It is nearly impossible to write about Cary Grant without mentioning the words suave, dashing, elegant, or handsome, so let’s just get all of those words out of the way now. Twentieth Century Fox has released a six-DVD box set of a collection of Cary Grant films and it’s a decent overview of his career.
Born To Be Bad (1934) was rejected twice by the Hays Office before approval, notably for the shocking underwear shots of Loretta Young as saucy Letty Strong. Letty was a single mother at 15 and her son, mini-con man Mickey, is running rackets in knee socks. A Satan in shortpants, if you will, but he learned from the best—his scandalous mother. When they have a chance to cash in on an accident, they run a scam on the hapless President of Amalgamated Dairy, a very young Cary Grant.
When they’re found out, the courts take Mickey away from his mother. Cary Grant, as Mal, becomes his guardian and Mickey is taken to live at Mal and his wife Alyce’s country estate. Mickey, of course, thrives under Mal’s care and consistency. Meanwhile, Letty and her attorney hatch a plan to get Mal to hook up with her and get evidence of his indiscretions. She seduces him; his struggle to stay faithful is written subtly on his face. It’s not a mannered performance. Mal falls in love with her and Alyce steps aside. It all happens crazy quickly and Letty’s a nasty piece of work. Alyce surely must be a saint.
It has a weirdly unsatisfying ending. There are great performances by Loretta Young and Jackie Kelk as Mickey. Cary Grant begins his evolution of suave.
I Was A Male War Bride (1949), directed by Howard Hawks, features Cary Grant as a French Army Captain, Lt. Rochard, with a strangely non-French accent. He shares a sparky chemistry with Ann Sheridan, as a WAC from America, Lt. Catherine Gates.
A screwball comedy with a slow first half, Grant and Sheridan’s characters have a contentious relationship due to previous run-ins. With whip-crack dialogue and a nice bit of physical comedy (Grant trying to make himself comfortable in an uncomfortable chair is hilarious), the film ramps up in the second half when Rochard and Gates decide to finally give in to their undeniable attraction and get married (Get married? Why not just date?). While a comedy about a quagmire of paperwork doesn’t sound terribly funny, it is. Grant is most hilarious when he’s put upon, though this might be most well known as the movie in which Cary Grant appeared in drag.
People Will Talk (1951) befuddled me. Grant is Dr. Noah Praetorius, a refined doctor with a warm bedside manner and a pocket full of candy, as well as a mysterious companion, Shunderson. He meets Jeanne Crain, a college student that faints in one of his lectures. When she shows up at his OB-GYN practice pregnant and unmarried, he faces a moral dilemma.
I had to stop thinking during this movie for a number of reasons. The first is bland Jeanne Crain. We are supposed to buy that dreamy Cary Grant falls for her when she exhibits no personality at all. Then, he lies and tells her she isn’t pregnant (because she tries to kill herself when she finds out) AND THEN elopes with her. What the actual hell? Was she not going to know that she was pregnant, despite the fact that they marry and he’ll claim the baby is his? How ethical is that? And when she found out, why on earth would she stay with someone that would lie about something that big? I had to stop thinking about the moral complications of lying to a patient, let alone marrying them because of pregnancy. And also? She never looks pregnant.
The things that are less conflicting are the way Grant says “baby.” It consistently sent me into gales of laughter; he says it like a carnival barker. The relationship between Praetorius and Shunderson is much more believable than the love story. The third act is wickedly funny. Just don’t think about the plot.
Monkey Business (1952) is another screwball Howard Hawks comedy that gives us Cary Grant in coke bottle lenses that can’t diminish his Cary Grant-ness, as chemist Barnaby Fulton, searching for a fountain of youth serum. When Fulton takes the chimpanzee-mixed serum the already quick-witted and clever movie takes off. Grant is hysterical and shares a giddy chemistry with Marilyn Monroe.
When Fulton’s wife Edwina (Ginger Rogers) mistakenly takes the potion, she becomes naughty and hilarious with a fierce jealous streak. It’s a good excuse to get Ginger Rogers to sing and dance and she has a great physical comedy gift. Through a comedy of errors, they both dose themselves again and merriment ensues. When Grant joins with a group of cowboys and indians playing kids to scalp his romantic rival, it’s hysterical. Monkey Business is slapsticky goodness.
1957’s An Affair To Remember stars Grant and Deborah Kerr in gorgeous Cinemascope. It’s a beautiful film. Deborah Kerr’s gowns are stunning and the technicolor sets are lush. Grant is Nickie Ferrante, a playboy engaged to be married to an heiress. On a transatlantic cruise to the States, he strikes up a friendship (complete with banter) with Terry McKay, the utterly appealing Deborah Kerr. They share an easy rapport and powerful chemistry. This is the film where I found that Cary Grant + a small child = my favorite thing.
They try to avoid one another to avert shipboard gossips, but are inexorably drawn together. It’s glorious to watch their interactions. Cary Grant speaking French is almost as nice as Cary Grant with a child.
Things change on a short trip off the ship to visit Nickie’s grandma. Terry sees him in a different light and it’s then that I noticed the way that he touches her. Swoon.
They decide that if they’re still in love with each other after six months, and break off their relationships with their current significant others, they will meet at the top of the Empire State Building. When she goes to meet him, she’s hit by a car. Here we have sad Cary Grant at the top of the Empire State and sad Cary Grant leaning against things.
It does drag a bit (as I am a modern moviegoer and I like explosions). There are superfluous musical numbers (sung by Marni Nixon, who also does commentary) in the second act.
Terry, wheelchair bound, gets a job as a music teacher, and she must be fantastic because her elementary aged orchestra is awesome. When Nickie and Terry are reunited at the ballet, she hides her paralysis from him. Her ex-fiancée is terribly kind and understanding and seems like quite a catch. Grant and Kerr are torrid together, though, and so good. An Affair To Remember has a warm, melodramatic ending that still gave me eye tears.
Stanley Donen’s Kiss Them For Me (1957) was awful. Trying to make a statement about the horrors of war and be a romantic comedy as well, it doesn’t do either especially well. Cary Grant looks swell in a uniform, though at 52, he looked a bit old to be a hotshot Navy pilot. On leave in San Francisco and only looking for R and R, he and his pilot pals bag a swanky hotel room with the help of Lt. Wallace (Werner Klemperer), a PR officer.
It drags glacially. Jayne Mansfield, who is physically stunning, gives a cartoonish, over-the-top performance as a dumb blonde. It’s horrific and painful. Also awful is Suzy Parker, a gorgeous supermodel who has an icy presence and not much in the way of acting skill. Apparently, her lines were dubbed by Deborah Kerr, and it’s all just awful. She’s dead-eyed. She was bad enough in this that in my notes I refer to how terrible she is nine times. She and Grant have no chemistry, and the movie leans too hard on Grant’s charm. It’s too much to ask of anyone to elevate this muddled mess, even Cary Grant.
The Cary Grant Film Collection is worth a look, though. The great movies, An Affair To Remember and Monkey Business are wonderful. Just skip Kiss Them For Me and pretend that the disc is broken. You’ll be happier.
The Cary Grant Film Collection was released by Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment on April 9.