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The pretty boy and the pilot

Two more movies from the collection of Cary Grant’s early Paramount work. They may not be particularly good, but at least they’re short!

Kiss and Make-Up (1934)

This movie is ridiculous, with a thin, nonsensical plot and very cheesy acting by all involved, but there were things I enjoyed about it in spite of that. Grant plays a doctor who once had great promise, but who has given up serious science in favor of running a Helena Rubenstein type “Temple of Beauty” in Paris. He nips and tucks society ladies, has brief affairs with some of them, and sends them on their way with a list of beauty instructions a mile long: apply a zillion creams and lotions, wear gloves and face goo at night, stay out of the sun and the sea, exercise daily, eat only lean ham, lettuce and dry melba toast.

He has a sweet, supposedly plain secretary, portrayed by Helen Mack (who later played Mollie Malloy in His Girl Friday). She looks down on what he does and wants him to go back to science. Of course she’s in love with him and of course he barely notices her, because she’s plain and never remembers to powder her nose.

The doctor winds up marrying one of the (alleged) beauties he’s created, but soon realizes that she’s shallow and dumb, and that she spends all her time obsessing about her looks. She won’t eat, she won’t go swimming with him, and she comes to bed on their wedding night with her face coated in cold cream and her body wrapped up like a mummy. Not exactly conducive to the hanky-panky he was so looking forward to.

Eventually he learns his lesson and realizes that looks aren’t everything, goes back to science, tells his longsuffering secretary he loves her, etc. But not until after a really silly sped-up car chase that could’ve been straight out of Keystone Kops.

My description makes the movie sound a lot better than it is, to be honest!

The most interesting aspect of Kiss and Make-Up, to me, was how risqué it was. The motion picture production code began to be enforced in 1934, but this movie must have slipped in right under the wire. You see women stripping down to their skivvies, close-ups of women’s panty-clad bums jiggling in weight-reducing belts, women in thin bathing suits jumping around in the ocean. The movie’s full of double entendre and innuendo, too. It’s quite scandalous!

Other things that made the movie worth watching:

- Edward Everett Horton as the ex-husband of Cary Grant’s new wife. Horton is one of my favorite character actors. He’s always so funny! I love him in Holiday, with Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn, and Top Hat with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

- Helen Mack, who is really pretty and who’s by far the most believable character in the movie. Which isn’t saying much, but still.

- Cary Grant performs a musical number, then reprises it later in the movie. He plays the piano (I’m pretty sure it was really him; he played in real life) and sings a song called “Love Divided by Two.” I wish I could find it on YouTube!  Grant didn’t sing very often in films*, so it’s fun to see him do it here. He has a unique but pleasant singing voice that sounds pretty much the same as his speaking voice. The same staccato cadence and the same indefinable Cary Grant accent. I read somewhere recently that Grant sing-talks songs, whereas Rex Harrison talk-sings. It’s a good comparison.

- Horton and Mack sing a song about corned beef and cabbage. Out of nowhere. They’re eating in a restaurant where they both order corned beef and cabbage, and then they sing a song about how much they love corned beef and cabbage. What the heck? It’s bizarre! A sample of the lyrics:

I’m simply wild about you.
I couldn’t do without you.
Corned beef and cabbage, I love you.
You always set me raving.
You satisfy that craving.
Corned beef and cabbage, I love you.
If I could have you every day, my life would have more spice.
And even if I’d have to pay, I’d gladly pay the price.
I see you and surrender, oh won’t you please be tender!
Corned beef and cabbage I love you!

Move over, Cole Porter! This is truly a movie only for hardcore Cary Grant fans, I think. It’s pretty terrible, but in a fun way.

*An aside about Cary Grant, his accent, and singing on film. Jack Warner was dying for Cary to play Professor Higgins in the film version of My Fair Lady and offered him a huge amount of money to do so, but Cary refused. He said something to the effect of “I can’t play a professor of elocution! The way I speak is the way Eliza speaks at the beginning of the movie.” He also told Warner that not only wouldn’t he play Higgins himself, he wouldn’t even see the movie unless Rex Harrison got the role. Love that story! It’s one of those common knowledge, oft-told tales, so sorry for rehashing it, but I love what it says about Grant. The man had class.

Wings in the Dark (1935)

I liked this movie. It’s an enjoyable little melodrama even if the plot is unrealistic. Cary plays Ken, a pilot creating and testing instruments to allow safe flying in fog and dark. The marvelous Myrna Loy plays Sheila, a daring aviatrix and admirer of Ken. She wants to be a serious pilot, but because she’s a woman she can’t fly the mail or work for the government and is stuck doing silly and dangerous stunts like sky writing and flying under bridges for publicity.

Boy meets girl, boy is blinded by an accident, boy and girl fall in love. Ken’s plane is repossessed because he’s behind on his payments, and also because the company that owns it thinks a blind man can’t fly a plane. (The gall!) So Sheila takes a dangerous stunt mission, flying from Moscow to New York to earn $25,000 and be able to buy it back for him. When Sheila gets in trouble up there, Ken steals back his plane and flies (literally) blind, using the instruments he’d been working on in order to help her get her plane down in a terrible fog.

Then she saves him by smashing her plane into his when they reach the ground, since he told her that after she landed he was going back up in the air to fly until he ran out of gas, depressed as he was about being blind. But thankfully the crash jolted him enough that his sight started coming back! Whew! Too bad someone didn’t bonk him over the head even sooner.

Sounds pretty bad, huh? It was oddly entertaining, though. Myrna Loy is great in this movie. Her character is cool, jaunty, and confident, and her acting has a naturalness lacking in a lot of actors in that time period. I just love her, and I totally believe her as a spunky and sweet lady pilot.

Cary is more recognizably Cary than he was in either 1934 film, and he does a good job pretending to be blind. Even so, he’s probably the weakest link in the picture. His acting is a little over-the-top dramatic at times.

It’s funny – four years later he played another flier in the wonderful Only Angels Have Wings, and BOY, what a difference those years made. A massive, unbelievable difference, both in the quality of the material he was getting and in the quality of his acting. I’d put Geoff Carter in Only Angels Have Wings in the top four or five performances Cary Grant ever gave. He’s complex, subtle, nuanced and so moving in that part.

How does that happen? It’s like a switch went off inside him in 1937 and he went from mediocre to brilliant overnight. I know it’s not that simple, but in watching his movies from before ’37 it really feels like that’s what occurred.

One thought on “The pretty boy and the pilot

  1. Pingback: Cary Grant, Myrna Loy and Amelia Earhart, 1934 « Happy Thoughts, Darling

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