Bringing Up Baby (1938) vs. My Man Godfrey (1936)

Bringing Up Baby is kind of hit and miss for me. One the one hand, Cary Grant gets to play a daft paleontologist with glasses and Kathrine Hepburn gets some fabulous one liners ("If you had an aunt who would give you a million dollars if she liked you and you knew she wouldn't like you if she found a leopard in your apartment, what would you do?") Also, Cary Grant, wearing a feminine/feathery robe yells, "Because I just went GAY all of a sudden!" deemed more hilarious by that fact that I have no idea what the connotations of "gay" were in the 1930s. Basically, Hepburn and Grant are always a delight, even in the worst of movies, so watching them is a pleasure.

Cary Grant in a frilly robe.

But Bringing Up Baby also ends up being fairly tedious. For all the funny moments, there's an equal amount of time spent running around doing nothing funny which in turn neutralizes the parts that were funny. This probably has to do with my severe dislike of comedy about stupid people. There's a reason I hated Amelia Bedelia books growing up, and that's because she was dumber than dirt and never understood instructions. To me, that's not funny, that's incompetent and tedious. (I was snobby even as an 8-year-old.) The same holds for any The Office storylines that focus too much on David Brent/Michael Scott--they're only funny when smarter people are making fun of them. In the case of Bringing Up Baby, both Susan and David are idiots, although in different ways, and for me that gets old because no one onscreen is mocking them.

Cary Grant in nerdy glasses. Adorable.

My Man Godfrey, though, I find hilarious. Certainly the film has a heavy Depression-era "do good to the less fortunate" streak that grounds the humor, but the reason I love the movie so much mostly has to do with William Powell's Godfrey. He's a smart man who has come to understand himself as an upperclass man through heartbreak and life on the streets (er, river bank). But it's his reactions to the insane Bullock family that make this film so great. He's underminingly polite, managing to make fun of the family with a straight face as their butler. (The question, "Can you butle?" never fails to make me laugh.)

William Powell being kind and condescending at the same time. Hot.

I even go along with the absolutely crazy scenes, like when Mrs. Bullock's musician protege Carlo starts acting like a monkey while Irene (Carole Lombard) has a huge nervous breakdown because Godfrey doesn't love her and there's chaos and yelling. I enjoy having an ally in watching ridiculous things happen, and Godfrey is that man in this movie. His calm looks of wonder/disdain are unbeatable. In other words, he's the Tim/Jim of the situation, and thusly my favorite character.

Classic Godfrey expression as Irene literally throws herself at him. By throwing her in the shower, Godfrey loves her of course.

But despite his intelligence, Godfrey manages to fall into an odd sort of relationship with Irene. Irene gives him the job as butler at her house after she uses him as a "forgotten man" in a scavenger hunt. She subsequently falls in love with him, even though he clearly shows no interest in her besides gratitude for the job. But they have an easy, sweet sort of chemistry despite not feeling an equal affection for each other. Their movie relationship makes sense seeing as how Powell and Lombard were married and divorced a few years before this movie was made. They remained good friends, and their comfortable real-life chemistry bleeds through onscreen. Anyway, the way Irene throws herself at Godfrey, and he calmly refuses, but doesn't completely push her away. Their proximity, their banter, their difference in wit. For whatever reason, it warms my heart.

To sum up: Bring Up Baby doesn't bring enough laughs or heart for me to care. My Man Godfrey is basically perfect.

1 comment:

  1. I love both of these movies. I know what you mean though about the absolute Ridiculousness of Every character in Bringing Up Baby. And I definitely got a crush on William Powell in My Man Godfrey. I bought Mr. and Mrs. Smith from Costco a few years ago, and he's cute in that but Godfrey is certainly the best. (PS I want to grow up and play characters like Mrs. Bullock...I always find those crazy mothers in old movies hilarious)