Just in time for the end of the month, here is January’s Discovery post, featuring Cary Grant!
The Discovery: Back when I “liked old movies” but didn’t go out of my way to see many, I watched An Affair to Remember and Houseboat. I vaguely remembering knowing who Cary Grant was, but sadly, that was it. When I decided I liked old movies enough to make a point to watch more, one of the first I saw was The Philadelphia Story. When I saw North by Northwest a few days later, I knew that Cary Grant would soon become one of my favorite actors.
Thoughts on the Body of Work: Born Archibald Alexander Leach (don’t you love that name?), Cary Grant is arguably the greatest movie star of all time. With that, of course, comes the problem of differentiating his star persona and his acting ability. In the first few films I saw, Cary Grant was an established star. Going back to some of his movies before superstardom (She Done Him Wrong, Born to Be Bad , Sylvia Scarlett, The Amazing Adventure) was an interesting experience; for example, as much as I liked Born to Be Bad, Grant’s role is hardly exceptional.
In order to see Cary Grant at his most Cary Grant, we have to examine the later comedies and dramas. Grant was one of the kings of screwball comedy and had this effortless charm that became part of his persona. On top of that, Grant always had the most illustrious costars for these films, from Katharine Hepburn (Bringing Up Baby, Holiday, The Philadelphia Story), Irene Dunne (The Awful Truth, My Favorite Wife), and Myrna Loy (The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House) to Rosalind Russell (His Girl Friday), Jean Arthur (The Talk of the Town), Priscilla Lane (Arsenic and Old Lace), Ann Sheridan (I Was a Male War Bride), and Ginger Rogers (Monkey Business).
Cary Grant shows a different side, oftentimes morally ambiguous, in some of his other films, including the Hitchcock films (Suspicion, Notorious, To Catch a Thief, North by Northwest), as well as the so-called Hitchcock film that Hitchcock never made (Charade). There were also the adventure movies (Only Angels Have Wings, Gunga Din) and the straight dramas (In Name Only, Penny Serenade, None But the Lonely Heart, The Bishop’s Wife), in which Cary Grant shows the audience what a good dramatic actor he was.
We could debate the merits of comedy versus drama for eternity, but it’s important to note that, although several of Grant’s best-loved films are the comedies, he only received Oscar nominations for two dramas: Penny Serenade and None But the Lonely Heart. Although a Cary Grant comedy will always make for a great movie-watching experience, I do enjoy Grant getting to play different types of characters. He could do it all – when directors and the public let him. And what his best performances are I can’t say for myself. Such is Cary Grant.
Favorites: I’m breaking this by comedy and drama because to compare them would be like comparing apples and oranges.
- His Girl Friday: One of my top ten favorite films of all time, His Girl Friday sees Cary Grant teaming up with Rosalind Russell for the only time. The breakneck banter is reason enough to see this, and there’s the Archie Leach shoutout to listen for.
- The Awful Truth/My Favorite Wife: I know I’m cheating, but I can’t decide which of the comedies with Irene Dunne I prefer. In the former, they’re soon to be divorced, and in the latter, she returns after being taken for dead on the day he remarries.
- The Philadelphia Story: You can’t go wrong with Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, and Katharine Hepburn.
- The Talk of the Town: This one was a surprise for me. A great cast (Grant, Jean Arthur, and Ronald Colman) make for a hilarious love triangle, and Grant plays an escaped prisoner.
- Arsenic and Old Lace: Dark humor at its…darkest? Funniest? I don’t know, but Arsenic and Old Lace is one bizarre, morbid, and ultimately funny film.
- North by Northwest: The first Hitchcock film I saw and a personal favorite, North by Northwest is the perfect blend of thriller, humor, drama, and romance.
- Charade: I could basically say the same about Charade as I did about North by Northwest. The bonus this time: Cary Grant teams Audrey Hepburn.
- Penny Serenade: A weepy extraordinaire, Penny Serenade is the last film Grant made with Irene Dunne.
- Suspicion: Ending aside, this is a top-notch romantic thriller. It’s wonderful to see Grant play an ambiguous character.
- In Name Only: In this lesser known and ultimately worthwhile film, Cary Grant costars with Carole Lombard, and while both excelled at comedy, they prove their dramatic chops in this.
Will I continue the discovery? While I may not have entirely liked every film I saw, each one in this discovery had one giant plus: Cary Grant himself. I’m in no special hurry to finish his filmography, but if I ever happen across a Grant film I haven’t seen, I’ll watch it without any questions. High up on my list is Topper. What other Cary Grant films would you recommend?