Directed by Howard Hawks and written by Dudley Nichols and Hagar Wilde, While trying to secure a $1 million donation for his museum, a befuddled palaeontologist is pursued by a flighty and often irritating heiress and her pet leopard, Baby. Starring: Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, Charles Ruggles, Walter Catlett, Barry Fitzgerald and May Robson.
When this film describes Hepburn’s Susan Vance as ‘often irritating’ it’s certainly downplaying the extent to which her character is selfish, arrogant and inconsiderate, not to mention that she simply does not stop talking. It’s a testament to Hepburn’s calibre of acting that she can so well portray this woman who may be the most annoying character to ever grace the big screen. She pulls people into her chaos and mayhem by simply never giving them the chance to have a rebuttal and it’s extremely frustrating to watch take place. She’s well supported by Grant’s David Huxley who simply can’t seem to stop bumping into her and getting tied up in her messes while she creates many for him, yet it opens his eyes to how mundane his existence has been in comparison. Grant for the most part provides a voice of reason and compassion; he tries to fight against her lying and grandiose behaviour to simply ensure the success of his museum but slowly succumbs to her eccentricities.
It’s not had to see that they fit a lot within its 102-minutes: stealing cars, saving leopards, losing dinosaur bones and more, it’s actually impressive that Hepburn didn’t just pass out from the little time she has to breathe in-between her never-ending dialogue. It’s a film that promises adventure and that’s what you get, she may be one of the most irritating people on the planet but she has a particular penchant for adding excitement to the lives of others, whether that’s something you would personally enjoy or not, it can be enjoyable to watch safely from the comfort of your own home.
What stands out blindingly clear however is the white privilege that she’s exuding. She’s a compulsive liar that commits crimes left and right with no consequences, and is entirely aware that her privilege affords her the ability to evade any liability as soon as people know who she, and her family, are. It’s a typical quality that has appeared in films over the years of rich, white people in films being arrested and quickly released on finding out about their families’ wealth and trust funds. Her character’s fondness for just taking whatever she likes and having one of her house staff return it to its owner later, is beyond arrogant and while their intention was clearly for these qualities to be charming, they’re difficult to watch. It then ruins the experience further as David begins to fall for her eccentric egotism, it’s extremely unconvincing that anyone could put up with her for longer than a day, let alone fall in love with her. It’s a shame they didn’t have her as simply clumsy or forgetful causing the surprising situations she finds herself in but then it’s unlikely your average woman in the 30’s would have a pet leopard. Raising an entirely different issue about the mistreatment of animals and illegally buying exotic animals to have as pets when they should be allowed to live in the wild as intended.
Times change and with them the perspective with which we watch classic film changes too, inappropriate and offense behaviour sticks out like a sore thumb, so while they clearly had no second thought with their intentions of creating Susan in 1938, she’s highly problematic viewing in 2020; not to mention she’s just unbelievably irritating. It’s full of hijinks and incredible actors going through one silly scenario after another at a rapid pace but after 82 years, there are only negative messages to be found.