FOCUS Auteur Theory

Howard Hawks is the most deceptive of the great directors of the Hollywood Golden Age. His films, which encompass action/adventure, Westerns, musicals and comedies, are so appealing and effortless that for years it was assumed he was an unimportant, if commercially successful, workhorse. In the 1950s, however, when the Cahiers du cinéma critics (see chapters 20 and

21) were scouting round for evidence to support their auteur theory, they pounced on this director with glee and, in effect, 'outed' him.

Drag Hawks 'the entertainer' out of the closet, they - or at least Godard - argued, and you will discover the real Hawks, the artist, who created a body of films that express a common collection of concerns irrespective of their subject matter or the apparent simplicity of their style. Bringing up Baby, Hawks's contribution to the 1930s 'screwball' genre, is a fine example of how the master uses comedy to explore one of his recurring themes: the need for people who embody widely differing values to reconcile those values before they can come together as lovers or friends. In addition, this madcap farce demonstrates the director's distinctive approach to film storytelling itself, to symmetry, pattern and shape.

There are two main characters in this movie, two spiritual oppo-sites. The first is Dr David Huxley (Cary Grant), a young zoologist who is obsessively dedicated to his work, the rather glum task of rebuilding a gigantic brontosaurus skeleton. As the film opens, we discover Huxley in his museum, bespectacled, contemplative, as potentially dead as his dead dinosaur; the imagery encourages us to see that this man's life is all work and no play.

Step forward the second major character: the maniacally playful heiress Susan Vance (Katharine Hepburn), David's mirror image and the living embodiment of his worst nightmare. Their first meeting, where they have a bizarre altercation over the ownership of a golf ball, sets the keynote for all the mayhem that follows: David tries in vain to be adult, logical, self-controlled; Susan, by contrast, is childlike, logical only in the way the Mad Hatter is logical, and she has no need for control of any description.

After this one-woman Exocet missile has inveigled the distraught doctor into helping her transport Baby, a pet leopard, to Connecticut, the confusions increase and the collisions between the two start to spiral; the spiral emits comic sparks, and the sparks tell us that these two fancy each other rotten.

The horseplay, then, is foreplay, but at a deeper emotional level this film takes David on a journey away from the dead, indoor dinosaur towards Susan's vitality, open-air joy and sense of fun. Finally, when all the misunderstandings have been resolved and the young woman has aided Huxley's work by getting him a large donation for his research, the two lovers are united: David has discovered his inner clown, thanks to his walk on the wild side; Susan may not have changed as such, but she has taken a significant step towards David's world, towards appreciating the value of his professional life. The lovers, then, end up in partnership, like two contrasting bookends, both very different from, but each in complete balance with, the other.

This movement towards spiritual symmetry can also be seen in the relationship between John Wayne and Montgomery Clift in Hawks's best Western, Red River (1948), and it is an important element in the two films he made with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall: To Have and Have Not (1944) and The Big Sleep (1946).

The emotional concerns of Bringing up Baby are also reflected and communicated in its narrative pattern. The overall shape is circular, starting with Huxley alone in his museum, then returning to the same location at the end, except this time Susan, not David's dreary fiancée, has occupied the space. Within this frame are numerous interconnecting contrasts, which contribute to the story's meaning in the way an increasingly complex chord structure enriches a piece of music.

For example, throughout this film, Hawks compares city with country, interior and exterior, night with day, order with chaos. At the same time, he gets plenty of anarchic fun out of the tension between the 'real' and the 'social' self. To take just one example: notice how David in particular keeps tearing, soaking or changing his clothes, as if what he feels he is on the inside, and what he believes the conventions require him to be on the outside, are locked in a loony death struggle.

The result of all this is wonderful, liberated (and liberating) comedy. Yet, even though Bringing up Baby is the movie-going equivalent of running away and joining the circus, bear in mind that its laughter and energy are rooted in serious issues about how we can live fully, freely - and in harmony with one another.

Note how all the nonsense (or non-sense) is firmly rooted in logic; be aware of comparisons and contrasts within scenes and between shots; consider how all these things influence your responses. In other words, use your enjoyment of this extremely enjoyable movie to help you to work out why you enjoy. You need to watch any movie by Howard Hawks like, well, a hawk.

Some Things to Watch out for and Consider

• Think about narrative devices. Ask yourself: s What roles do the animals play?

How do recurring lines of dialogue enhance and develop the story? » What is the significance of the dinosaur bone?

• Think about Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn. Ask yourself:

« How does the way they physically move contribute to our understanding of their characters and relationship? How do their voices and speech patterns help us to understand who they are? » How does Hawks's camera framing tell us how their relationship is developing?

• Try writing your own script for the scene we do not see - the one that results in David sitting in Susan's car covered in chicken feathers. Justify your approach with evidence from the film.

• Reconstruct the story, but from the point of view of George the dog (seriously!).

Further Viewing

The Awful Truth (McCarey, USA, 1937)

His Girl Friday (Hawks, USA, 1940)

To Have and Have Not (Hawks, USA, 1944)

The Big Sleep (Hawks, USA, 1946)

Red River (Hawks, USA, 1948)

What's Up, Doc? (Bogdanovich, USA, 1972)

Further Reading

G. Mast, Howard Hawks: Storyteller (Oxford, 1982) J. McBride, Hawks on Hawks (Los Angeles, 1982)

T. McCarthy, Howard Hawks: The Grey Fox of Hollywood (New York, 1997)

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