert deluxe Susan Vance (Katherine Hepburn). David is utterly annoyed by Vance who of course completely taken by the wound-up David. She wants to help him out of his shell and in the course of several days has him cross-dressing, digging dog bones over his estate and fighting off a vicious leopard (phew).
You can check out the film's final ten minutes here but the scene I will be talking about begins at 5:28.

Even if one isn't an art lover they're likely to realize that David is sitting in such a way as to evoke Rodin's The Thinker. Having gone through his adventures with Susan he realizes he is no longer the man he once was and a dull, professional life with Alice Swallows is now incomprehensible to him. "Well, there's nothing else I can say, except that I'm glad that before our marriage, you showed yourself up in your true colors. You're just a butterfly." It's an intentionally ridiculous line. "Just a butterfly", it's cheer worthy, but a tight-ass like Swallows would never see the humor in the situation. Here screenwriters Dudley Nichols and Hagar Wilde give us the confirmation that yes, David has changed enough that even the most unaware characters in the film realize it.

David has a brief moment to consider all this when as usual his quiet is shattered by the approaching Susan. Hearing her coming he races up to the top of the skeleton. David has tried to get away from Susan before but this time he's not running from her but from his feelings towards her. I should also point out that while Ms. Swallows dress is rather tight and unappealing, Susan's outfit is flowing and distinctly feminine. At first she presents him with the macguffin, the intercostal clavicle bone he was missing. She runs up the ladder to further pursue David and now Hawks composes the two as equals. The ladder that Susan is perched on his rickety. Hawks composes a beautiful visual metaphor to the uncertainty of the would-be lovers. Their own concerns and jitters over possible rejection and their excitement in finding a partner grows and builds. This is all still discounting the huge sexual overtones of her having his bone.

The talk is loaded with entendre and very sexy but also economically and capable of wiping out great patches of exposition. As David begs Susan to get down she informs him of having the million dollars the museum needs thus wrapping up yet another lose plot thread. The two go back and forth (both figuratively and literally) with their exchanges all the while swinging with intense force. Sure they couldn't show having sex in the film but this scene goes to great lengths to convey just as much. If you were to take out the dialogue and just leave in the panting the scene essentially doubles as love-making, the quickening of pulses, the building tension and at last collapse and release.
Just listen to Hepburn's breathing at around 8:49, the woman is post-orgasmic.
Susan: It's too late, isn't it? I made a mess of everything, haven't I?
David: Oh no.
Susan: Oh, I was so happy when I found the bone this morning. Oh David, if I could only make you understand. You see, all that happened, happened, because I was trying to keep you near me, and I just did anything that came into my head. I'm so sorry.
David: Well, I ought to thank you.
Susan: Thank me?
David: Yes.
Susan: Well, why?
David: You see. Well, I've just discovered that was the best day I ever had in my whole life!
Susan: David, you don't mean that.
David: I never had a better time!
Susan: OH! But, but, but I was there.
David: Well, that's what made it so good.
Susan: Oh, did you really have a good time?
David: Yes, I did!
Susan: Oh, that's, but that's wonderful. Do you realize what that means? That means that you must like me a little bit.
David: Susan, it's more than that.
Susan: It is?
David: Yes, I love you, I think.
Susan: Oh, that's wonderful, because I love you too! Stop rocking, David.
David: Oh, I'm not rocking. I-I-I...
I love how that even at his most passionate David in all his enthusiasm can still only manage "I love you I think." The script never forgets for a moment that we're dealing with both romantic AND comedic elements so while things may be getting rather lovey-dovey there's a delightful physical bit of business as the ladders sways back and forth the distance extending perpetually. By the time the ladder falls the ending is no longer in question. Susan climbs aboard the skeleton and David reaches for her. Hawks cuts to a wide shot and we are witness to the rather remarkable shot of the enormous skeleton collapsing. Consider that the "child", the creation, of Swallows and David is the skeleton; dull, lifeless and inert. Susan and David's child has been the titular leopard, Baby; a living, vibrant animal full of passion and enthusiasm. Here over the literal wreck of remains, the end of David's old relationship a new coupling is made final. In short a perfect ending.


Anonymous said...

Great post! This is one of my favorite comedies, and you really summed it up well.

neonspecs said...

I can't really handle the first hour of this movie.