Cary Grant, evolved from star to institution to legend to national treasure. His retirement in 1966 after thirty-four years did nothing to diminish his popularity; he remained off the screen for the remaining twenty years of his life, Greta Garbo like.
Back in 1933, Mae West invited the "tall, dark, and handsome" twenty-nine-year old Brit to "C'mon up 'n' see me some time." After closer inspection, she observed: "You can be had." in the two films for which he was cast as her leading man, She Done Him Wrong (1933) and I'm No Angel (1933), her assessment was way off the mark. He couldn't be had but was clever enough to create an ideal that let audiences think that he might be
Once he hit success as the amoral Cockney opposite Kate Hepburn in Sylvia Scarlett (1935), movie goers delighted in watching women try to ruffle his unflappable charm before succumbing to him. In his three films he made with George Cukor, five with Howard Hawks, four with Alfred Hitch- cock, four with Stanley Donen, three with Leo McCarey, and the three with George Stevens he rarely went after the women. There was no need. They always went after him.
There is a case to be made that a part of Cary Grant's astonishing attraction for Americans lay in his embodiment of a man whose intellect and great common sense accepts that the most sensible way to win the battle against an unreasoning but overwhelming natural force such as woman's drive to find anmateis to enlist her on his side. Cary Grant's gives one the feeling that he offers a woman the satisfaction of her senses and affections in return for his peace. Like the perfect British gentleman that this once poverty- stricken young British boy modeled his persona on, one does not feel that love will interest Grant permanently, only that he will give it a good try, and if that fails, he'll do his best not to let on. Curiously, that was part of his charm.
In seventy-three films, without seeming to change, Cary Grant continually rethought and distilled his screen self until, at last, he was as polished and flawless as a diamond, and possessed of all its glittering facets. Grant died at eighty-two.And become the image of the man he had created. He are some of my favorites.
THE AWFUL TRUTH (1937)
Director Leo McCarey's farcical masterpiece is based on the premise that "the road to Reno is paved with suspicion." Jerry (Grant) returns home early from a trip to surprise his wife (Irene Dunne), only to find that she isn't there, and assumes, when she finally arrives with an escort and wearing an evening dress, that, like himself, she had been where she shouldn't have. This is the film where a divorce is granted and the ninety days before the decree becomes final are used to show how and why these two people fell in love in the first place, and why they were meant for each other. It's wildly sophisticated, madly romantic, and exquisitely funny.
BRINGING UP BABY (1938)
Why is this the film everybody loves? Because it has such a great cast, Charles Ruggles, May Robson, Fritz Feld, Grant, Hepburn; and director, Howard Hawks, and because it's the perfect silly movie, with a plot predicated on a dog burying zoology professor Grant's dinosaur bone. With Grant stepping on screwball Hepburn's dress in the country club, with Cary in Kate's peignoir, with both of them trying to lure the escaped leopard back by singing "I Can't Give You Anything But Love, Baby" on a rooftop to the wrong leopard, its screw ball antics haven't dated any.
GUNGA DIN (1939)
Somewhere along the Indian frontier, the Thugs, "the most fiendish band of killers that ever existed," have come back after fifty years, led by their fanatical guru to "Kill lest they be killed; Kill for the love of killing! Kill for the love of Kali! Kill, kill, kill!" and only the three musketeers of the British army, sergeants Grant, Victor McLaglen, and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., can stop them. It's a film that ultimately raises an issue that it hadn't even considered for the preceding ninety minutes of action packed derring-do namely, that the villains of the piece are "men who will die for their faith and their country as readily as you" and the "heroes" are their imperialist rulers. Until then, the action with Grant the nimblest of the three, leaping, rolling, bouncing, clubbing, fencing, shooting, and punching, is inventive enough to stop audiences from more serious reflection.
HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940)
This is the second of four recognizable versions of Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur's The Front Page, and the one in which director Howard Hawks changes ace reporter Hildy Johnson into a woman. By inserting the war between the sexes into the already turbulent relationship between editor Walter Burns and Johnson, Hawks adds another twist to the film that has been acclaimed as the fastest to come out of Hollywood since the Keystone Kops. The speed with which this brilliant script is delivered knocks the hats off the players, with Grant and Rosalind Russell creating a delightfully surprising variation on Laurel and Hardy. Grant twiddling his tie and fingers, is ruthless and relentless as he bamboozles a deeply suspicious Russell into yet "another fine mess." It's the best newspaper film of all time, bar none. Trying to take notes during a screening is like trying to keep dry in a hailstorm.
Co-starring Joan Fontaine, who won an Oscar for believing the ending, the film, set in Hollywood's idea of English country homes, was directed by Alfred Hitchcock. When we aren't being scared for Miss Fontaine, who becomes progressively more certain her charming, unemployed husband is out to murder her, we're admiring the forties charm and style we attribute to that "Masterpiece Theatre" world. Yet in this film he uses his tennis-playing playboy charm to prey on a sedate young woman, marry her for her money, and then cold-bloodedly murder her without even a plea of insanity. Of course, there was no way that such an ending, with all its risks to star image, could stand; an implausibly happy one-minute "I must have dreamed it all" sequence was tacked on and Grant's persona remained intact, to charm again another day.
It's Miami, April 24, 1946: Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman) is giving a party. Her father's just been condemned by the court as a Nazi war criminal. The last guest to leave is an uninvited stranger. "You're quite a boy." The boy is Devlin (Grant), a government agent sent to recruit her into using her father's connections to infiltrate a nest of Nazi agents in Rio. In Alfred Hitchcock's world, lovers meet by trying to use each other. It's one of Hitch's best, and Ted Tetzlaff's black-and-white photography has a shellacked brilliance that makes it impossible to imagine this brooding masterpiece of love and pain, and the pain of love, no other way.
MR. BLANDINGS BUILDS HIS DREAM HOUSE (1948)
A middle-class couple (Grant and Myrna Loy) looking to exchange overcrowded Manhattan's crush for the "idyllic" suburban life buy the "perfect" house, only to find three million things wrong with it. This is 1948, when on $15,000 per year, man could afford to maintain a wife, two children, a maid, and a four-room apartment in New York, and when a Connecticut "dream house:' with thirty-five acres, a trout stream, and a fifty-eight-minute commute from New York, was overpriced at $11,500. The film is perfect for a time capsule. Grant as Jim Blandings, one of those bright young fellows you see around town, college educated for the advertising business. Now forty-four but still looks impecc- ably preserved, and certainly younger than the leading ladies of his own generation.
TO CATCH A THIEF (1955)
It's 1955, when a theft of $35,000 worth of jewelry was still a shocking amount, and the Mediterranean was still clean. Grant is John Robie: ``I was a member of an American trapeze act with a circus traveling in Europe. It folded, I was stranded, and put my agility to more rewarding purposes. These made him famed as ``the Cat" a Riviera jewel thief. Now, honored for his work in the Resistance, he has been retired from thievery since the end of the war and a man of obvious good taste lives a discreet elegant style in a lovely house with a good cook. John Robie's life-style was drawn from Hitchcock's own fantasy, with Grant as the alter ego making everything possible. That includes irresistible women finding him even more irresistible, unable to keep themselves from doing things to Grant that they would have to be drunk to do to any other man. Grace Kelly's seduction of Grant to an accompanying fireworks display has lost nothing to the passage of time.
NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959)
North by Northwest with Grant as a businessman mistaken for a spy and spending the rest of the film running from enemy agents trying to kill him is full of perfect bits, and a great cast James Mason and Eva Marie Saint in their only Hitchcock outing provides Grant with matchless support.
Like three perfect martini's,Grant and Mason and Jessie Royce Landis were flawless but Saint's transformation under Hitchcock's direction from drab duckling to sexy swan made her irresistible to me forever.
A man's corpse is thrown out of a train speeding across France; his death leaves would-be divorcee (Audrey Hepburn) a widow with little time to be merry, since three ruthless men believe she knows where he'd hidden a stolen fortune. Cary Grant celebrated his fifty-ninth year with a film that is a virtual anthology of his work, playing a man with four aliases: One finds himself in some screwball party game involving apple passing without the use of hands; another takes a shower with his suit on; a third engages in some nifty acrobatics and hair-raising roof-ledge wrestling with an iron-claw-handed villain, and so on. All of them are of course charming, suave, amusing, mysterious, and also in pursuit of the money. With Henry Mancini's music, the Seine, and the stars, this enjoyable charade uncorks some vintage romance, and Audrey's passion is a match for Cary's lifetime of experience. ``Do you know what's wrong with you?" she asks him after some nerve-racking escape. ``What?" Opening those wide eyes wider, she says, ``Nothing!" To which one can only add: Amen.