Tag Archives: Howard Hawks

Bringing up Maggie

If you love old school screwball comedies like I do, then Howard Hawks is manna from heaven. No one made screwier screwballs than Howard. With Bringing Up Baby he set a new bar for cinematic eccentricity.The storyline of Bringing Up Baby is preposterous, with Cary Grant playing a nervous paleontologist trying to secure a grant for his museum and Katharine Hepburn as a quick-witted heiress, who shanghais Grant into helping her transport a leopard, the eponymous Baby, to her aunt’s house. The film is even more ludicrous than it sounds.What with Cary wearing a ladies dressing gown, Hepburn imitating gangster’s moll Swinging Door Susie,  an adorable terrier and two leopards loose in Connecticut! Bringing Up Baby doesn’t do things by half. This is as screwball as it gets.Hepburn plays high society type Susan Vance to outstanding effect. Her natural lilt works wonderfully in this setting, and her timing is beyond. She was one of the true screwball comedy heroines, fast talking, ditzy, and glamorous. Watching her it’s hard to believe screwball’s dominant dames would soon fall from fashion, or slink down the misty alleyway into the world of film noir.In recent years Michelle Pfeiffer and her sister-in-screwball Meg Ryan have taken screwball elements to create modern interpretations of Katharine the Great and Queen Carole Lombard. Ryan’s Addicted to Love contains many screwball trademarks, but when love conquers all by the final reel; my abiding memory of the film will always be the outrageous antics of Meg’s vindictive Maggie.There’s not a great deal more I can say about Maggie. She goes above and beyond any other screwball character I can think of, making herself maniacally, possessively, wonderfully insane. I like her. I think she’d drive me up the wall in real life, but that’s the thing: she doesn’t exist in real life, she’s a crazy fictional character from a film that’s about as realistic as a Looney Toons cartoon.The urbanity we associate with Katharine Hepburn is more redolent in One Fine Day‘s Melanie Parker. Michelle has a relaxed rapport with George Clooney and she shows a flair for unpretentious physical comedy that pokes fun at her glamour and legendary beauty.With Melanie you get a seamless blend of seriousness with humour. A lady at odds with Ryan’s mischievous child-woman.Maggie’s wrecked hair and outrageous wardrobe form quite a contrast to Pfeiffer’s demure Breck girl, but if you accept the world of screwball comedy as an alternate universe, with its own illogical logic, then the idea of Maggie as Melanie Parker’s deranged sibling isn’t as screwy as it might appear. Maggie is like a tomboy princess of the Old World, but she’s finer because she’s Hawksian.


Filed under Retrospective