Bringing Up Baby appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. A generally decent picture, Baby suffered from a few too many problems to rate a grade much above average.
Most of the concerns connected to sharpness. Although a lot of the movie demonstrated acceptable definition, the movie never came across as particularly concise. In addition, more than a few somewhat soft shots occurred, a factor exacerbated by some mild edge enhancement. I noticed no issues with shimmering or jagged edges, though.
A relative positive came from the general lack of source flaws. Occasional examples of specks, marks, blotches and spots appeared, but these remained reasonably minor for a flick of this one’s age. Blacks demonstrated pretty good depth, but contrast looked a bit off, as some shots appeared a little too bright. Shadows were acceptably defined, though, as the smattering of low-light shots showed decent delineation. Overall, Baby was consistently watchable; it just didn’t seem like anything particularly noteworthy.
Similar thoughts related to the monaural soundtrack of Bringing Up Baby. A perfectly acceptable track for its era, the audio didn’t do anything particularly special. Speech sounded a little brittle and showed a smidgen of edginess, but the lines were intelligible. Effects played a small role in this talky flick. Though they lacked much life, they were clean and without any difficulties.
Music also played a very minor role, as only a few instances of score appeared. These were typically thin but sounded decent overall. A light layer of background noise appeared throughout the movie. Those elements didn’t interfere much, though, as the minor rumble stayed subdued. This was a soundtrack that worked just fine for a movie from 1938.
For its initial DVD release, Bringing Up Baby arrives as a two-disc special edition. On Disc One, the main attraction comes from an audio commentary with filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich. He offers a running, screen-specific track that only sporadically provides quality information. Bogdanovich gets into occasional details about the production, the structure of the film and its genre, and where it fits in movie history. He also discusses the way the movie influenced him, with a specific emphasis on What’s Up, Doc?
The best parts of the commentary come when Bogdanovich quotes some old interviews he did with director Howard Hawks. On those occasions, we get useful remarks about the film and the director’s work. I also like some of Bogdanovich’s insights into the methods used to create the scenes in which the actors interact with the leopard. Unfortunately, much of the time Bogdanovich does little more than echo funny lines and laugh. A fair amount of dead air occurs as well. Spurts of quality information appear here, but the commentary sags too much of the time and doesn’t give us much.
Fans of advertisements will love the Howard Hawks Trailer Gallery. This domain includes five promos for Hawks films. We get the trailer for Baby itself plus clips for 1941’s Sergeant York, 1944’s To Have and Have Not, 1946’s The Big Sleep, and 1959’s Rio Bravo. It’s a nice little collection.
As we move to DVD Two, we’ll focus mostly on two separate documentaries. Cary Grant: A Class Apart runs 86 minutes and 57 seconds. It combines archival materials, clips from Grant flicks, and interviews. We hear from Bogdanovich, former wives Barbara Grant and Betsy Drake, film historians Jeanine Basinger and James Harvey, friends Roderick Mann and Ralph Lauren, authors Nancy Nelson and Todd McCarthy, film critics Elvis Mitchell and David Denby, directors George Cukor (in 1973), Howard Hawks (1967), Alfred Hitchcock (1966), Stanley Donen and Mel Shavelson, screenwriter Ernest Lehman, writer Sidney Sheldon, and actors Martin Landau, Ralph Bellamy (1988), Dina Merrill, Eva Marie Saint, Jill St. John, Deborah Kerr (1988), George Kennedy (2003), Samantha Eggar, and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. (1988). We also get some quotes from Grant’s autobiographical essays.
”Apart” starts with Grant’s underprivileged childhood and disappearance of his mother, interest in theater and early experiences, his move to movies and the growth of his screen personality, personal relationships and Grant’s continuing career, controversies like his alleged homosexuality, the actor’s more conservative choices for roles as he aged, Grant’s penny-pinching ways, additional marriages, Grant’s refusal to have children and other personal complications, more film highs and lows, his use of LSD, the end of his acting career, fatherhood at last, and his final years.
While most shows of this sort simply tear through basics about the subject’s career and personal life, “Apart” digs in with more substantial depth. Rather than just tell us dates and people involved in Grant’s films, we often get interpretation of his work and information about other elements. Those insights make this a much richer program than usual. The moments that discuss Grant’s personal life fill in various blanks, but “Apart” mostly stays with his movies, and that makes it informative and engaging. It’s a terrific documentary.
For the second documentary, we get The Men Who Made the Movies: Howard Hawks. Narrated by filmmaker Sydney Pollack, it lasts 55 minutes and includes comments from Hawks across various years. Presented in chronological order, “Hawks” looks at career highlights. We find out things like the development of the director’s signature dialogue style as well as specific elements of certain flicks.
Unlike the rich and insightful “Apart”, “Hawks” mainly acts as a compilation of movie clips. The majority of the show focuses on those. Pollack’s narration fills in some gaps and Hawks’ anecdotes tell us some details about the productions. The latter are good but they pop up too infrequently. The show becomes acceptably informative, but I’d prefer something with fewer film snippets and more behind the scenes details.
Two shorts round out the set. Campus Cinderella goes for 18 minutes and 23 seconds. It presents a mildly entertaining musical romantic comedy about an attempt to land a star college athlete. The animated A Star Is Hatched takes eight minutes and seven seconds as it spoofs movie stars via a chicken who aspires to fame. It has its moments.
Probably the best-realized example of the “screwball comedy”, Bringing Up Baby beats us into submission with its relentless procession of insanity. The movie easily could have gone sour, but it works quite well, as the combination of bright dialogue and peppy performances makes it a winner.
The DVD presents decent but unspectacular picture and audio. Despite a lackluster commentary, the supplements work well, mainly due to an excellent look at the career of Cary Grant. While the DVD has its issues, it succeeds as a whole and earns my recommendation.