As Cool As A Fruitstand

…and maybe as strange. A movie blog.

Weekend Double Feature: Grant vs. Hepburn

Posted by Hedwig on April 2, 2008

I know, I know, it’s already quite late in the week… but hey, at least I’m still going this thing. Up this week: two screwball comedies I’d somehow managed not to see until now, The Philadelphia Story and Bringing up Baby. The link? Both star the inimitable Cary Grant and indomitable Katherine Hepburn.

They do, however, have a rather dissimilar power dynamic. In both, Hepburn is a force of nature, full of energy and, for lack of a better word, spunk. She’s smarter in Philadelphia, and more uptight and self-righteous, but both keep their chin lifted and their words coming fast. The two Carys she falls for couldn’t be more different, on the other hand. In Philadelphia his marvelously named C.K.Dexter Haven is what can old-fashionedly be described as a cad. He even shoves Hepburn’s Tracy Lord in the wordless prologue, and he keeps annoying her and putting her down throughout. Somehow, though, it’s all too apparent that he can’t resist her, either. In Bringing up Baby, Grant plays a very different type. David Huxley, to put it plainly, is a geek.

The distinction lies mostly in the amount of words they say. C.K.Dexter Haven, while not quite the most loquacious man in Philadelphia, is quite witty and sharp. Huxley, on the other hand, spends a great part of his time attempting to speak, almost speaking. Grant takes the opportunity to mug and runs with it.

Of course, all this description is just a way to avoid the crucial question: which one did I like better? Which Grant, well, that’s easy: I’m afraid I have poor taste in men, and the cad will beat the geek anytime. Truth be told, among screwball actors, I’m always preferred Clark Gable over all the others, including Grant and Stewart. A recent biography apparently says he had halitosis, hepatitis, and a case of dubious sexuality, but we’re talking of fantasy figures, not real people here.

Which movie… that’s tougher. I laughed more at Bringing up Baby, because of its sheer insanity. A leopard, a dog, no wait, two leopards, and too many crazy ideas to count. Unfortunately though, the characters are on the flat side, and we never quite understand why Susan pursues the poor doctor so mercilessly. She’s just the kind of girl who gets ideas like that, I suppose, but it’s never quite clear why she picked this guy. And that he picks her in the end, well, that’s obvious before she even appears, from the moment we meet his frosty fiancée Alice.

The Philadelphia Story suffers from the opposite “problem”. Here, it’s unsure until the last moment who Tracy’ll end up with… and there’s not really any justification for her choice. But I’ve got to give The Philadelphia Story the edge because Tracy Lord is such a marvelous creature, strong but definitely not flawless, conflicted, stubborn, smart and most of all: funny.

Who really cared about plot, though. I didn’t like these two quite as much as, for instance, His Girl Friday and It Happened One Night, but we all know it’s not the plot that matters. It’s the quips, the dialogue. Some choice excerpts, below.

Bringing Up Baby

Mrs. Random: Well who are you?
David Huxley: I don’t know. I’m not quite myself today.
Mrs. Random: Well, you look perfectly idiotic in those clothes.
David Huxley: These aren’t my clothes.
Mrs. Random: Well, where are your clothes?
David Huxley: I’ve lost my clothes!
Mrs. Random: But why are you wearing *these* clothes?
David Huxley: Because I just went gay all of a sudden!
Mrs. Random: Now see here young man, stop this nonsense. What are you doing?
David Huxley: I’m sitting in the middle of 42nd Street waiting for a bus.

David Huxley: When a man is wrestling a leopard in the middle of a pond, he’s in no position to run.

David Huxley: Well, you don’t understand, this is my car!
Susan Vance
: You mean, this is your car?
Huxley: Of course.
Vance: Your golf ball? Your car? Is there anything in the world that doesn’t belong to you?
David Huxley
: Yes, thank heaven — you!
Susan Vance
: Now, don’t lose your temper.
David Huxley
: My dear young lady, I’m not losing my temper. I’m merely trying to play some golf.
Susan Vance
: Well, you choose the funniest places. This is a parking lot.
David Huxley
: Will you get out of my car?
Susan Vance
: Will you get off my running board?
David Huxley
: This is my running board!

The Philadelphia Story

C. K. Dexter Haven: Sometimes, for your own sake, Red, I think you should’ve stuck to me longer.
Tracy Lord: I thought it was for life, but the nice judge gave me a full pardon.
C. K. Dexter Haven: Aaah, that’s the old redhead. No bitterness, no recrimination, just a good swift left to the jaw.

C. K. Dexter Haven: Orange juice, certainly.
Tracy Lord: Don’t tell me you’ve forsaken your beloved whisky and whiskies.
C. K. Dexter Haven: No-no-no-no. I’ve just changed their colour, that’s all. I’m going for the pale pastel shades now. There’re more becoming of me. How about you, Mr. Connor? You drink, don’t you – alcohol, I mean?
Macaulay Connor: Oh, a little.
C. K. Dexter Haven: A little? And you a writer? Tsk, tsk, tsk. I thought all writers drank to excess and beat their wives. You know, at one time I think I secretly wanted to be a writer.

Macauley Connor: I’m testing the air. I like it but it doesn’t like me.

Margaret Lord: Oh, dear. Is there no such thing as privacy any more?
Tracy Lord : Only in bed, mother, and not always there.


2 Responses to “Weekend Double Feature: Grant vs. Hepburn”

  1. cjKennedy said

    “You know, at one time I think I secretly wanted to be a writer.”


    No one can read lines like that the way Cary Grant can.

    My heart is with Philadelphia Story. It sparkles. I’ve always liked the elegant, adult comedies over the zanier slapsticky ones. Movies with adults standing around drinking an wittily mocking one another.

    Plus, you can’t beat the Grant-Hepburn-Stewart combination.

  2. Joe Valdez said

    Bringing Up Baby wipes me out every time I try to watch it; I think the script was something like 160 pages and the film’s running time is jammed into 95 minutes. It’s just insane. Howard Hawks was at least way ahead of his time, figuring if people didn’t catch a joke, they could just watch the movie over again.

    I agree with Craig completely. The Philadelphia Story is much more watchable. Nothing beats Grant-Hepburn-Stewart in the same movie. The non-stop mockery is hilarious, as is Stewart stumbling around drunk shouting “C.K. Dexter Haven!”

    I’m glad you were to finally see these two classics, Hedwig, and learn something. The cad does beat the geek every time.

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