As a genre, screwball comedy presents a much wider, more contradictory picture of the world out of which it arose than the individual films we remember best (Sikov 17).
Screwball comedies were the last refuge of the satire, self-mockery and sexual candor of early 1930s filmmaking, but their iconoclasm was used, overtly at least, to support the status quo. They belonged firmly to the tradition of romantic comedies whose purpose was to show how imagination, curiosity and cleverness--those dangerous levers of social change--could be channeled into support of things as they are. The screwball comedies by and large celebrated the sanctity of marriage, class distinction and the domination of women by men (Sklar 187-188).
As might be expected in a film made near the end of the Depression, money is a central element in Bringing Up Baby, while it is not an element an issue at all in the yuppie world of When Harry Met Sally. Hepburn's character is dedicated not merely to having and spending money but to assuring that she retains it--her concern for where her leopard, Baby, might be found derives from her fear of being disinherited by her aunt. Grant's character is not immune to money in one sense--he wants a million dollar grant for his paleontological research, and this is what motivates his actions. He becomes involved in her logic, but it is placed in service of his goal, a goal that coincides with her own.
The essential elements of the screwball comedy found in both films are a man and a woman who meet and do not like one another, and while every member of the audience knows intuitively that these two will get together, they do not. They may fight it, or they may ignore it as a possibility. In the end, though, they are destined for one another and have to come to grips with it. In the Hawks film, the man and woman come from different social milieu, one an heiress with all the peculiarities and social attitudes of the rich, and the other an intellectual more dedicated to his work than anything else. She is the flighty one who does not take anything too seriously, and he is the dedicated one who takes his work seriously and ignores everything else. There is a social chasm between them that is breached here not just by attraction but also by a leopard, the latter the madcap element that was strong in the 1930s and that often attached itself to the rich heiress who had more money than she knew how to handle.
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