Review: Criterion's Blu-ray of Screwball Masterpiece 'Bringing Up Baby' Boasts Incredible Restoration

by Sam Cohen

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday July 27, 2021

The gargantuan effect that Howard Hawks' 1938 masterpiece "Bringing Up Baby" had on Hollywood as a whole cannot be overstated. It may not have been a financial success upon its original release, but the way that it has cemented itself in pop culture and filmmaking in general is far greater than any financial compensation. There isn't American film — or, hell, comedy as a film genre — without "Bringing Up Baby," and that fact becomes clearer upon repeat viewings.

The Criterion Collection brings "Bringing Up Baby" to Blu-ray with a 4K restoration that's almost as interesting as the film itself. Due to a lack of perfect, complete film elements, preservationist Craig Johnson had to use a 35mm nitrate duplicate negative and a 35mm safety fine-grain positive to create the best image for the film. The nitrate duplicate negative was also riddled with mold, and needed extra work done to it before it was even ready for scanning. And while that enormous restoration effort can be felt watching this new 1080p presentation, especially in some infrequent image instability, detail and grain is significantly tightened over previous DVD releases of the film. This is the best that "Bringing Up Baby" has looked in decades.

Hapless paleontologist Dr. David Huxley (Cary Grant) finds himself hopelessly entangled with a scatterbrained heiress named Susan Vance (Katharine Hepburn) and her pet leopard, named Baby. There's a missing dinosaur bone and a myriad of other crazed antics along the way, of course.

In addition to the terrific new restoration (which should make this a must-buy release alone), there's a laundry list of special features that make this release shine. There're old archival interviews with Hawks and Grant, as well as a new program with cinematographer John Bailey that digs deep into the composition of select sequences from the film. It goes beyond scene dissection and finds gold, studying Hawks' assured form and how it best matched screwball comedy. Hawks was one of the few living directors that understood that camera placement is nothing without motion within the frame.

If you need even more convincing to run out now to pick up "Bringing Up Baby," know that there's an incredible booklet essay by critic Sheila O'Malley, who's one of our foremost authorities on the art of acting. This release, of course, comes highly recommended.

Other special features include:

• New video essay on actor Cary Grant by author Scott Eyman
• New interview about cinematographer Russell Metty with cinematographer John Bailey
• New interview with film scholar Craig Barron on special effects pioneer Linwood Dunn
• New selected-scene commentary about costume designer Howard Greer, featuring costume historian Shelly Foote
• "Howard Hawks: A Hell of a Good Life," a 1977 documentary by Hans-Christoph Blumenberg, featuring the director's last filmed interview
• Audio interview from 1969 with Grant
• Audio excerpts from a 1972 conversation between Hawks and Bogdanovich
• Trailer

"Bringing Up Baby" is now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.