Museums & the Movies: Bringing Up Baby

April 25, 2014

Entertainment

It’s been a while since the latest edition of ‘Museums & the Movies‘, but being laid up ill in bed for almost two weeks did have its upsides – lots of time to catch up on my favourite museum films! One of the earliest movies on my ‘Museums & the Movies’ list, is the 1938 screwball comedy ‘Bringing Up Baby’. It actually only briefly features the starring museum at the beginning and the end, but the museum is pivotal to the movie’s plot.

Bringing Up Baby (1938)

Location: New York City
Starring: Stuyvesant Museum of Natural History

Museums and the Movies - Bringing Up Baby

The absolutely absurd plot with its fast paced dialogue revolves around a dinosaur bone, a million dollars, and a leopard named Baby. Throw in a befuddled professor, a ditzy rich girl, a stuffy dowager and a bumbling sheriff, and you’d think you’d have comedy gold in the making. Hard to believe that what is now considered a classic was a complete flop on its initial release.

Museums and the Movies - Bringing Up Baby

It all starts at the Stuyvesant Museum of Natural History, where palaeontologist David (played by no other than Cary Grant) has been busy assembling a Brontosaurus skeleton for the past four years. While he sits atop of a scaffolding mulling over a bone he is holding in his hands (no gloves!), one wonders how good a palaeontologist he really is, as exemplified by this dialogue:

David: “I think this one must belong in the tail.”
Alice: “Nonsense, you tried it in the tail yesterday and it didn’t fit.”

Museums and the Movies - Bringing Up Baby

Then a telegraph arrives with the happy news, that the last bone needed to complete the Brontosaurus – the intercostal clavicle – has been found by an expedition in Utah. Wait a minute, wasn’t David just holding the last bone and wondering where it goes? Details, shmetails. Let’s just say that was the second to last bone, and it will be a toss up between the two to see which goes where.

But as we all know, expeditions and dinosaur assemblies cost a lot of money, so the team from the museum have their eyes and hearts set on securing a $1 million endowment from a wealthy dowager. However, this all depends on David making a good impression on the dowager’s legal advisor, Mr Peabody, over a game of golf, and that’s where things start to go horribly wrong…

Enter Susan (played by Katherine Hepburn). A flighty, irritating, airhead rich girl, who has calamity follow in her wake. Needless to say, her path crosses with David, and the good impression he is trying to make goes horribly wrong. But at least David’s intercostal clavicle has arrived, as he excitedly tells his fiancé Alice on the phone:

David: “Oh, oh, Alice, it’s arrived. The intercostal clavicle. Yes, isn’t that wonderful. Oh, isn’t that a marvellous wedding present!”

Museums and the Movies - Bringing Up Baby

A dinosaur bone as a wedding present? Yes, please! Marvellous indeed. However, if you’re watching this movie from a museum professional point of view, please don’t think too intently about the fact that the bone is delivered to David’s house instead of the museum (security?), that he unwraps it by-the-by with a telephone tucked under his chin talking to Susan (yes, that’s right, Susan not Alice), or what happens to the bone after that…

Museums and the Movies - Bringing Up Baby

It’s not giving too much away (we’re still only about 20 minutes in to a 100 minute long movie at this point) to tell you that this is where the plot starts to become a little absurd – well, it’s not called a screwball comedy for nothing. Susan receives a leopard called Baby – the movie’s namesake – from her brother, intended for her aunt. Somehow she convinces David to help her deliver it (with the dinosaur bone still tucked under his arm! well, at least he’s put it back in its box), which results in a series of events including a truck load of chickens, a stolen car, the leopard, of course, some mistaken identity, and a bone loving dog. A what loving dog? Yup, a bone loving dog. He really should have had that intercostal clavicle delivered to the museum…

Museums and the Movies - Bringing Up Baby

David: “Where is it?”
Susan: “Where’s what?”
David: “My intercostal clavicle!”
Susan: “Your what?”
David: “My bone. It’s rare. It’s precious. (…)
Susan: “Well, I guess you’ll just have to find another one.”
David: “It took 3 expeditions and 5 years to find that one.”
Susan: “Now that they know where to find them, couldn’t you send them back to find another one?”

The rest of the movie revolves around David and Susan trying to find the bone again in the 26 acre garden of her aunt – who, of course, turns out to be the dowager with the $1 million endowment – with a number of great screwball comedy moments thrown in for good measure. I won’t give the ending away just in case some of you haven’t seen this wonderful film yet, but suffice to say all’s well that end’s well. But does it?

Susan: “Don’t worry, David, everything’s going to be all right.”
David: “Every time you say that, something happens.”

Museums and the Movies - Bringing Up Baby

So, does the Brontosaurus get completed? Does the museum get it’s $1 million endowment? Does David get married to Alice? And does he ever get rid of Susan? To find out the answers, you’ll just have to watch the movie! (and if you’re a museum professional, you might want to shield your eyes at the very end…)

BUB 007

And here’s my favourite non-museum related quote from the movie:

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

Image source: All images are screenshots from the movie, taken on my computer. Available as a DVD from amazon.co.uk, amazon.com and amazon.de (known in German as “Leoparden Küsst Man Nicht”). Please note these are not affiliate links, I’m just a big fan of the movie. 

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  1. Bye Bye April | My blog - October 20, 2014

    […] watched it all in one go. Also re-watched screwball classic Bringing Up Baby (1938) for my ‘Museums and the Movies‘ feature over on Museum […]

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